Great Flood Brewing opened in April to much fanfare, running out of beer its first weekend due to the huge turnout.
It’s hard to believe Great Flood has already brewed it’s 100th batch, but it got here quickly thanks to increased production by the small brewing operation. Great Flood decided to do something special for No. 100, creating a beer dubbed G&G Blowin’ Smoke, A Habanero Ale – it’s a smoky habanero beer that was a collaboration with Grind Burger Kitchen and will be officially tapped for the first time this Saturday, Dec. 13, at the brewery’s taproom. It will later be available at Grind as well.
The beer was inspired by Grind’s hugely popular B&B Burger, a signature sandwich topped with brie cheese, bacon and house-made smoked habanero or apricot jam. It’s the habanero that Great Flood and Grind (thus the G&G in the name of the beer) wanted to honor. And it came about mostly by accident.
“We were sitting here drinking beer, and we said, ‘What if we did a beer together?’” Grind co-owner Liz Huot says between sips of the finished product. “That’s how I remember it.”
As brewing kicks off, the owners at Great Flood – Matt Fuller, Zach Barnes and Vince Cain – offer to let me look on as they create their 100th beer, so I get to watch the beer grow from buckets of grains to a beer made with honey malt, Munich malts, two row barley and two different caramel malts.
One of the malts, a smoked cherry, smells so good as a grain that it’s positively mouth-watering. As the grains are poured into buckets, Barnes and I actually are snacking on it like popcorn. The beer also gets brewed with British hops chosen to help bring out the habanero spice. Black tea from Grind, which also is used in the jam, is present as well.
But for starters, the brewers add habanero peppers to vodka and let the dangerous concoction soak to create the extract that will provide the signature spicy finish.
“If you’ve had the jam, it’s sweet and smoky and spicy, and that’s what we’re going for,” Fuller says as the process begins. “Hopefully, the unique habanero flavor will make an appearance but not dominate.”
When the time comes to brew, Barnes shows me how to mill the grain to prepare the mash.
“This is going to smell amazing,” he says. “That’s why this is the best part.”
Bucket after bucket, he grinds up the various grains using a small grinder powered by a hand drill, and it certainly is a treat for the olfactory. He even lets me crank out a bucket or two, once I am able to secure my grip on the drill. It almost smells better as grain than as beer. Almost.
And then, in go the grains to the mash tun, with a long 2×4 for stirring to keep the many grains and husks from clumping. The smells coming from the tun are incredible, and with each grain that goes in, the layers to the aroma get deeper. The last one opens up a range of smells that resemble raisins and other fruit-like hints.
The grains are mashed for an hour to convert them to easily ferment-able sugars, then filtered into the brew kettle. That’s when the hops and other ingredients go in – but first, the kettle still needs to be cleaned from the 99th batch. That’s when the delicious aromas stop for the brewers.
I hear Zach say, “That smells like fish.” And he’s right; when he and Fuller tip the kettle over to pour what is left into a bucket, brown, gunky remains come out smelling like canned tuna. Barnes and Fuller arm themselves with cleaning solution and hoses, and they wash and they clean and they clean and they wash. But it’s no use.
“Someone’s going to have to go in there,” Fuller finally says. This sets off a playful debate as to who is actually going to crawl inside the kettle and wash it by hand. (Cleaning is perhaps the most time-consuming and least glamorous part of brewing.)
Fuller argues that he’s wearing a nice shirt. Barnes finally concedes, saying, “If you do everything else, I’ll go in.”
“You’ll be famous,” Fuller says, referring to the fact a member of the media was present.
Eventually, they lay the kettle on its side, and Barnes crawls inside with cleaning solution and towels in hand. The smell must be strong as hell in there, but he keeps making small talk while cleaning the coil and the kettle walls. They rinse and dump, and then he goes around and around the kettle walls, cleaning everything. They then rinse and dump again, and Matt puts the kettle back into place to prepare for the incoming batch.
Once the wort is brewed, it goes into fermenters for a couple of weeks. Once the base beer is ready to be carbonated in a separate vessel, called a brite tank, it is infused with the spicy extract.
Fuller has drawn the job of first chopping the peppers and now straining the extract from the peppers and vodka blend, and what comes out smells delicious, like intensely strong, fresh habaneros.
“It’s warming my throat just from smelling it,” Barnes says after a whiff of the strained extract.
From there, the brewers and restaurant owners Liz and Jesse Huot experiment with small amounts to get just the right balance of heat and flavors, finally landing on a beer with a deep amber color that is imminently drinkable but also a bit more complex than you expect after just a sip or two.
You identify it by nose as a malt-forward and lightly smoky ale, with just a hint of the spice and honey. As you continue to take drinks, however, the heat becomes cumulative; it’s never overpowering, but it is assertive. If you like spicy foods, you’ll love Blowin’ Smoke. If not, you should at least be able to appreciate the balance between the many flavors.
When the first tastes go down a week and a half before the release date, everyone involved seems to know the beer hits the mark.
“That’s so good, guys,” Liz says. “It’s perfect.”
Asked how the final infusion of habanero extract came about, Fuller says, “We did a tone of calculating, and I’m not going to lie to you – it came down to an educated guess.”
Jesse Huot, who developed the habanero jam, is pleased. He notes that the B&B burger has been a huge percentage of Grind’s business since the burger was created. The beer, he and Liz believe, will be a perfect pairing. From there, it was a matter of naming it, and several possibilities were tossed around. (My suggestion of Smokey the Beer didn’t make the cut, sadly.)
But for Great Flood’s owners/brewers, it was an eventful and successful 100th beer. “I think we’ll sell a lot of it,” Fuller says.
And for the Huots, it has simply been a memorable process.
“It’s really, on a nerd level, exciting that somebody wants to work with us on a beer,” Jesse says. “We’re not the cool restaurant people.”
G&G Blowin’ Smoke will be tapped at 6 p.m. this Saturday. Cain says he expects the beer to last a while, but anything goes if it catches fire.