Getting all Experimental 2.0

In writing and revising and revising and revising GrassLands’ business plan, I find myself talking about Tallahassee's potential with regard to residents’ increasing interest in craft beer. As it is, the average beer consumer is getting more and more interested in different, off the cuff beer styles as well as beers from different breweries (both regionally and throughout the US). With regard to Tallahassee, I highly believe there’s potential for a craft beer BOOM boon in this area because of my countless hours of “research” (AKA barhopping - don't you judge me). From participation and attendance at events like Pints for Paws, Capital City Beer Fest and Brewfest Tallahassee, North Florida residents are speaking loudly…and they’re saying: “We want good beer…and more of it!” From a personal perspective, the steady increase in the number of local and out-of-town GrassHoppers is definitely evidence of that.

A particularly energetic group of beer consumers is the homebrewer crowd. If you’re remotely interested in beer (which I’m assuming you are if you’re reading these words that I'm typing  at this very moment), get yourself to a local homebrewers club meeting. They’ll likely welcome you with open arms and your membership dues will no doubt pay for themselves by your 2nd or 3rd visit. Homebrewers are a great bunch of people to be around, simply because they all share at least a lone interest: beer. That and they like to share. :)

Beer does seem to bring people together. My own homebrew club, NFBL, has steadily grown in membership since I attended my first meeting years ago. Should GrassLands be (hopefully) successful, it’ll be heavily influenced by the input, knowledge and expertise I received from this select group. At each month’s meeting, more and more new faces turn up and that’s a great thing, proving my initial point of what North Florida beer consumers are really trying to say.

So what does this all have to do with the article’s title? I’ll get to that – and here we go: I’m excited. During this whole research & development phase of GrassLands' planning, I've been concentrating so much on fine tuning and replicating my eventual flagship recipes that I've gone a while without itching that recurring need to be creative. LeeRoy the Red has always been something I've worked on here & there…so that doesn't count. I’m excited because after a long while, I finally was able to get the creative juices going again this week – and it’s largely thanks to my buddy Wade.

Wade is awesome. For one thing, he’ll absolutely destroy anyone within earshot on Army of Darkness movie quotes. Seriously...don't even try. For another, he’s been into good beer for a while. Oh yeah, and he brews decent beer from time to time. :) Wade also got me into growing my own hops (which I do vicariously through GrassLands' parental units that live in the mountainous region that is Ellijay, GA. Wade’s been growing his own Cascade hops for several years now and, unfortunately, he just found out that he’s allergic to gluten. Know what a kind of a bummer that is? Here’s a hint: Just about 99% of craft beer contains gluten. The only beer that doesn't is beer made w/sorgham. Extra bummer. Ugggh. The GrassLands family feels for you, Wade. Silver lining? He's planning on making some killer meads and ciders!

Anyways, Wade recently made me, of all people, the benefactor of all his harvested hop vines from this past season. If you've been following along via our Facebook and/or Twitter pages, you saw that we hand-picked several, a lot, a freakin’ butt-load of fresh, Tallahassee-grown Cascade hops. Enough to fit neatly inside a 5 gallon paint bucket. I wish you could smell the aroma, folks – I really do. It’s intoxicating.

So what to do with this influx of hops? Get creative. That’s exactly what I plan to do. Saturday will mark the first Fresh Hop Ale GrassLands has produced: A Caramel/Rye IPA. Fresh (also known as “wet”) hop ales are exactly what they sound like: beers brewed with hops freshly picked from the vines. The fresher the better. The “wet” term for these hops comes from the fact that they’re heavier with moisture as they haven’t been dried out yet. A dried hop cone is much more potent than a wet hop cone. As such, the typical ratio for using fresh hops vs. dried leaf hops is 5-7 wet hops to one dried hop. That means if your IPA recipe calls for 5 oz of cascade hops, you’ll have to really bring in a bunch of fresh hops to compensate. I’m expecting to use just about all of the hops in that there bucket right there.

Fresh hop ales are unique in that they impart somewhat of a, for lack of a better term, “grassy” hop flavor. However, what I’ve been told is how interesting they get over time. Being so far removed from the northwest (where a good portion of the country’s hops come from), it’s difficult to really get your hands on some local fresh hops commercially grown anywhere near Tallahassee, let alone the state of Florida. Momo’s and Fermentation have dabbled in Fresh Hop Ales recently with very good outcomes. The CaraRye Fresh Hopped IPA, as I’m calling it, should be loaded with awesome citrus hop flavor complemented by a residual sweet & spicy malt flavor, simply because I’ve got a crapload of both going into this 12 gallon sucker. I’ll ferment it with two different yeasts, just to see how she turns out – but I expect it to be somewhere in the 7.5-8% ABV range with a bunch of IBUs to go around. Bottom line: I’m excited to get this creative again.

This whole process, in turn, has got the wheels spinning about GrassLands' future activities regarding brewing projects and how to reward taproom/brewery visitors. I absolutely LOVE what Tröegs Brewery does with its “Scratch” and “Splinter” series (experimental batches available onsite only to brewery visitors) and while I’m concerned about making GrassLands at least somewhat financially viable, I also don’t ever want to lose that creativity itch. For lack of a witty, experimental brewing activity name at the moment, just know that GrassLands will always make room for experimentation…and that, my dear readers, is something that’ll always keep me excited.

So, after a long article and a short week, I’ll leave you to it for now. Have an awesome weekend, my dear readers, because you deserve it.