A Fresh Malt Beer, An Accidental GABF Medal, and The Alpha King Challenge – A Typical Friday Night in Indiana Beer

A Fresh Malt Beer, An Accidental GABF Medal, and The Alpha King Challenge – A Typical Friday Night in Indiana Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Last Friday night was intended to be a casual night for a beer and some dinner with Walter. It had been a long week, and she deserved a night out. The plan was to try a sour or two at Upland Brewing FSQ with a small dinner, then play some video games at Tappers Arcade Bar, and finish with a short visit to her mug club mug at Metazoa Brewing.

We followed the plan, but the casual, non-work aspect of the evening did last long. You can never anticipate just when a new facet of craft beer or a story will pop up, you can only be sure that it will. Friday night we learned a new spin on beer ingredients, the story behind one of Metazoa Brewing’s 2020 GABF medal beers, and about an established competition of which we had never heard.

Those new stories, along with three new brewery stories on Saturday left Walter and I humbled and awed at the dynamism that still exists in craft beer, even in a Covid year. Here’s a short run down of our new knowledge:

Malt can be toasted or roasted to bring out different qualities and flavors. image credit: Dark Helmet on Pintrest

Fresh Malt Beer – We started at Upland FSQ for dinner and a beer. I was intrigued by the Fresh Malt Coffee Porter and asked about what made it a “fresh malt” beer. Our server didn’t have all the info. But he gave me enough to go on that I emailed Caleb Michalke at Sugar Creek Malt Co. to find out more.  He told me that it is a lot like it sounds – the malted grain for the beer was very fresh.

Al the lighter roasted or just toasted base malts for the beer had been kilned within 24 hours of them going through the mill to crack them and then into the mash tun. Caleb delivered them to Upland FSQ the day after they were finished, along with his portable roaster. He roasted some chocolate malt on site for the beer, and then it was milled and added to the mash tun as well.

Craft beer is all about fresh ingredients – hops that retain their aroma and characteristics, added ingredients like fresh vanilla, fresh fruits, and especially fresh coffee as in this fresh malt coffee porter. Patrick Lynch, Brewery Director for Upland Brewing said, “We used a blend of Calvin Fletcher coffee from Indy and Hopscotch coffee from Bloomington to tie together our two local brewing communities.”

Fresh ingredients make better beer – so why wouldn’t that be true for grains as well? Patrick added, “There is always hype around ‘wet hopped’ harvest beers where you can taste the freshness by using hops within 24 hours of picking them. But why let hops have all the fun? The goal for this beer was to see how malt flavor can carry over into a finished beer after it is malted, roasted, milled, and mashed-in within 24-48 hours.”

I read a couple of studies that looked at how malts age after kilning, with the results somewhat dependent on the amount roasting that is done. Light malts are said to work best after about three weeks of rest after kilning, giving them time to even out in moisture level and for any released amylase to start working on the sugars. It’s true that many maltsters hold their pale malts for a short time before releasing them, but a 2014 study said that for more heavily roasted malts, fresher is better.

Caleb’s portable roaster traveled to Upland to roast the chocolate malt. image credit: Patrick Lynch

In terms of both flavor and aroma, freshly roasted malts are superior, as back up by radical measurements by ESR spectroscopy and volatiles by GC-MS. So, by using chocolate malt roasted on site and then brewed, Upland and Sugar Creek were giving the malt the best chance to shine. So Patrick and Caleb were both right, this really is a unique way to let the malts shine.

I liked the beer, but truthfully, I hope they make another without coffee added. It tasted good no doubt, but I think that that the coffee might have masked some of the features of the fresh malt. I got good aroma and maybe a hint of grass from the fresher malt, but would like to investigate it on its own. Rogue Ales is the only other brewery I could find that did a fresh roasted malt beer, so I think we should encourage our local brewers to investigate this new way to bring out the best in an ingredient. Who knows, it could become a thing – no one could have anticipated the growth of hazy IPAs before a couple of years ago.

Metazoa Brewing’s Bronze Medal Hazy IPA – After a stop at Tappers Arcade Bar for some classic games and pinball, we headed over to Metazoa Brewing to visit Walter’s massive mug club mug. There was a wedding rehearsal dinner taking place in the section of the taproom where the mugs are stored, so we settled for pints and a taster of each beer we chose.

