Bell's Presents: Kyle Hollingsworth's Brewru Experience

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kyle Hollingsworth: For me, recently I made a juniper IPA.  I had a basic sense of what I was going to do but I was able to improvise on top of that and jump into that creativity.  Being in that moment and trying to take a leap of faith.  Like if you’re in a jam on stage with String Cheese, there’s going to be mistakes and there’s going to be amazing moments but sometimes when you jump into that void, great things can happen.  I feel the same way with brewing, at least for me.  We were discussing a brew that didn’t actually come out.  We were tasting one of your brews, and it took awhile and you kind of jump in that space and then all of a sudden it can be a happy mistake, the best jam you’ve ever had or the worst beer you’ve ever tasted.  So for me, I think there’s a bit of creative input in the recipe process

Steve Berthel: For me, my last brewing with The Livery in Benton Harbor, I really focused on the sour ales and lagers and letting the natural wild yeast that floats through the atmosphere ferment the beers in their secondary fermentation in the wood barrels.  To me that was like the epitome of brewing, you had your basic brewing science for the initial beer but then you place it in the hands of the gods, the brewing gods, and the wood barrel for up to two years and you let the wild yeast in the atmosphere in the air that we breathe finish it off. It’s kind of like a train wreck.  You’re not really sure what you’ll end up with.  Mike was telling us about the beer we sampled backstage and you just be patient, let it go, let it go, let it sit a little bit longer and all of a sudden you’re rewarded with this amazing thing that’s never been done.  As many breweries and as many beer styles as there are in the universe, there’s always room for more.

KH: That relates to music for me, let the jam ride sometimes. You with me?

SB: Absolutely!

KH: No need to jump right in, let the beer do its thing and let the music kind of build on its own

SB:  Especially if you don’t know the chord structure in the song. 

KH: exactly!

SB: Listen a little bit more, and you’ll get it

Jesse Miller: JM-just keep it riding

SB: couple years in the barrel, magic!

KH:  Mike, tell me about recipe creation and how it starts.  What’s the creative process beyond that?

Mike: You’ve got your few core grains that you have to kind of stay with that will give you your general base of your beer.  It depends on your style, if you’re going with a stout you need some nice black roasted grain.  It really starts at the grain for what beer style you want to try.  We’ll start with an IPA, that’s really based around hops so we’ll go with a nice light grain and hops are the showcase. We’ll pick very floral resin-y potent hops to make that the centerpiece

KH: Do you think there is an amount of creativity that goes into that? Like, when you’re writing a song, sometimes I’m like I want to write something in 6/8 that’s fun and danceable or are you very specifically looking for “I’m going to add orange peel.”?

Mike: Oh definitely, yeah, I go more for flavors that we get like, melon, tropical fruit, passion fruit, pineapple, pine resin, juniper even.  All those are really great flavors for an IPA.  I kind of pick those off and I pick a certain strain of hops that will portray that flavor better.

JM: I just kind of want to ask, I am a beer lover, not a brewer.  When you’re picking which hops you want to say, do you kind of have an idea when you’re going in… I know that each different hop will have a – like say your simcoe will have more grapefruit forward, or something else but when you get into combining those – I think this is what Kyle was getting at with the analogy between brewing and music, that’s where the kind of crazy things start happening.  Do you have a good feeling going in where you know if I take these two specific kinds of hops, what I might end up with? Or is it always kind of a little bit of a roll of the dice?

SB: Well, let me, sorry to interrupt, but from a small brewer perspective, the last few years has been very challenging for hop availability.  A lot of the favorite hops that we used to be able to get nationwide we couldn’t get any more so it made us get more creative with the hops that were available to us.  Say you play guitar with Ernie Ball strings and all of a sudden you don’t have any, you play GHS Boomers instead.  You might have to change a few things but you’ll get the job done.  That’s what we did with hops.  For awhile there we saw brewers coming out with gruits, sake, and stuff that was hopped or bittered with stuff other than hops and it was kind of foul.  You know it wasn’t really beer in my opinion.  It was a fermented beverage. I think as a brewer it doesn’t matter if you’re the size of Bells or Founders or the size of what my breweries were; now I work for New Holland. We represent the 3 largest breweries in the state of Michigan, but I’m a pub brewer so I have the flexibility to do whatever I want.  I just think about what’s out there, what beer styles haven’t been done, what hops are there that I haven’t tried yet.  For me it’s like, every day of my life I learn something new at my job and that’s a beautiful thing.

KH: Same thing with me, everyday I’m on stage and learning something new.  Every time you jump into that space, something magical happens or… possibly not.  I want to talk a little bit about balance, people have heard me say this quote before, balance of beer and balance in a mix you’re hearing from front of house.  Even if it’s the best Trey solo, Warren Haynes solo, if it’s like 25 db louder than anything else that’s going on stage and there’s no accordion or keyboards which are really important to me, if there’s no kick drum but there’s all this guitar, then the balance is off.  For me, I think there’s a good connection between getting the right balance in music and a good balance in your beer.

JM: Yeah, it’s funny I just emailed you about this the other day about this idea of balance; I was at this really cool show with an organ duo band.  They were really stretching out and trying out some out-there ideas and as a musician I felt it was easy for me to stay engaged but I was worried about the audience maybe it was over their head.  It was some pretty heavy stuff, complicated things. I was wondering if they were losing their ability to connect with people and I was thinking about beer in the same way.  There’s a lot of brewers out there that will really take things and experiment, push the envelope, and while that’s exciting, I think that in the end you lose the ability to connect with people.  So I think that in beer as with music, it’s important to think about your audience, about who you’re trying to connect with and are you giving them something that they can engage in

JK: Adam and I were just talking about this backstage.  He was showing us a beer from Three Floyds in Muenster IN, one of the nation’s foremost brewers. I said you know some of their beers are a little bit over the top for me and Adam said that is what he appreciates about them, they are over the top with stuff.  Like music and beer, there is something for everybody out there.  You can listen to Barry Manilow, you can drink White beer, you can listen to metal bands, and you can drink Three Floyds or anything in between.  That is the beauty of this industry.  The music industry and the beer industry offer something for everyone’s palate.  There’s music for everyone’s musical palate and there is so many instruments that are involved in music these days, especially with the internet, that whatever you think you might like you can always find something you might like even better, that’s pretty cool.

Adam Lewis: And I think that also goes the same way, like how much of something you can take.  As a beer nerd, I always like to push my palate and taste something that’s crazy out there.  Someone’s really pushing one ingredient or something like, this is the most bitter beer in the world, this is the highest alcohol content in the world but, at the end of the day you can have one of those and you’re not clamoring back for more.  I think the thing with balance is the same thing with music.  You want to be able to push boundaries at some point but then when you’re coming back to your base, that’s the balance and that’s where I really see the analogy.

KH: Water grain hops and yeast barley – can they all be band members in this group called beer?