There’s a few questions that we get asked a lot regarding our beers. In particular; how we come up with the beers we brew, how we settled on our core range and what the craft beer names that we chose mean. In this blog post we’ll talk a bit about these things.
Back before the brewery opened and we had more time on our hands, Govs was living up on Mount Tamborine, while Dan and myself were down on the Gold Coast, about a 45-minute drive away. We found ourselves up the mountain most weekends, either brewing (ie. watching Gov’s brew) or drinking, actually mostly drinking. During this time we homebrewed the majority of the beers we now call our core range. This experimental brewing phase turned out to be crucial for us.
Before opening a brewery was even on the radar, and we were brewing flat stick on Gov’s 3-vessel rig, we would only brew beers we were interested in drinking ourselves. The same thing applies today. We brew what we’d like to drink at home or out and hope that others enjoy them too.
Now that the brewery is established we still test and fine tune our recipes on a 100-litre pilot set up whenever possible before unleashing the beer in the taproom. We have limited fermenting space so we don’t do this as often as we’d like. But we’ve got a few recipes up our sleeves that were well received that will no doubt get a tweak and a start on the big rig.
Core range beers
Black Hops started when I had a general idea for a beer I wished someone would brew, an Eggnog Stout. I chatted with Govs about it who came up with how we’d achieve those flavours.
That process is more or less how we’ve come up with most of our core range beers. Either Govs or I will have an idea for a beer, and we will work together on what’s practical before doing up a pilot batch. This was the case for beers like our Beach House, Code Red and ABC Bomb and more experimental beers like our GABS beers Assault Trifle (Trifle Pale Ale) and Kill Patrick (Oyster Killpatrick Stout).
Sometimes beers come about by accident or sometimes we come up with a cool name first and figure out how to brew a beer that carries the name well. But for the most part we plan them out and work through from initial idea, to pilot batch to commercial release.
Here’s how it’s happened for some of our more popular beers.
Any excuse we had for a celebration beer, we would drink a bottle of Saison Dupont. We all love that beer and wanted something similar in our fridge at home, but slightly more sessionable and suited to our climate, so we went about brewing it. This was early on, again there was no intention yet of opening a brewery or thinking of it as a core range beer.
Traditionally Saisons were farmers beers called Farmhouse Ales, we were all from the Coast, Dan’s front yard was the beach, so Beach House was what we called it.
Saisons have great qualities like their low bitterness, low hop aroma, and a wheaty dry finish. But the funk often associated with them, the yeasty appearance and spicy hops could be a turn-off. This is where Govs made his tweaks and came up with a modern twist on a traditional style by including modern Australian & New Zealand hops and adjusting the fermentation temperatures to make a Gold Coast version of a traditional style. Blending a nice hoppy pale ale, with a delicious Saison flavour seemed like a no brainer. Particularly for the tropical Queensland climate.
For our first crack, we brewed a pale ale with an additional 30% wheat. We fermented at 18 degrees which isn’t the typical ferment temp for a farmhouse ale (generally 24 degrees then up to 30 degrees for final few days, which is how the funk is achieved).
We didn’t want the funk so much, but we got the clean characteristics of a farmhouse ale, the dry finish clove, and zesty orange. The dry hopping brought in tropical aroma. We used mainly Galaxy hops.
The result was a spectacular looking beer, with a strong Saison flavour but a heavy, bitter finish.
Most of the friends we gave it to, liked it. However the bitterness scared off a few non-craft beer people. And we wanted this beer to be a gateway beer, but also a beer the beer nerds would appreciate.
For version 2 we went the other end of the scale. We subbed in some CaraMunich malt (10%) to give colour and some malt richness and we backed off the hops for less bitterness. We didn’t put Galaxy in the boil, which is what caused the bitterness in version 1.
The result was no bitterness, and still a decent Saison flavour but a much darker beer than planned. More like a Farmhouse Red. It was a great beer, but it wasn’t the Beach House we were looking for.
So for the final version, we combined the best bits of both. We left the Galaxy out of the boil, left the CaraMunich out and added oats for body and creaminess. We used the malt bill from Version 1 and the hops from version 2. The result was what we were looking for. Subtle hoppy pale ale with the classic Saison flavour.
Since opening our brewery, Beach House has been slightly tweaked again and has been by far our most popular beer.
This beer came about when we were asked to do the beers for a mates wedding. They wanted a mid-strength option and we hadn’t brewed a mid-strength beer yet. Govs messaged us both one morning saying 30 Cal would make a good beer name, it could be a 3% Californian Common. We liked the double meaning with the style and the 30 Calibre bullet (with a name like Black Hops we don’t mind the odd military reference for our beers). We homebrewed it and settled on a recipe then went on to brew a few kegs at Bacchus for the wedding.
This beer ended up being a core range beer, as we wanted a mid-strength & didn’t want to go down the common path of a watered down Pale Ale or IPA.
