Over the years, as the craft beer landscape has changed in the Twin Cities, Summit Brewing Company has been a constant. Summit has been reliably putting out quality craft beers that cover a wide breadth of styles since 1986. Summit debuted their first Unchained Series beer with a Kölsch back in 2009. Since then, the Unchained Series has been a blank slate for brewer creativity and different takes on styles and flavors. There have been some obscure beer styles represented in the Unchained beers like the Old 152, a Kentucky Common and there have been more mainstream takes like the recent Hop Silo, a Double IPA. Summit’s quest to boldly brew where no man/woman has brewed before is the spirit behind the most recent addition to the Unchained Series Batch 19 Make It So from Nick Hempfer.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nick Hempfer to talk about his brew on a beautiful Monday evening, about a week after the beer was released. The setting of our interview was the patio at the Summit Brewing Company. The sun was shining and the weather was perfect; the only thing that could make the evening better was some great beer and conversation. Nick was gracious enough to grant me some time to enjoy his new beer and answer some questions I had about his brewing career and the process of bringing his first Unchained beer to fruition.
Nick started at a full-time brewer at Summit back in May of 2014. Nick’s path to brewing started as a home brewer years ago. He was working at a company doing research and development for four years and realized that he needed a change. With a solid science background that involved working in a microbiology lab, an Ethanol fermentation lab and a Food Science lab, Nick had skills that lent themselves to brewing. He got a job at Summit working in their taproom when it opened up. After two years, a couple of brewing jobs opened up at Summit and Nick started brewing in May of 2014. Make It So is Nick’s first Unchained Beer, and he is incredibly proud of how the beer turned out.
Nick’s idea for the beer came to him when he was watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. He began wracking his brain as to how he could make a Star Trek-themed beer and realized that Captain Jean-Luc Picard drank Earl Grey Tea. That was when he realized that he wanted to use Earl Grey Tea in the beer. The challenge for Nick was that tea is not a commonly used ingredient in beer. Nick wanted the tea to not dominate the flavor of the beer, but compliment the beer. He decided on the style of ESB because of its malt backbone. Nick looked over the various malt catalogues and got malt samples from Damian McConn, the Head Brewer at Summit, to figure out which malts to use. Nick wanted to use hops that have traditionally been used to brew an ESB over the years. He toyed with using all space named hops to brew this beer, but not all of those naturally lend themselves to the style he was going for. He ultimately settled on Admiral(because there is no Captain hop), Challenger and Aurora along with a few others. Nick wanted to go with a local tea company and decided on Tea Source. Tea Source sent Nick a couple samples of different types of Earl Grey blends and then came out to taste and give feedback about flavors of the tea on the beer. The tea was used in replacement of a dry hop, when there is not a ton of fermentation happening in the beer so it did not overwhelm the beer with tea flavor.
Nick’s favorite things about his first Unchained experience has been seeing people’s reactions to the beer. While he also enjoyed the formulation of the recipe, he really does take pride in seeing people enjoying Make It So. He said that there were some nervous and stressful moments that he experienced from the test batches he brewed to 600 barrels (roughly 18,000 gallons) of this beer. Luckily, people are really enjoying it and his worries have been put to rest. Nick credited the other brewers and his boss, Damian, at Summit with helping him relax and enjoy the process as much as possible.
The beer turned out incredibly well. The maltiness of this beer is really balanced out by the hops and the tea. Just as Nick wanted, the Earl Grey is a flavor complimentary and not overpowering. The color is absolutely beautiful and has a nice orange/reddish hue. It looks perfect in the snifter that Nick selected as the vessel for the Make It So. This beer is out at the perfect time as we look forward to transitioning from the lighter and hoppier summer beers to the malty and more substantial fall beers. It is available in 12 ounce cans in six packs at various liquor stores around town. You can look for it on tap as it releases around town and, of course, on tap at the Summit Beer Hall. Make It So has a lot of flavor going on and will make ESB and Star Trek fans alike incredibly happy that Nick had the creativity and skill to brew such a fantastic craft beer.