It's time for the final chapter in the story of our collaboration with Sixpoint to make Hop Tech 431, the beer of the future. First, we found an experimental hop and we designed a brand-new recipe, then we trained a swarm of autonomous robots to do the brewing.
Instead, we brewed it the old-school way—by hand—on Sixpoint's 15-barrel system in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Gizmodo joined brewers Danny Bruckert and Keir Hamilton to take our turn with the mash paddle (which subsequently broke, in a—we claim—entirely unrelated incident).
The Mash-In: A Full Upper Body Workout
Brewing starts with adding malted grains to hot water, a bit like making oatmeal but with sprouted, dried barley. We threw in a bunch of rice hulls to the mix, to add surface area and provide filtration, and then stirred like crazy.
This would actually make a good candidate for workout of the future, because moving 1,000 lbs of hot water and grains around combines the benefits of hot yoga with a killer upper-body conditioning session.
Hamilton, a Scot who recently joined Sixpoint from a distillery, favored more of a twist action, while Bruckert proudly claimed to be "a back and forth kind of guy." I had zero technique and not much in the way of stamina, either, as I pushed and pulled the wooden paddle, chasing "doughballs"—clumps of dry grains—through the porridge-like gloop.
An inadequately stirred mash risks scorching the enzymes, too, so it was with relief that we handed the paddle back to the pros, letting them flex their "brewer's triceps" while we inhaled the clouds of deliciously biscuity steam coming off the mash tun. Meanwhile, the enzymes in the grains, activated by the heat and water, started converting the starches into fermentable sugar.
The Boil: Sugar Water, Meet Hops
The mashing process took about an hour, and then the sweet water, known as wort, was separated off from the spent grains, which will end up as animal food on regional farms (though a recent ruling from the FDA may have put a damper on that practice).
The next step was the boil: the wort was piped into a giant kettle and kept at a rolling boil for another hour or so. Danny Bruckert maintained a close eye on the clock while allowing us to tip in carefully measured bucketfuls of our one and only hop—the experimental HBC 431—at the intervals laid out in Heather McReynold's recipe.
The hops themselves come in pellet-form, of what looks like compressed grass clippings. As soon as they hit the hot water, they send out a whoosh of green, hoppy aroma, making me thirsty for a pint even though it was well before noon.
At the end, Bruckert explained, there's a whirlpool built into the kettle, which spins to pull all the proteins and solids—"the stuff that makes it look like egg-drop soup"—into a green cone in the middle, allowing the clear, hopped wort to be pumped out and cooled off.
80% of Brewing is Cleaning...
At this point, we left Hop Tech 431 on its way into the fermenter, where yeast is added to feast on the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Our work was done, but the brewers still had a big clean up job ahead.
In Red Hook, Sixpoint's brewers have two brew-days a week, making two 15-gallon batches back-to-back on each. "The rest of the time," complained Danny Bruckert, albeit with a grin on his face, "we're glorified janitors, hosing down equipment, scrubbing tanks, and cellaring beer."
For the next two weeks, the Sixpoint team checked in on Hop Tech 431 daily as it conditioned, tasting it for off flavors, and measuring the gravity to see how much of the sugar had been consumed.
But Then You Get to Drink Beer!
When we came back to sample the final product, sixteen days after our mash-tun work-out, there was a palpable tension in the air. None of the brewers had worked with this experimental hop before, and there wasn't time to make another batch if this one turned out to taste disgusting—or simply just meh.
Even the ever-cheerful Danny Bruckert looked a tiny bit apprehensive as he tapped the cask and pulled a pint of Hop Tech 431 for each of us. We clinked glasses, said cheers, sniffed (an important beer geek first step, to check out the aromas), sipped... and smiled.
In fact, it was so good—refreshing and approachable but with a lovely full body and nuanced fruity, earthy flavor—that before I had finished my first glass, I was considering starting a Change.org petition to add Hop Tech 431 to Sixpoint's permanent line-up.
If this is the beer of the future, then getting older may not be such a bad thing, after all!
You can taste Hop Tech 431 for yourself, at a special Reader Happy Hour at Gizmodo's Home of the Future, and we'll be posting your thoughts about how it looks, tastes, and smells (alongside the recipe itself) next week. Stay tuned!
Hours: 11:00 am to late. The Gizmodo gang will be working on-site all week—with super-fast wifi, on snazzy furniture—and we'll be hosting events every night. Check back for more information on how to RSVP.
For all media inquiries regarding the Gizmodo Home of the Future, please contact Patrick Kowalczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org.