I’ve been a homebrewer for over 25 years–more than half of my life at this point. I’ve left behind dreams of opening my own brewery (I think all homebrewers have these from time to time) in order to have a rewarding career in medicine, and have no regrets. But there’s always been a little nugget of “what if?” Or, “I wonder what it would be like to brew one of my recipes on a large scale?” This past year Dan and I got to brew the first Beerploma collaborative beer with Derek Brown of Tin Whiskers Brewing and released that small batch at our Beerploma March Madness event in the taproom. By all reports that beer (a mole spiced sweet stout) was well recieved and sold out quickly. I may have made a pretty good dent in it myself on release day. Since then, Dan and I were invited out to Lupulin Brewing in Big Lake to plan out a series of collaborative beers on their 10 barrel system!
First off, let’s talk Lupulin Brewing. These guys are some of the coolest, most laid-back fellows I’ve met in an industry already filled with humble and friendly types. They had us out for a podcast recording this past year and spent way more time with us than I was expecting, with everyone seeming to have a great time doing it. Lupulin started out with a plethora of beer styles but with a focus on Belgian ales. Since then they’ve really hit it big with hoppy beers like Blissful Ignorance, and Hooey, but still have a soft spot for those classic Belgian styles of yore. When we ran into head brewer and co-founder Matt Schiller at HomebrewCon and mentioned that he’d like to brew a brew a beer with us, we were both incredibly excited to say the least! It turns out that Matt and I used to compete frequently in local homebrew competitions and I often led the Belgian categories at that time. He eventually won some well-earned brewcred when he finally stole a medal from me! Homebrewing is a small community, especially the judging and competition circuit, so I shouldn’t be surprised that we had this connection. Of course now I felt a little nervous–am I still good enough to help brew a big commercial batch of one of these old recipes?
In order to plan out these beers, Dan Beaubien of Beerploma fame, co-founder Jeff Zierdt, son and brewer Aaron Zierdt, Matt Schiller, and beertender Brian Burke, and me of course, all met up on a Tuesday afternoon at the Lupulin taproom. I expected to be there an hour or so, but 4+ hours later we were still going strong. We came up with 3 base Belgian beers, a dubbel, a tripel, and a quad. Then we added a fourth beer as a lower gravity yeast started beer for the quad that all of us were really exited about. We tasted some commercial Belgian beers (Westvleteren 12, St. Bernardus 12, Kasteel Donker (yes I wrote Donker) and a few of Matt’s previous creations. Coming out of this interactive and collaborative event, I was reminded about how welcoming and fun the folks at Lupulin are. And was/am incredibly excited about our recipes coming to fruition on a big scale!
I wrote the above just after meeting with the Lupulin crew to plan out our brews. Since then, we have brewed the first of our beers! The beer in question is a classic Dubbel: based on the Belgian Trappist beer style, this is a mid-range brown beer with an ABV between 6 and 7.6% with some fruity esters to add complexity. The biggest problem with most American versions of this style I’ve had is that they often get too sweet, so the big goal here was to get a nice dry finish without losing the complex flavors we were looking for. From my pictures it looks like Dan did all the work, but I swear I helped out too!
Dan and I met up in Big Lake (seems to be about an hour from anywhere in the Twin Cities) very early in the morning of July 25th. Rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we were promptly put to work hauling 50# sacks of grain to add to the grain mill. Once we got the hang of it, it went pretty quick, with all the grain being held in a large plastic container, ready to auger up to the mash tun in the other room.
Next up we moved moved the grain into the mash tun and filled it with pre-heated water (Matt and Aaron had already been there for hours prepping for us) and let the automated mash rakes stir up the resulting thick mash. This sure beat stirring by hand like I’m used to! While this went on for over an hour, we were put to work moving kegs into the cooler, sanitizing things and helping to fill empty kegs from a holding vessel. Never a dull moment in a working brewery!
Finally we were able to move the hot sugary wort into the boil kettle for the next 90 minutes. To this we added a preposterously small amount of hops (compared to all the IPAs these guys make) and a big tub of Belgian dark candi sugar. That stuff tastes amazing! While we were doing this, we recieved our super-on-time shipment of yeast for the batch we were doing that day. Now that is planning!
Once the batch was finally done brewing, it was run through a chiller, oxegenated, and piped into a fermentation tank. The yeast was added and now it was time to clean up!
As a reward for all our hard work, we got to tap one of those freshly filled kegs of Hashed Mosaic, about as fresh and hoppy a beer as I’ve ever had.
But How Does It Taste?
Move forward to late September, when we recieved the call that the beer was done fermenting. With another trip up to Lupulin, my wife Sj and I got a chance to visit with Matt and try the fruits of our labors! I was really happy with the results: plenty of fruity yeast character, a hint of sweetness, and a dry finish that lets you keep on drinking it. Yup, pretty much exactly what we were going for.
Fast forward again to October and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. This event will be covered by articles by both Dan and I in the future, as well as in our upcoming A One Pint Stand podcast episode, so you can read or listen more if the notion takes you! I’m just going to focus on our beer here. With only four entries allowed into the GABF competition (the Oscars of the brewing world) Lupulin picked our beer to be one of those entries. I am humbled beyond belief. As a second treat, the Lupulin guys bought brewer passes for Dan and I so we could get into all the special (secret handshake needed) brewer’s only events and perks for the entire GABF. This was my first time going to this event and I was overwhelmed to say the least.
For four days Lupulin served their beers at the GABF floor in the enormous Denver Convention Center, including our humble Dubble. Dan and I took a few shifts of pouring beers for the brewery and I had the honor of serving beers to some great fans and even a few brewing rockstars (Mike Hoops and Tomme Arthur I’m talking about you!). This was simply an amazing experience.
Gold For Lupulin!
While our beer did not win a medal (the category had close to 100 entries and the Dubbels were lumped in with the stronger Quads) Lupulin did win a gold medal for their Dortmunder lager! One of only 5 Minnesota breweries to win medals, it was quite an experience to hear their name called out and get to run up on stage with them as some sort of insane (not clown) posse. I got to bump fists with the father of homebrewing in America, Charlie Papazian, in front of thousands of people! That was an experience that will be hard to beat in the future…except maybe next year when we win for our Tripel or Quad maybe!
Pig & Dubbel
OK, now for the shameless plug…well, another one anyway! The official release of the Lupulin/Beerploma Dubbel is on November 11 at the brewery and is centered around a fundraiser for Beyond The Yellow Ribbon. Starting at noon, the brewery is having a pig roast and later that evening hosting live music. Dan and I will be there early to record a podcast segment and to drink our fill of Dubbel, so feel free to come say hi to us and tell us what you think of the beer.