Metazoa Brewing has this T-shirt for sale to celebrate their GABF medal for Wicked Pawesome. image credit: Metazoa Brewing

We met Tara, a part time beer slinger, part time brewer for Metazoa and we congratulated them on their GABF medals for 2020 (a bronze in the Hazy IPA category and a bronze in the Classic Saison group). Tara told us a good story about the Wicked Pawesome Hazy IPA that showed just how much care Nick Betzner and the rest of the brewers at Metazoa put into their beers. It turns out that the Wicked Pawesome was never supposed to be entered at all.

They had planned on entering a coffee blonde with a great amount of body that came in the form of some lactose. When that beer didn’t meet their rigorous standards because of a miscommunication in the brewing, they decided to fill its slot for an experimental beer that had just made, a Hazy IPA with Eldorado and Loral hops. It was the first of an experimental hazy line, but it turned out so well that they thought it ought to have a chance to show its stuff.

The Hazy or Juicy IPA category was the largest of the entire GABF competition, so it wasn’t expected that they would win a medal, but they could get some really good feedback on the beer. Then low and behold, it won third place out of 377 entries. That doesn’t happen by accident, it happens because Metazoa uses the best technical and creative processes, and their brewers are really good at what they do.

The Alpha King Challenge – The Wicked Pawesome wasn’t the only surprise we got at Metazoa that night. Another beer on the list, the Puma Thurman, was noted as having won third place in the Alpha King Challenge for 2020. We weren’t surprised it won third place and the cash prize that went with it, but we were surprised because we hadn’t heard of the Alpha King Challenge before.

The winner of the Alpha King Challenge gets to wear the crown. image credit: Brewpublic

Three Floyds Brewing makes the Alpha King, a monsterously hopped beer that celebrates all things hop. Rob Malad of Metazoa Brewing told us, “The competition started 22 years ago when Ralph Olson from Hop Union (now Yakima Chief Hops) and Bill Owens of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery wanted to find the hoppiest beer in America. Today, it is put on by Yakima Chief Hops and Three Floyds.”

The contest is open to beers over 60 IBUs; however, just being hoppy isn’t enough to win. The organizers stated during the livestream of the awards that they were looking for the BEST hoppy beer, something balanced that you could drink a few pints of.

The competition is held each year in parallel with GABF, with the awards being handed out at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Denver on the Friday night of the Festival…. But this is 2020. Therefore, they had the contestants gather by their computers to see who had one.

image credit: Feed Store Beer Co.

Only the first 150 beers entered are accepted into the competition each year, with winners coming in previous years coming from some of the most notable breweries in the country – Bell’sPizza Port, Belching Beaver, and Russian River. This year, the tip twenty included breweries from seventeen states, including Barnaby Brewing of Juneau, AK, Stone’s Throw Brewing from Little Rock, AR, Revision Brewing from Sparks, NV, Twin Oast Brewing from Port Clinton, OH, and Hi Sign Brewing of Austin, TX.

When all was said and done, the blind judging rated Burke-Gilman Brewing’s Fresh Hopotheosis as best, Toppling Goliath’s King Sue as runner-up, and Metazoa Brewing’s Puma Thurman with Citra, Mosaic, Idaho 7, Loral, and Amarillo hops and 80 IBUs as number three. Rob said, “It’s very prestigious inside of the industry, but it’s not very highly publicized. It’s a very big deal. It was a big part of putting Pizza Port and Pinthouse Pizza on the map for their IPA game.”

Cool logo, is it not? image credit: Yard Goat Ales

Conclusion – Our weekend also included learning that Tappers Arcade Bar is dealing with social distancing responsibly by having every other game turned off on alternating A and B days, so if you want to play a certain game, check with Austin or the Tappers website for a list of what is on each day. We also stopped in at Fowling Warehouse-Indy and witnessed some of the most accurate tosses ever from a former Manual High School quarterback who insisted that basketball was really his game. The place was packed, so we suggest you call ahead for reservations in the coming weeks as more people look for indoor entertainment.

Finally, our travels on Saturday gave us our first visits to three new breweries. Feed Store Beer Co. in Bloomfield had been open one week when we stopped in for some beers and good conversation. The building and area are chock full of Indiana history, so make sure to ask Steve and Stacey Corbin about the Ghost of Milford, and the Tulip Trestle. Yard Goat Ales in Huntingburg was having their grand opening when we met Jason Barnett and the gang for a flight – their beers are way ahead of schedule. Lastly, we stopped in at Lighthouse Brewing in the Schnitz Pub in Jasper. This is the site of the old Schnitz Brewing, and DJ and the original brewhouse are teaming up again for beers to go with the excellent pizza. In all, a very informative and enjoyable 24 hours – get out there and do some learning and adventuring of your own.

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