Always Ready is Ready!
While the Coast Guard may be Always Ready, the story is a little different when it comes to brewing beer. We have tons of experience and know-how, we have years of schooling and practical experience, but we’re no longer homebrewers, brewing beer for us and a close group of friends.
We’re brewing it for you: a wide-ranging group of friends. And in order to stay ahead of the game, in order to remain innovative and original, we value your feedback.
That’s where our R.A.D. series comes in: it gives us a chance to take a step back and hear what our fans think.
So, it’s slightly ironic that the first beer to come out of this process is called “Always Ready.” Because it wasn’t.
We designed this beer with the motto of the Coast Guard in mind — Semper Paratus, or Always Ready. We wanted a beer that would be a go-to brew for any occasion: day drinking with your friends, getting work done around the house, watching a game…, but all with a sessionable ABV.
“It took a few tries,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “but in the end, I think we nailed it.”
While any of the four iterations of this beer would have been fine to bring to wide release, in the spirit of Core Value #6: Make it Better, we wanted to keep improving upon it.
“It almost seemed as though our fans knew where we were going with this,” Jimmy says, “and their comments tended to mirror our own thoughts on each iteration, confirming how we were feeling about the beer as well. However, they were able to help us pinpoint each aspect of the beer and how it could be better or how it might better fit together. As I’ve said before, we tend to be our own worst critics, so having their thoughts align with our own told us we were on the right track.”
Head Brewer Brian Hink enjoyed the process as well.
“It was really nice to be able to take a multi-iteration approach to this beer and gather the feedback throughout the process,” Brian says. “The first stab had too light a body and the perception of bitterness was out of whack, and on the second batch, we had too heavy a body and too much malty sweetness that became a distraction for the hops. For the final version we got into that Goldilocks zone for mouthfeel, flavor, bitterness, and aroma, and we were able to align all of these attributes to go in the direction we were hoping.”
And Always Ready was a tricky one. It’s not easy to create a low-ABV hop bomb. The lower the alcohol in a beer, the lower the amount of fermentable malts. With the lower amount of malts, it’s easy for the hops to become overpowering — they have less of a backdrop to stand out against.
“The spectrum is much lower for the perception of bitterness and hop flavor to not overpower things,” Brian says. “Too much on the dry hop without enough balance on the hot side and it drinks like hop water. Too many hops on the hot side and it becomes too bitter: you can increase the malt character for balance, but then it becomes too sweet. It’s really a balancing act of body, flavor, bitterness, and aroma, and with lower-alcohol beers, there are smaller margins for these elements to come into balance.”
Because of the intricate dance between the malts and the hops, we needed to be ultra-careful in our hops selection. We used Calypso, Denali, El Dorado, Citra, Ekuanot, and Zythos, jamming as much as we could into a 4.8%, crushable Pale Ale.
“Believe it or not, Always Ready has more hops in it than Coastal does!” Brian says. “We really focused on getting some of the most aromatic and intense hops we could get, and to keep things balanced we focused a lot of effort on the hotside additions — even going as far as to change our approach to adding the whirlpool hops completely, to really give it a strong hop flavor without going too far onto the bitter end of the spectrum.”
Generally speaking, these are “tropical” hops, but even that definition has a lot of variance within it. We wanted to make sure that there were notes of pineapple, mango, and papaya.
“So we had to tailor many of the hops to get all of that together,” Jimmy says, “but then we also wanted this to be rounded out with citrus kick and a something with a bit more of a generic ‘hoppy’ aroma but trending to the sweeter side — as opposed to the dank and resinous side — so there were two hop varieties chosen to bring those notes in as well.”
Finding that balance was the challenge — not just a balanced aroma but a balanced palate, as well. The correct ratio of hops and the question of what was added in the dry-hop stage and what was a late whirlpool addition was very difficult to nail down, and it was the feedback from our fans that helped us get it all worked out.
The result is exactly what our guys were hoping for: nearly-perfect hop aroma in an intensely drinkable low-ABV brew.
“The aroma on this is brilliant,” Brian says. “Bright, citrusy, tropical, it’s so enticing you really can’t put the glass down. It’s got a delicate bitterness to it that really makes it drinkable, and the medium body and gentle malt character is a solid background to the barrage of hops coming your way. All of that in a ridiculously sessionable strength 4.8%? I really couldn’t ask for a more perfect beer.”
Jimmy is loving it, too.
“I love the aroma and flavors derived from the hop varieties we went with for this beer,” he says. “We chose to use some hops that we hadn’t used before, and they really came together to make something that’s complex but easy-drinking. Couple that with its smooth mouthfeel and the 4.8% ABV, and you’ve got yourself a really good session beer.
“I’ll be drinking it by the case come Spring!”
And he intends to enjoy this beer frequently.
“I plan on drinking a lot of this beer,” he says, “but there are two moments I’m really looking forward to having it: one would be on a warm evening out on the back deck in my rocking chair while watching the sunset — God, I sound like an old man — and the other will be after a nice surf sesh.”
We’ll need to brew extra for Brian, as well.
“This is going to make for a great weeknight drinker,” he says, “when I want to have a couple of beers but not be hurting the next day. Essentially, this is the complete opposite of Snag & Drop. That beer does not make for a good weeknight drinker!”
Regardless of when you’ll enjoy Always Ready, you can do so knowing that you’ve had a bit to do with its creation. And, as we’ve brewed this beer to honor our brave and loyal Coasties, you’ve had a hand in honoring them, as well.
So, as you raise a glass of Always Ready to the US Coast Guard, tip a little out for yourself, as well. This is one that we truly could not have done without you.