It’s still hours away from first light, but Chris Fish, brewmaster and cofounder of Telluride Brewing Company (TBC), is at it again: bustling around the massive stainless steel tanks, cleaning equipment and stirring in hundreds of pounds of mash, amid the thrum and steam of the brewing machinery. Though the art and science of brewing craft beer is nothing new to Fish, new things are happening at TBC this week. On Monday, the first ever canned short run of TBC’s new series, a Colorado-style IPA called Galloping Juice, hit shelves around the state.
But this IPA isn’t just any IPA. The Galloping Juice uses a breakthrough innovation for the craft beer industry, the inclusion of hop terpenes to impart uniquely bold, juicy flavors.
“I’ve been making beer professionally for 23 years, and I’ve never been so excited about something like this,” Fish said. “We honestly think that this is an enormous innovation that’s going to take the brewing industry by storm.”
Similar to essential oils, terpenes are a highly concentrated oil derived from the plants themselves that is basically the plant’s pure aroma and flavor in a bottle.
“Terpenes are molecules in every plant that gives it a unique aroma,” explained Dr. Rob Kevwitch, the director of R&D at Oast House Oils, a company devoted to bringing hop terpenes into the craft beer industry. “The combination of several different terpenes at different ratios are what makes each plant, or in the case of brewing, each hop varietal, so different. By weight, hops are only 1-3 percent oils, so you can see that very little terpenes goes a long way.”
For a 100ml bottle of hop terpenes, 35 pounds of hops were steamed and pressurized to extract the terpenes. The terpenes are then added to the brewing process during a phase known as dry hopping, which occurs after the boiling process and as fermentation slows.
“In general, most hops are added to the beer during the boil,” Fish explained. In dry hopping, more hops can be added later, to add back those flavors in the oils that largely evaporate during the high heat phase. But, he said, “the more hops you add to beer, the more beer gets soaked up in them, so the yield of your batch goes down, and you lose a ton of beer. So on a sustainability front, we’re getting a ton more beer out of each batch by using these terpenes.”
Sustainability, a long-standing feature of TBC’s ethos, isn’t the only advantage. The potent concentration of hop flavor that results from using terpenes is unlike that of traditionally brewed IPAs and other hoppy beers.
“The really cool thing is we can get hop flavors that we never thought were possible,” Fish said. “You can keep throwing hops at it all day, and I don’t think you can achieve what you can with this. It’s a whole other level of fruitiness.”
Using terpenes from fruits and other plants has long been a staple in brewing techniques, and brewers have recognized the importance of the oils in hops for several centuries. But not until recently has the technology and technique of extracting and adding hop terpenes to beer appeared on the radar of modern brewers.
Fish’s light-bulb moment occurred after a serendipitous meeting at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver. Fish had recently received a tiny sample bottle of hop terpenes from a friend at the brewery Station 26 in Denver that had “blown everyone’s minds.”
“I was trying to find out if we could get more of it, or if we could make it on our own,” Fish recalled. While working the booth, an old high school friend stopped by. “He said, ‘How do you like those hop terpenes?’ And I said, ‘I love them!’ And he said, ‘Well, I did ‘em!’”
As fate would have it, that old high school buddy had gone on to receive a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and created the very hop terpenes that Fish had been obsessing over. The two began to collaborate, partnering Oast House Oils with TBC to create the Galloping Juice Colorado-style IPA.
So far, reception of the beer has been encouraging, Fish said.
“All the beer we sent to our distributor in Denver sold the day it showed up,” he explained. “I’ve never seen that.”
The first run of the three-part series shipped 12,000 cans of Galloping Juice to stores around Colorado and will be followed by two more limited edition runs at six-week intervals this winter.