Birth of a Beer: The Backstory

Happy New Year! I find it hard to believe I don’t blog as much as I should. Real life gets in the way. In any case, I’m overdue. You may want to crack open a beer before you read this. It goes on for a bit.

Today, I  fill you in on how it came to be that we’re coming out with our first new beer since Commonhouse Ales started production, a bit over a year ago.

PREQUEL

If you’ve ever started up your own business, one of the first things you pay attention to is what tracks and what doesn’t. While patience is a virtue, reality has to enter at some point.  You are probably aware that our start got an abrupt wake-up call when our distributor’s warehouse completely burned to the ground soon after we started production. One of the witnesses to the fire said the exploding kegs sounded like something more appropriate in a war setting.

We started over, brewing again in the face of a major disruption in our supply chain. We got back on track, but in the end, our distributor couldn’t quite get back on it’s feet. They were much more of a casualty than we were at the time.

Against this backdrop, we brewed more Six One For Good, our flagship Amber Ale, and eventually brewed our winter and spring seasonals for distribution early in 2017. Those seasonals were IBU UBME, our imperial IPA and Hoptopus, our pale wheat ale.

Because our distributor was still regrouping from the fire, sales of the two seasonals flagged. Soon, it became apparent that we would make a switch to another distributor, not willing to wait for the ship to right itself. In late spring of 2017 we made the switch, partnering with Columbus Distributing Company.

As a part of that switch, CDC elected to not purchase IBU UBME, because it was due to expire. They took on Hoptopus as well as Six One For Good. Unfortunately, Hoptopus didn’t sell into the market well as we transitioned to an entirely new team.

We decided to concentrate on selling Six One For Good. It’s the only beer that we offer year round, and it’s our Beer For Good where a portion of proceeds is donated to local charities through the Columbus Foundation. To date, we’ve funded about $17,000.

A tougher decision was to not brew Summer Sesh, our session IPA that won the King of Ohio competition, judged best session IPA in Ohio. With a new distributor, we concentrated on Six One For Good and waited for our fall seasonal, Punkt, our imperial pumpkin porter. Fortunately, Punkt sold out quickly. We were finally back on track. Then we brewed our winter seasonal, Imagine, a spiced winter ale. Imagine sold out by the end of November. We were finding our stride. Finally, a year after we’d opened.

With IBU UBME, Hoptopus,  Summer Sesh and Winter Sesh being shelved, at least for now, we were down to three beers: Six One For Good, Punkt and Imagine. If you notice, that’s a half year that we’d only have one beer to sell. Not good.

Of course, we knew our predicament roughly around May 2017. That’s when we started planning for a new beer.

THERE’S MORE TO BEER THAN JUST BREWING IT

We got together to discuss what we should brew. It became obvious that it would be an IPA. Of course, that doesn’t make for an easy decision. You know that there are a bunch of sub-styles and variations than you can shake a hop at. We’d have to select one.

For those of you who have been following the Commonhouse Ales story, you know that we use our brewpub, Smokehouse Brewing Company, serves as our tap room and as our R&D facility. Every beer that makes it to Commonhouse has been brewed and vetted at Smokehouse first.

In the 20 years that Smokehouse has been in existence, we have brewed around 20 different IPAs. Easy peasy. Pick one that sold well and brew it up big time. Arguably, Centennial IPA is our most popular IPA. It’s got to be a contender.

Coincidentally, and before we concluded that we’d be brewing an IPA at Commonhouse, we brewed MOHBEE at Smokehouse. It’s our version of a New England style IPA. We brewed it just because. It turned out that people really liked it. We really liked it. Could this be it?

A part of the NEIPA style is that it is opaque. The intense haze is similar to orange juice. Ours was hazy. Our fear though, is that over time, this beer would start to clear. We can’t control what accounts do to our beer after it leaves our distributor’s warehouse. This was the only reason we decided not to go forward with MOHBEE.

