Over the last couple years we've been experimenting non-stop with hops. From super-concentrated extracts to bio-transformative, gene-modified yeast, we've played with a lot of dials. While many of these projects have pushed our hoppy styles into new areas, none have quite gone so far as to break outside the lines of previously understood style definitions. That changes next week!
Before we get into how, let's touch on a brief note from style history: Long ago when Pale Ale and IPA were first emerging as styles, the use of hops was largely aimed at the preservative qualities and the flavor was more of an affect. In pushing ABV and hop rates higher and higher to extend the product's shelf life, the early producers of the style pushed IPAs so far that they had to come up with a new designation for them. These super-IPAs would come to be known as Barleywine because their intensity was reminiscent of the much stronger beverage.
Now fast forward a few hundred years to the inception of the American brewing tradition. As producers played with new takes on historical styles (in this case mostly English styles) they created a whole new array of "American" Pale Ales and IPAs, these were much more assertively hop focused, with hop flavor and intensity having its place among the priorities for these styles. American Barleywine was originally conceived as the ultimate evolution of the IPA, bigger malt bills, absurd hop loads and epic ABVs. Over the course of a few decades though, the understanding of this origin seems to be somewhat misunderstood if not lost entirely.
Nowadays when we talk about barleywine most people tend to picture a big, dark, malt-driven, winter ale profiles and the idea that they're intrinsically connected to IPAs is less known. With this upcoming project, we wanted to touch back on this history by creating a beer that's the ultimate evolution of intensity from where our IPA program started. For this project we took one of our biggest, most heavily hopped, triple IPA recipes but modified our mashing process to be in line with how we brew our barrel aged stout bases. We increased the original gravity (initial grain based sugar content), which had previously capped out around 21 Plato, to 38 Plato and extended boiling to accomplish this. The result is something truly wonderful to behold, a viscous strong ale with robust malt backbone and warming characteristics, but additionally EXPLODING with hop saturation. It blends corners of American brewing history and is reminiscent of some of the more absurd projects that have popped up over the years from breweries such as Dogfish Head and The Lost Abbey who explored breaking through similar boundaries with these styles.
What we've created is something both incredibly traditional yet still wildly un-familiar relative to how we tend to approach hops these days, a Misunderstood Beast, a hybrid monster of an IPA and something that we're going to roll with calling "Hop Wine". While our production team has been working to breathe life into this beer, our design team has been building an aesthetic to capture the essence of this project and you can see this process unfold in the drawings above. The Chimera, is a hybrid beast composed of several other creatures, blurring the lines of it's own definition and bewildering those who behold it. We couldn't think of a better way to pay homage to the history of this project and capture it's mysterious beauty than to create our own "Misunderstood Beast".