Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Odell Brewing Co. Interview

On the East Coast many beer drinkers have heard the name Odell Brewing Co., but rarely do they see bottles of their beer unless it has been driven or flown East of the Mississippi River.  The Hop & Kettle decided to get in touch with Odell Brewing Co, based in Fort Collins, CO., to find out more about the Brewery.  Both Doug Odell, brewery Founder and Owner , and Joe Mohrfeld, the Head Brewer, at Odell Brewing Co. were gracious enough to take the time out of their busy schedules to answer a few of our questions.
Hop & Kettle:  Who/what inspired you to be a brewer?

Doug Odell:  I enjoyed homebrewing and after working at Anchor Brewing in the late 70s, I realized that people were interested in a local, flavorful beer.  By 1986, people were telling me that my beer was as good as craft beer was in the Pacific Northwest at the time.  That and the fact that other homebrewers like me were starting breweries pushed me over the edge.

Joe Mohrfeld:  I found brewing to be the one artistic medium that simply made sense to me. I understood the beautiful mix of art and science involved in creating complex and innovative beers. I find inspirations from many places when developing a new beer, everything from philosophical texts I first started reading in college (the inspiration for Odell Deconstruction), the culinary world, visual arts, and of course other brewers. It is a medium that I feel like I can express my ideas in a way that is delicious, complex and widely available.

Hop & Kettle:  Certain beer, to me, just knocks your socks off and changes your view of beer in general. What beer was "that" beer for you that really compelled you into the life of a beer brewer?

Doug Odell:  I would say it was Balentines India Pale Ale and Anchor Steam early on, and then Grant's Scottish Ale and Widmer Alt during the 80s in Seattle.

Joe Mohrfeld:  A few beers very early on that blew me away were Sierra Nevada Celebration, Bells Two Hearted turned me on to hops for the first time and then Rochefort 8 and Three Philosophers from Ommegang opened up the world of Belgian beers to me. 

Hop & Kettle:  What is your favorite style to brew?

Doug Odell:  I don't have a favorite style to brew.  I like to brew unusual beers on our Pilot System like Blue Corn beer, malted millet beer, and cherry chile chocolate stout.  Oh and of course, hoppy beers.

Joe Mohrfeld:  I don't have one style that I am attached to, but right now I am pretty stoked on the deconstruction of styles to produce beers that begin traditionally but end up innovative and exciting while still being attached to a traditional style. If I were to brew any one style of beer on our pilot system tomorrow it would be a Light Golden Ale that underwent primary fermentation in freshly emptied wine barrels. If there was one style that I absolutely wanted to master it would be a Maibock, I find that style to be such a challenge to brew and is most delicious on a spring evening.

Hop & Kettle:  What beer are you most proud of?

Doug Odell:  90 Shilling because it has been the favorite beer of our customers since year one, and our IPA because we hit the exact flavor and aroma profile we envisioned, and because it has been recognized by our peers as a great IPA.

Joe Mohrfeld:  I am very proud of some of our recent single serve beers, "Deconstruction" "Avant Peche" and "Hiveranno" because they are a dramatic departure from what we had ever done historically yet still embody who we are at Odell. Myrcenary has been really exciting as well. To brew a IIPA that makes waves in a market so crowded by IIPAs is really exciting, I believe we found the perfect "balance" (as if any IIPA is balanced) in such a hoppy beer.

Hop & Kettle:  What are your biggest daily struggles as a brewer?

Joe Mohrfeld:  hmmmmm... feeling sorry for people who do not get to work in a brewery :) Actually I would say it is managing the quality of our beer while trying to meet the demand. We are lucky at Odell that the Odell's have put in place a great growth model that does not stress production to the point that quality is compromised but there are always little things that break, systems that fail, and such and it keeps all of us on our toes and focused on making sure the beer is never compromised.

Hop & Kettle:  How long does it take for you to settle on a recipe before you make it?

Doug Odell:  For a Pilot System beer, usually within 5 minutes but for a beer for general release, it can be months of test brews.

Joe Mohrfeld:  If I am doing a Pilot brew I am the type of person that starts working on a recipe a couple weeks beforehand. I play around with calculations a lot in regards to malts, hops and mash temps, then I usually try some new creative beer and everything gets thrown out the window and I right a totally new recipe. It’s a fun process, probably my favorite part of brewing, to develop that recipe for the pilot system. For our production beers there are a number of us who usually collaborate over the course of months to develop that beer.

Hop & Kettle:  What does the process of developing a new recipe typically look like? How many iterations does it usually take?