This beer came about because of a fuck up. We had a pale ale we were brewing under the name of Gold Coast Pale Ale. It was safe and enjoyable but a bit boring, none of us really loved it or the name. We were brewing 2,400L of this beer at 4 Hearts and Govs accidently double-hopped the kettle additions and the beer came out crazy bitter. In the beginning we had no idea what to do with it. Once it had settled a bit we liked it, but it was so different to Gold Coast Pale that we couldn’t sell it as that.
Once kegged I took a few samples to bars and Andrew Eggins at Surfers Sandbar was one of them. We were talking about something completely unrelated when he used the words ‘Bit of Fun’. The name stuck with me and I returned to Black Hops and let Dan and Govs know, they loved it and Bitter Fun was born.
So we dropped Gold Coast Pale Ale from our range & replaced it with our more refined Bitter Fun, which is now our pale ale.
For the same wedding that we brewed 30 Cal, our mates also wanted a cider for the occasion. We weren’t keen to do a cider but Govs thought we could add raspberries to our saison & create something pretty close. It was a hit, we had proper blokes in footy shorts the next day drinking this beer like it was XXXX Gold. The women loved it as well so it was a win- win.
For the wedding we called it Pinky because we hadn’t even considered having to put much more thought into it. But we liked it, people liked it and once we decided it would be a core beer we brainstormed a better name. Govs came up with Pink Mist; again it’s a military reference if you want to Google it, but it’s a bit of a secret and not as cute as it sounds.
Through the early pilot phase we brewed mainly dark beers, partly because it was the cooler months but mostly because we wanted to. We came up with Code Red (Red IPA) and ABC Bomb (Black IPA), but we hadn’t done any light IPA’s at all. Seasonal IPA’s allows us to brew lots of IPA’s for the different seasons, and also means we know whatever is out there at the time is fresh. We’ve just brewed our Summer IPA called Hornet, which is one we never got to pilot brew first. We liked this name because it’s short, says something about the beer and also has the subtle military reference. All of these seasonal IPAs have a military reference in their names:
- ABC Bomb (American Black C-Hopped Bomb – Winter release)
- Code Red (Red IPA – Autumn release)
- Flash Bang (Wheat IPA – Spring release)
- Hornet (IPA – Summer release)
We homebrewed lots of beers, some we loved, some we liked, some we didn’t like so much. Settling on a core range once the brewery opened was tough. We wanted beers that suited our climate & lifestyle, so as much as we like to drink big black imperial stouts & double IPA’s, they weren’t really part of the Gold Coast day to day drinking culture. So we knew they couldn’t really exist as part of a core range in a small, start-up local brewery. That’s not to say we won’t brew these, because we most certainly will. We also didn’t want our core range to offer the same thing that every other brewery has to offer. So in total we have 9 core range beers, 5 regular beers and 4 seasonal IPA’s. With the overlap in beer availability, normally you will be able to get either 2 or 3 of the seasonal IPA’s on tap at Black Hops HQ.
We also use our pilot system to brew one-off taproom releases, as well as collabs. A few examples include our Indian Black Lager, Grapefruit XPA, Hoppy Session Lager (coming soon), Belgian Tripels, Coffee Porters, Coffee IPA’s and Triple IPA’s.
The process for coming up with those beers is a bit different. Sometimes we’ll come up with an idea for a beer to tie in with a specific event or festival. At last year’s Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) we came 13th in the People’s Choice category with our “Kill Patrick” Oyster Stout. This year we came up with a beer called Assault Trifle, which we infused with the flavours of an English trifle style sponge cake and improved our spot to 9th.
Even for experimental beers like this, we still make sure they are approachable and drinkable enough to be served at bars.
For this year’s Brisbane’s Best Beer Banger V2, we came up with a special tartare-infused version of our Beach House Ale. We put together a pilot batch first to make sure it didn’t taste like poison, and once it passed muster we cranked out a keg for the event. We came up with this beer to go with the seafood sausage that we’d also created especially for the occasion.
And our 5.8% Grapefruit XPA, The Kramer, was produced in collaboration with Burleigh-based Kustom footwear, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their Kramer shoe. We had a tasting session with Andrew and Ben from Kustom and arrived at the ideal beer for their launch. They chose the name and looked after the design and branding.
Occasionally we’ll choose to run with an idea originating outside of the Black Hops inner sanctum. One of our investors, Paul, had been onto us for quite awhile about brewing a beer that tasted like a bacon sandwich. So we got to work and came up with a Bacon Butty IPA, using the key ingredients of bacon, bread and brown sauce, together with a generous addition of European style noble hops. It was a big hit at Black Hops HQ!
Be sure to check out our Black Hops rewards program, where loyal Black Hops Ambassadors earn points to receive beer rewards. To become an Ambassador, go to: blackhops.com.au/rewards, sign up and start collecting your reward points. Or one of the boys can sign you up the next time you visit our taproom in Burleigh Heads.