Yesterday, I called up Hangar 24 founder/brewmaster Ben Cook to learn more about Betty IPA, the brewery’s first addition to its year-round portfolio in four years. A phrase kept coming up: the “brewer’s art,” the idea that the act of creating a finished beer relies just as much on craft as it does science. The creation of Betty IPA is a perfect example: Months of recipe tweaking, guided by a profile Cook and staff envisioned back in 2013.
When a new IPA—or any beer for that matter—reaches market, its origin story typically doesn’t extend beyond brewing 101. But as Cook explained, the process can be a long journey in search of a perfect profile. Cook walked me through that journey to create Betty IPA (now available in bottles and on tap in California, Arizona and Nevada).
So, how exactly did process of creating a new IPA begin?
First things first, we came up with an idea of what we wanted it to taste like, smell like and look like. I could taste it before we even started. We came up with the recipe as a group, and brewed it. Then we tasted it and compared it to our original notes.
What do those notes look like? A written description?
We created one of those spider graphs. We draw it out when it’s in our head, and then we taste and compare to the spider graph. That’s how you see if you’re there or [if some flavors are] over the top. For instance, we might have too much grapefruit, and that it’s hiding the other flavors, so we’ll pull it back. That’s where the art of being a brewer comes in, being able to drive a recipe to where you want it.
Walk me through the original idea that you put down on the graph.
We wanted to make something in the same realm of our double IPA. We wanted it lower in alcohol, but still have that grapefruit-forward flavor, with a wider variety of other fruits. We also wanted to catch the essence of Mosaic hops. We wanted it to be very dry, with medium carbonation, but we didn’t want that to take away from any of the flavor.
For Betty, you settled on a blend of Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and Mosaic hops. When writing the original recipe, were you pretty confident about what flavors/aromas each hop variety would contribute?
We had to experiment with brewing a single-hop beer with Mosaic, and we were blown away by the various amounts of flavors. [For the other varieties], we had a pretty good graph of what flavors and aromas come out of which hops. We knew which hops would give a little more grapefruit, a little more pine. That’s part of the brewer’s art. We played a lot. It took a lot of test-batches because we were exact in what we wanted.
I heard it took six test-batches over the course of about eight months, and each tweaked version was served at your tasting room as Experimental IPA. How did that work?
We just spoke with people and got their feedback. When we were talking to consumers, we weren’t really looking for what they liked or didn’t like, but whether they were saying what [flavors] we were going for. And we have so many employees; we also got a lot of feedback through our sophisticated tasting panels.
After receiving feedback, how did you refine the recipe?
We’d just work on a couple variables at a time. Let’s work on malts; now, lets work on hop aroma; now let’s work on hop flavor. There are a lot of variables interconnected with other variables: pH, brewing salts, hop extracts versus not using hop extracts. We wanted to make sure that when the beer first came out, we were proud of it, so we spent a lot of time getting it perfect. You only get one shot at a first impression.
How is that first impression?
You pop a crown of a Betty bottle, and [the aroma’s] right there in your face.
Does it match that original spider graph?
The final product is exactly what we wanted. The aroma is a lot of grapefruit, pine and earthiness. When you’re drinking it, it’s mouth-coating hop flavor with grapefruit, berries and stone fruit—the best part of the whole beer. You get this diversity of flavor that’s all over the board. It’s just a ton of hop flavor without the crushing bitterness. It finishes bitter on the back end, and you get a little bit of lingering bitterness, but then it wipes pretty clean. It’s my favorite beer at the moment.