Spiffy is not ready to be packaged today which is several days past our scheduled target date. It is close, but it is just not quite there, and “close” is not what we strive to do at Foundation. We also can’t tell you when it is going to be done, because if it was up to us, it would be done already. However, that is ultimately up to the yeast, and all we can do is be patient. We will keep you updated, and we know it will be worth the wait.
Why it’s not ready to be packaged today is a long story. So, grab a drink, take a seat, and please read on if you want to learn more, and get a glimpse into our quality processes and beliefs. We’re going to talk about dry-hopping, diacetyl, and the impact of yeast on both of those processes.
Dry-hopping is when you add hops to your fermenting or finished beer. It has become the hallmark of IPAs, and helps produce the glorious combination of fruity, spicy, dank, resinous, and piney notes that have come to define the style. The timing of when you dry-hop, what hops you use, how frequently, and at what stage of fermentation, all have a large impact on the final outcome of the beer. However, besides the impact on taste and aroma, dry-hopping also tends to kick off another process, a round of subtle fermentation we call fermentation creep, triggered by enzymes naturally occurring in the hops.
Diacetyl is also part of the discussion when you are talking about fermentation with brewers yeast. A normal byproduct of fermentation, diacetyl gives off a buttery or butterscotch taste and aroma. Some breweries consider diacetyl a normal part of their flavor profile, others do not. Here at Foundation, we have decided that we do not prefer it, and we try to avoid diacetyl flavors in our beer. The good news for us is that as yeast ferments the beer, it naturally turns the diacetyl into a flavorless compound over time. The bad news is that phrase “over time” and this typically requires patience.
At Foundation, we believe fermentation is complete and the beer suitable to move to packaging when the gravity has stabilized and the beer passes a Forced Diacetyl Test. During this test, we take a sample, heat it up to 140F, and let it sit there for 30 minutes. This forces any precursors to break down into diacetyl. Keeping a beer cold slows down this process, but does not stop it, and heating it up mimics in 30 minutes what is going to happen to the beer over the coming weeks regardless of how it may be stored. We then cool the beer, and have a tasting panel composed of members of our production, lab and tasting room teams sample the beer next to a sample which has not been heated. Everyone is blinded to the responses of others to avoid any bias. We do this daily, with every batch of beer, until the panel decides neither sample has any detectable diacetyl. We then take the extra step of letting the tank sit at room temperature for another 24 hours, just to make sure, before we start to cool the beer, and prepare it to go into kegs or cans. Over time, we have developed a pretty reliable schedule for our core beers. However, yeast is a living thing, and sometimes, it laughs at us, and tells us where to stick it.
That is what is happening with Spiffy. The malts in Spiffy are the same as Epiphany, but instead of the double dry-hopping process we normally do with Epiphany, we not only added a higher quantity of hops, but we also added a third round of dry-hopping late in fermentation, to give it that extra burst. We thought about leaving it there, however, we wanted to make not just an amped up version of Epiphany, but also something unique. So, we decided to also use a new strain of yeast when we fermented Spiffy. Yeast is the transformative component of beer. Each strain not only has unique flavors, they also have different personalities and behaviors. We had used this new yeast strain to make Dreamboat, our new IPA which is being released this coming weekend, and enjoyed it so much, we decided to use it in Spiffy as well.
We researched this new yeast strain before deciding to go with it and made allowances in our schedule to try to account for the unexpected. This included adding over a week of extra fermentation time to the schedule, just in case. We thought we had planned enough time for Spiffy to hang out in the tank, and turn into the beer we wanted it to become. Unfortunately, the yeast is testing our patience and reminding us that brewing is a craft where you are constantly learning.
From brewday, and through all the samples we have tried to date, we love how this beer has matured and developed. It tastes awesome, and at the end of this journey, we think you will agree with us. However, we don’t believe it is enough for a beer to taste awesome when we release it, we want it to taste awesome for weeks to come. Part of the fun of IPAs is to explore how they change and develop over time, and that is part of the reason why we date code our cans. So while flavor evolution is wonderful, we don’t want that to include diacetyl showing up in a few weeks. So we wait. We test it every day. And we package it when it’s ready.
Our fifth anniversary is coming up this winter. We appreciate Spiffy’s reminder that even after five years, there is always something new to learn. We make beer because we enjoy the challenge, love to be part of this amazing community, and appreciate the opportunity to share our work with you. Thanks for joining us on this journey.