Doug Odell:  I am speaking of Pilot System recipes.  Often it is just taking an inventory of what ingredients we have on hand and writing a recipe based on that.  Sometimes it involves ordering special ingredients we don't normally use like blue corn, or smoked malt for a rauschbier.  Sometimes it involves waiting for our lab to grow a pitching volume of yeast that I brought back from England or Belgium.  Since so many of our Pilot beers are one offs, what you brew is what you get.   

Joe Mohrfeld:  It typically starts with a small group of us in our product development meetings. We discuss beers or ideas that inspire us and begin working on pilot brews of these types of beers. We try to start with a simply concept so there is a lot of room to develop the direction of the beer. It is a very collaborative environment at Odell and the entire brewhouse and cellar team is involved in the many pilot beers that we brew before we finalize a recipe. Once a pilot recipe is decided upon I scale that recipe up for our production brewhouse and start ordering raw materials for the brew.

Hop & Kettle:  From 1989 to 1996 you were a draft only brewery. Was there a defining moment that propelled the choice to add the bottling plant and why?

Doug Odell:  There were a few of things that stand out.  We finally had enough room for a bottling line after moving into our new building.  Another was we realized more and more that we weren't giving our customers what they wanted, and the last was that 1996 was right at the time that the number of Colorado Craft Brewers bottling beer in 12 oz 6 packs went from none to about 6.  It was time. 

Hop & Kettle:  Using your Pilot System and the Odell Tap Room as a proving ground, how many of the beers have made that transition from draft only to being bottled?

Doug Odell:  The IPA and Myrcenary did but we had already decided we were going to bottle them before we started doing Pilot test Brews.  The Friek is a good example of deciding it should be bottled after we had brewed a couple of Pilot batches for the Tap Room.

Hop & Kettle:  Do you have any processes that are unique to your brewing? What are they?

Joe Mohrfeld:  In our brewhouse we have a hopback vessel. This vessel allows us to add whole flower hops just before Knockout to achieve a very intense aroma that you cannot achieve through kettle hop additions or dryhopping alone. Lately we have also been playing around with a wild yeast that we captured on the brewery grounds. It has appeared in three beers so far and is unique to our brewery and brewing process. This wild yeast, which we call the "fester", imparts a beautiful grapefruit rind character. You will be able to taste this yeast in or most recent release Hiveranno.

Hop & Kettle:  What is (are) your favorite beers that Odell Brewing Co. brews right now, and why?

Doug Odell:  I don't have a favorite beer but the ones I tend to like of ours are our more hop forward beers such as 5 Barrel Pale Ale, IPA, Double Pilsner, and Myrcenary.

Joe Mohrfeld:  Single Serves: Woodcut 5, I love the way the Belgian candi sugar and virgin oak complement each other. Myrcenary is my favorite everyday beer we are brewing right now.

Hop & Kettle:  What's your favorite thing about what you guys do?

Doug Odell:  Brewing a wide variety of beers for our very appreciative customers.

Joe Mohrfeld:  The variety of beers we brew from so many traditions and the fact that we are not brewing novelties, that is important to me, our beers are creative, innovative, complex and yet they remain drinkable.

Hop & Kettle:  Odell Brewing Co. does a lot of Philanthropic work in Colorado and you were recognized for your continued community contributions with the Outstanding Small Business Philanthropy award for the State of Colorado in 2004. When did you first start this program and how did the idea first come about?

Doug Odell:  One of our values as a company is to be supportive of the community in which we live and work.  This community is Fort Collins, and on another level, the state of Colorado.  We started with Philanthropic donations in the early 90s when we had extra cash from operations.  Originally, we set a level of $1 per barrel for philanthropy, but now it is over $2 per barrel.

Hop & Kettle:  What are your future plans/next creations that we, your beer fans, can be looking forward to?

Joe Mohrfeld:  We have an exciting beer in the works called "footprint" in which we utilize an ingredient from each one of our ten markets. We are using the brewing model we developed Deconstruction with in which we brew many parts of the beer, "complexities", on our pilot system and blend them back together to create the final brew. Expect a Strong wheat ale as the base with additions of wine barrel aging, wild yeast, wild rice, honey, corn, and prickly pear that we are sourcing from each one of our markets.

Hop & Kettle:  Speaking with several distributors out East there is a large demand for your craft beer. Do you have any future plans to expand your distribution?

Doug Odell:  Currently we sell our beer in 10 states.  We view ourselves a regional brewery operating in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states.  We have long term plans for opening other states but for the foreseeable future, we will stay west of the Mississippi River. 

Hop & Kettle:  We at the Hop & Kettle would like to thank both Doug Odell and Joe Mohrfeld for taking the time to answer our questions.  A special thanks to Amanda Johnson for working with us to make this article possible.  For additional information about Odell Brewing Co. and their wide range of amazing beer check out their web site: www.odellbrewing.com.