If you love craft beer, then you probably love some of the new styles and flavors that you find flowing from the taps these days. Where do they all come from? If anyone tells you they appear by magic, that is only partly true. It actually takes a lot of hard work to bring a new beer style from concept to pint glass.
The journey begins with passion: a brewer will dust off a beloved old homebrew recipe from a stained and wrinkled notebook, or the guys in the cellar will get talking about beers they tasted while traveling, or the hop farm will send a sample of an experimental new variety. Very often, new ideas come from beer drinkers; salespeople and distributors always listen for word on the street. The people are thirsty for new flavor, and Wachusett answers the call.
Next comes vision. The brewer needs to find a clear direction, and decide just how the new beer will look, smell, and taste. Since all new ideas are built upon what came before, the creative team will need to draw inspiration from existing beers. They visit other breweries, raid their homebrew stashes, and scour specialty liquor stores to assemble a dozen or so beers. Then they roll up their sleeves and get to work. Tasting is serious business. The team takes careful notes on everything they perceive: the distinctive aroma of the hops, the chewy burnt character of toasted malt, the complexities of fermentation, the lacing on the inside of the glass. By comparing notes and exchanging ideas the brewers may soon reach a shared vision and goal. Or, they may fall to arguing, and then…back to the drawing board!
Then comes experimentation. The brewers have many years of experience to guide them in creating a recipe that will fulfill the vision. But there are literally thousands of different varieties of malt and hops to choose from, to say nothing of specialty ingredients. And it’s the details of the brewing process that must transform these raw constituents into the ambrosial elixir we crave. Even the most skilled brewmaster is seldom satisfied with the first attempt. So, Wachusett uses a 10-gallon pilot scale brewing system to try out recipes. Small bathes can be brewed, evaluated, adjusted, and brewed again until the beer is just right. The Quality Assurance Lab guides this process by measuring Alcohol, pH, bitterness & etc. to ensure the new creation hits all its technical specifications.
At this point, everyone at the brewery gets involved: sales, accounting, maintenance staff- they all need to report to the sensory analysis lab for blind tasting of the test batches. Every brewery needs a “B.S. detector,” and this is it. It doesn’t matter if the brewers love a pilot batch; if the staff doesn’t love it too, it’s back to brewing on the pilot system.
Once the recipe is finalized, the ingredients are ordered, and the brew-day is put on the schedule. After all the development process, brewing the beer is breezy by comparison. State-of-the-art instrumentation allows control of all the parameters from milling the barley through fermentation and maturation. Within a few weeks, it’s ready for packaging. Icy condensate forms on stainless steel pipes running from the beer cellars to the filling lines. The packaging manager always grabs a bottle or can off the conveyor, cracks it open, and raises a toast to the first stretch-wrapped pallet of cases as the forklift picks it up and rumbles out to the loading dock. Wachusett has its own fleet of trucks to see it safely on its way to thousands of jubilant beer lovers.
-The Wachusett Brewing Co. Brewmasters
Taste Wachusett brews and more local craft beer at Brew Woo on April 1!