What should have been a fairly easy decision now mired us in indecision. We had so many recipes available to us, we couldn’t decide. It’s now autumn. We want an IPA for early 2018. Time’s running out.  What to do?

ENTER THE PEOPLE

We made a bold decision. We would brew three IPAs simultaneously and throw it up for a vote and we’d encourage written comments. We would let our community decide.

We came up with three recipes, using different combinations of hops and we brewed them. We code named them IPA C, IPA M and IPA H. (CMH is our airport code.) We wouldn’t offer up any descriptions. We’d let the beers speak for themselves.

IPA CMH

It was now late autumn 2017. We were still hopeful that we’d be able to get a winner brewed in time for 2018. In two weeks time, we had about 300 people fill out comment cards after trying a flight of all three. Not public at the time, the favorite (though not overwhelmingly so) was IPA H.

As a part of this effort, some of those who filled out their comment card would be in the running for participation in a private beer panel session, where we’d take a deeper dive into these beers, with discussion. Additionally, we randomly selected other beer geeks through social media.

On December 4, 2017, we conducted the beer panel session. About 35 people attended. The slate was five different IPAs. Not known to the panel, the beers were, in addition to IPA C, M and H, Centennial IPA and a well known locally brewed IPA not brewed by us were also included. (Gulp!)

placemat

At the end of the session, the IPA that emerged as the favorite was… IPA H. (Second place was the well known locally brewed IPA.) Two times it emerged on top. We had our marching orders. With only minor recipe tweaking, we will be brewing IPA H at Commonhouse Ales on January 8.

THERE’S MORE TO BEER THAN JUST BEER

Concurrently, we were working on packaging design. We needed updating anyhow to reflect that we’re no longer a B Corporation Pending, and we wanted to include the Independent Craft logo. Additionally, we wanted our packaging to pop better when placed in a sea of craft beer.

Regarding name, we decided we had enough on our plate, so we settled on Commonhouse IPA. Simple.

After a protracted process, we finally had our design. At the 11th hour, we were second guessing our decision to go with the simple name.

NAME THAT IPA

At the 11th hour, we discussed how awesome the process was involving community to help us decide what the profile of our IPA would be. This was truly an IPA By The People.

IPA-end

In return, we are calling our newest beer IPA For The People. Fitting, don’t you think? In about a month, IPA FTP will hit watering holes and shelves throughout central Ohio.

ipa_side

EPILOGUE

We are thankful to everyone who had a hand in creating Columbus’ newest IPA. We really appreciate the enthusiasm and support. Time will tell how it’s received. We’re pretty stoked about it right now, though.

One more thing. We’re always messing around with beer. Quietly, and with no one aware, we did a home brew batch of a pre-Prohibition style pilsner recipe. We never intended to even serve it at the brewpub. It’s just something we do as a part of deep R&D. We wanted to see if a pilsner could be remarkably different than what’s available these days. not knowing what we’d do with it. It turned out pretty good.

We decided that we’d serve this as a “cool-down” beer at the beer panel session, after we were done with the IPAs. Yeah, I know, serving a pilsner after a session of nothing but IPAs?

When we announced that we’d be serving a pilsner as a bonus, there was audible groaning from the panel. “Why do you want to ruin a perfectly good evening?”

We did it anyhow. I’m not kidding, it was a magical moment. Skepticism turned to bewilderment, which in turn turned to confusion, and finally to accolades. Actual comments from that night.

“I would never have thought a pilsner could taste good after a bunch of IPAs!”
“Wow.”
“Brew this now, and take all my money!”

Before the evening was over, the tasting panel participants told us this should be a future beer at Commonhouse Ales. Surprised, yet delighted, we have scaled up this pilsner and brewed it at Smokehouse. It should be on tap at Smokehouse around the first week in February, about the same time IPA For The People hits the streets. Let us know what you think.

Beer. There’s an adventure around every corner. A fire that created circumstances that led to an IPA. And an IPA that led to a pilsner. Now you know the rest of the beer story. We love our jobs!

Cheers!
Brewdood

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