Gizmodo has teamed up with Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery to create a limited-edition IPA called Hop Tech 431, brewed especially for the Home of the Future. Last week, we looked at the story behind HBC 431, the mysterious and experimental hop we’ve chosen to brew with. Today, we’re exploring exactly what goes into designing the recipe for the beer of the future.
Heather McReynolds is the only female among Sixpoint’s six brewers; she is a diminutive, pink-booted figure who also happens to be one of America’s 30 most innovative beer professionals under 30 according to All About Beer magazine. She is also the brains behind Hop Tech 431, although she’s quick to describe the recipe design process as a team effort.
There’s a special 20-gallon test system set aside for prototyping new beers and playing with crazy ingredients and combinations at Sixpoint’s Red Hook brewery. But, despite the fact that none of the Sixpoint crew had ever brewed with HBC 431 before, the beer of the future had to make its debut on May 17—which left no time for a trial version.
“We had to go on a bit of a hunch,” admitted Reynolds. “But we’re not working totally in the dark.”
For starters, explains Reynolds, because we knew we wanted to showcase a single, experimental hop, it made sense to make an IPA, which is a hop-forward style. Sixpoint has made plenty of IPAs before, so there was a set of house recipes to draw on and tweak.
There are four main ingredients in beer: hops, malt, yeast, and water. Once the decision had been made to use magical mystery hop 431, McReynolds could start to figure out the other variables.
One of the first decisions she made was to use Sixpoint’s house yeast. “I trust it,” she said. “I work with it all the time, so I can predict what it will do. It’s also clean, so it won’t interfere with the flavor of 431 itself.”
The next step is the grain bill: how much of which malts to add to the mix. This affects not only the flavor of the finished beer but also its alcohol content, and it’s where the creative, intuitive part of brewing runs into some serious math.
“In beer school, we had to design our own brewing spreadsheets,” McReynolds told me, which, I have to admit, put a slight dent in my daydreams about running away to become a craft brewer.
Instead of Excel, Sixpoint uses BeerTools, an off-the-shelf brewing software packed with formulae to help brewers calculate the type and percentage of different grains to add to arrive at their target A.B.V. and gravity (a higher gravity means a sweeter, maltier flavor, as opposed to a dry, crisp low-gravity beer).
For an IPA like Hop Tech 431, McReynolds explains, “I knew we wanted a nice malty background to balance the hops.”
She was aiming for 5.5% alcohol by volume—not necessarily a session-able beer, but something you could happily enjoy two or three pints of at a Home of the Future party without falling over.
One of the cool things that brewers do is carefully engineer their water to make it seem as though it comes from somewhere else. New York City’s tap water is famously delicious, but, if she’s making an Irish-style stout, McReynolds will add a carefully calculated dose of minerals and salts to it, in order to mimic Dublin’s harder water. Conversely, the water around Pilsen, home of Pilsner lager, is extremely soft—meaning a Brooklyn brewer has to add salts that will react with and neutralize NYC tap water’s dissolved minerals.
And, to make an typical IPA, Sixpoint has to “burtonize” its water by adding copious quantities of Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride, Sulfate, and Bicarbonate, in order to copy the super-hard water of Burton-on-Trent, where the IPA style was originally invented.
“I’m basically designing the water profile to enhance and subdue certain flavors,” McReynolds explains. “I used gypsum in Hop Tech 431’s water, for example, because it really brighten up hops.”
So many decisions already! But we’re nearly there. The final thing McReynolds needed to figure out, in order to design the beer of the future, is when to add what amount of HBC 431 to the boil. Adding the majority of your hops early on makes for a bitter beer, whereas hops that are added at the end contribute more flavor and aroma.
Coming up with the hopping schedule for a brand new beer made with an experimental hop variety that you’ve never worked with before requires a bold combination of experience, creativity, and cold, hard science. (Danny Bruckert, the Sixpoint brewer who actually brewed Heather McReynolds’ recipe, compared brewing science to “Judy justice: there’s no messing.”)
Eventually, after consultation with the team, McReynolds settled on what she called “a fairly aggressive” hop schedule, with 17 lbs of HBC 431 added in five additions, 10 lbs of which came during the final 20 minutes—followed by another 4 lbs added dry during the secondary fermentation.
And that’s it! With the recipe down, Hop Tech 431 existed in theory. In my next post, I’ll look at what happened when Gizmodo joined Sixpoint to actually brew the beer—and, don’t forget, you can taste Hop Tech 431 for yourself at the Gizmodo Home of the Future.
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.