Back in the beer game. There’s a new (old) kid in town!
So I was checking out my Twitter feed the other day and came across a link to this story on Aus Brews News. It was all about local Tasmanian legend, Owen Johnston, and his new brewing company…Hop Trial Brewing Co. I would like to think that I am fairly well connected to the craft brew scene in my home town, I know OJ and only work 10 minutes from his office at Hop Products Australia, and have even brewed a few beers with some samples from HPA’s hop collection…but somehow I totally missed the news about his new project.
Immediately jumping onto email, I shot OJ a message to find out what was going on. It turned out that he was launching his new Ella Pale Ale at a pub near my work the following night! I told him that I would be there to try it and was keen to ask him a few questions, and maybe even get the great man on video? He was more than happy to help me out with both requests, so what you see below is the transcript from our chat and the video that I put together from the launch function.
Scroll down for the interview with OJ, or listen to him talk about his plans for HTBC in the video below.
Beerhealer: Thanks for having a chat with me today, mate. Pretty exciting to be back in the beer game with a new brew. How long has this idea of yours been brewing (pardon the pun)?
Owen Johnston: Not long really, maybe a year? Hops have always been a fascinating mystery to me and exploring them through hop focused beers is just a small step from there.
BH: Well I guess you’re in the right job to explore hops! Did you miss the brewing side of things, or are you passionate about educating drinkers on the beauty of the hop?
OJ: I definitely miss the brewing side of things. The creative outlet is one thing, but I just love running the brewhouse and converting raw materials into tasty beverages. Trying to bring a small change in the dialogue around hops is a pretty audacious thing to attempt, call it education or whatever, but what better way to do it than standing around drinking a beer in the pub with your beer-loving mates?
BH: Sounds like you are living the dream to me. Are you talking to craft beer enthusiasts with this project, or do you think your average beer drinker will be interested? If so, how will you attract them to your work?
OJ: I think the Hop Trial Brewing Company is more for the pretty solid brewing enthusiast, but I am happy to help educate all drinkers. The conversation I want to have with the drinker can get pretty technical so it might not interest the average drinker, but you never know.
(I tend to agree with Owen here, but I also think his attempt to shift drinkers focus from grams of hops per litre, which can be deceiving based on how much hop oil is in a hop, to actual ml’s of hop oil per hectolitre, allows the drinker to compare apples with apples and might actually simplify things for all drinkers?)
BH: Is it just me, or do hop heads just want “MORE BU’s” without fully appreciating the science behind the art of bittering a beer? Will this help educate the public?
OJ: I agree in part – the hop heads want more hop in all its forms in the beer. That’s bittering, aroma and flavour. The good thing about hop fanatics like that is, they can still appreciate a well-balanced hop-centric beer for what it is. I honestly think the hop heads are the ones who might like to hear about the usage of the hop behind the beer, as well as how it tastes. Ella Pale Ale isn’t supposed to be a pallet-wrecker, its 4.5% ABV and ~35 IBU. Pretty middle of the road really!
(Just for the record, I really enjoyed Owen’s Ella Pale Ale and would not describe it as a “middle of the road”, it deserves far more credit than that!)
BH: To me, this is a great thing for the industry. Do other craft brewers share your enthusiasm? I guess in terms of immediate sales, you could be seen as a competitor for a tap point, but I see this as a great long term play for educating drinkers…do you agree?
OJ: The value in this as a conversation piece to help people better understand beer is yet to be proven. I would like to think that the beer geek fringe (and brewers) might pick up this small change is the way we talk about hop use, and over time, it will filter to more mainstream use.
OJ: I have had the opportunity to taste a few Ella-focused beers in my travels, but I hadn’t brewed with it during my time at Moo Brew. Because I really enjoyed those beers, I was drawn to it. From a personal perspective, I wanted to see how it tasted first-hand in a beer I was in charge of. The result was great – I could taste the beer post-ferment, but pre-dry hop, then dry hop it and bring it through to final package in keg. It showed me the range of flavour and aroma that Ella can bring – I find that fascinating and would love to share that with everyone.
BH: Some hops work best in the whirlpool, and others in the dry hopping phase…is that a fair assessment? If so, are there any you don’t feel would be as suited to a SMASH beer?
OJ: Terms like ‘work best’ are very subjective, especially if you are using a hop like Ella. I found a nice floral and spice profile from the whirlpool addition, and then dramatic shift to fruit after dry hopping. So who is to say which one works best?
(Every day is a school day when you get to sit down and talk beer with OJ!)
BH: Sierra Nevada recently started brewing with a concentrated hop oil in their Hop Hunter IPA (I loved it), do you think that this kind of experimentation could be next for you?
OJ: I don’t think so – there are so many great hops out there, I can’t see past just getting to know those in their traditional T90 settings.
(School day again for me…I had no idea what T90 settings were…apparently the hop pellets that us brewers use, both home and professional, are referred to as Type 90 pellets. The Type 90 pellet is made from dried hop cone powder and is called “Type 90” because there is about 10% waste in the production process, from dried hops to pellets.)
BH: What’s the next brew and how often do you think you will release a beer? Is there a book or a speaking tour to follow?
OJ: There is some discussion about the next beer; to change hop or not? I would love to do this Ella Pale Ale again, and show people the beer without the dominating dry hop. Definitely no book or speaking tour – I do have to hold down my day job!!
BH: Where can our mainland friends find the new beer?
OJ: I’ll let you know!
Well, that’s it from Owen Johnston and Hop Trial Brewing Company for now, but keep an eye out soon for more beer from him and more conversation around how hops are used in brewing. I would like to extend a massive thank you to Owen for sitting down and having a chat with me (at very short notice), he is always very generous with his time and I do appreciate it.
As usual, another beer review this coming Wednesday, Beer O’Clock on Friday and story time next Monday. I would love you to check out my Facebook page or subscribe to my YoutTube channel! You can also sign up for email notifications here , leave me a comment to let me know how I am going, or follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and maybe even re-tweet some of my stuff…it all helps!