We love it when a plan comes together.
Now, at long last, Strawberry Taffy is finally available in our Tasting Room, this Saturday, August 31st!
We got together with James Dugan from Great Notion, wearing our old-school hops t-shirt — “I save it for special occasions” — and our very own Innovation Director, Brian Hink, to get the deets on this unique brew.
A Salt Water Taffy beer is, even for craft, about as far from the Reinheitsgebot as one can get. It’s… uh… out there, mostly because, as anyone who’s ever had a Salt Water Taffy knows, they’re not exactly drinkable.
“That was all James,” Brian tells us. “When we first started talking last year, he said that when he thinks about the Jersey Shore, he thinks about Boardwalk food and sea salt and candy and taffy.”
Which, when considering all of the possible Boardwalk foods — pizza and French fries and pork roll sandwiches, et cetera –, this beer could have gone in a wildly different direction. And, even five years ago, it probably would have.
“Over the past couple of years, as an industry, we’ve started coming out with more of these culinary-inspired beers,” Brian says. “Five years ago, where would this beer have been? It wouldn’t have been an IPA, because IPAs were supposed to be bitter and only starting to get more aromatic. It wouldn’t have been a fruit beer, because fruit beers were only supposed to taste like the fruit and that’s it.”
Yet, Strawberry Taffy is still a hoppy beer. The blend of Moteuka and Azacca are both relatively fruity hops varieties, yet subtle enough for the rest of the beer to stand on its own.
“They’re not over-the-top,” James says. “They leave a lot of room for the other ingredients to shine through.”
And, oddly, the blend of hops wasn’t decided upon until the first brew day in Oregon last year.
“We were already mashed-in and lautering,” Brian says, “and we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s talk about the hops.’ It brought back a lot of good memories for me because that’s how we used to brew in the early days.”
“It brought an artistry back into the process,” Brian said. “On the production scale, you don’t always have that luxury. We’re on such a tight schedule and, outside of the occasional exclusive release, the beers are usually very much locked in well in advance of it actually being brewed. So it was a fun way to step back and just have some fun with a beer.”
Even though it was a bit last minute, the guys are really happy with the hops they decided upon.
“I love Azacca,” Brian says. “It’s super underutilized. It’s a ‘baby Citra’, almost. And then Motueka has that almost lemony-limey freshness to it.”
“It’s also one of those hops that I think affects mouthfeel,” James says. “As it ages, you get like a coconut cream kind of thing from Motueka.”
In addition, Azacca, Motueka, strawberry are a great combination for an IPA.
“I think strawberry works really well in IPAs,” James says. “It’s a fairly common Salt Water Taffy flavor, too.”
Given the pantheon of Salt Water Taffy flavors, strawberry is the one that worked best in a beer.
“Vanilla? That doesn’t have quite the oomph for a beer,” Brian says. “Mint or root beer? There’s a lot of weird taffy flavors out there. A fruit-flavored one made the most sense.”
And who doesn’t love a strawberry milkshake? In addition to using lactose to bring about the milkshake-ness of this shake IPA, we used maltodextrin: an unfermentable polysaccharide derived from grain instead of milk, as lactose is.
“They both add body and mouthfeel to beer,” James explains. “Lactose adds more sweetness to the final beer, but it’s a dairy product, so it definitely affects certain people.”
You may have noticed this yourself if you’ve tried to put away a few beers that contain lactose. At some point, you’ll feel like you chugged a half-gallon of milk, even if you’re not lactose intolerant. And, unfortunately, James is lactose intolerant, so his desire to find a way to make a “milkshake IPA” a little more tolerable was as logical as it was personal.
“I have a huge box of Lactaid pills in my desk at work,” he laughs. “I’m always ready to chomp on a few of them whenever I work on a milkshake kind of beer.”
Unlike lactose, maltodextrin is easily processed by nearly everyone, and, when used in beer, it leaves behind a bit of body and sweetness.
“Lactose is a bit creamier,” James admits. “There’s really no replacement for lactose; it’s pretty awesome. I really wish it didn’t bother anyone. We’ve joked about making a milkshake IPA and putting a ton of Lactaid tablets in the whirlpool.”
We’ll let Great Notion do that little experiment.
Regardless, Great Notion turned Brian onto the use of maltodextrin when he was there last year, and it’s shown up in quite a few of our brews since then, including Takes Two to Mango and Krusty’s Partially-Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage — which used exclusively maltodextrin because, in order to use the name, we needed to find a way to make it “non-dairy”.
The malt bill of pilsner, oats, and wheat is designed to both get out of the way and add a little fluffiness.
“It adds a little bit of haze, too,” James says.
“And a bit of body,” Brian agrees. “You’ll definitely get that fuller, richer mouthfeel out of it. There’s a lot of things that are aiding the mouthfeel. The malto, obviously, the wheat and the oats. Not a super-high mash temp, but high enough that it didn’t end up super dry.”
Furthermore, the addition of Madagascar vanilla smooths everything out.
“It doesn’t really add sweetness,” Brian explains, “but it adds the perception of sweetness.”
Vanilla sort of tricks the brain into believing that something is sweeter than it really is, but vanilla itself is not sweet. Anyone who’s ever said, “I bet this is pretty sweet,” and taken a swig of vanilla extract will attest to that.
“Regardless, it really fills out and rounds out the mouthfeel,” Brian says, “so it really helps to tie it all together.”
The London Ale III yeast is a big part of this beer, too.
“The mouthfeel of this yeast strain is so unique,” James says. “There’s nothing else quite like it. It’s so soft and pillowy, and it attenuates just the right amount for a beer like this.”
While this has come together to form a great beer, as much as James loves the liquid, his favorite thing about the beer is the story behind it.
“We’re about as far away from you guys as possible in the United States,” he says. “And here we are, making this awesome beer together.”
“The timing of it worked out so great last year,” Brian says, “with us just starting to plan our Yakima trip. James emailed to say, ‘Hey, great job on Anniversary Ale 7.0,’ and I responded with ‘Holy shit, that’s awesome,’ and they kind of volleyed it back with, ‘If you’re ever out in Portland and want to brew a beer…’. I was like, ‘Well, actually….’”
The timing was perfect.
“It was just enough time to spitball some ideas,” Brian says. “If we were coming out the next day, it wouldn’t have been enough time, and if we were coming out a few months later, it just would have lost its momentum. Graciously, Great Notion locked in a date, and here we are.”
“Here we are,” James agrees.
Then, as we began gearing up for the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston back in February, Brian noticed that Great Notion would be in attendance, as well, and made plans to meet up with James.
“‘You guys coming back to Cape May?’ ‘Yeah, sometime in August,’” Brian recounts. “In April or May, we started nailing things down and figuring out what we were going to brew.”
“At this point, it didn’t make sense to not brew Strawberry Taffy,” James says. “You know, because we brewed it at our place, we figured it would be cool to brew it here and see it in some of your cans.”
“And with a seven-barrel batch in Great Notion’s pub,” Brian says, “only so many people got to try it.”
This time around, Great Notion is going all-in with a thirty-barrel batch.
“This brew will see its way around the whole country, I would imagine,” James says, “with our trading/distribution team.”
“It’s no joke,” Brian says. “My brother lives in Denver — he’s just a beer trader, not in the industry at all — and he traded for a few four-packs that he sent to me. So there’s definitely an underground distribution for this beer.”
Regardless, Brian is really looking forward to the CMBC version of Strawberry Taffy.
“I hope we do it justice,” he says. “If it’s half as good as the first batch last year, it’s going to be a home run.”
Strawberry Taffy releases Saturday, August 31, at 11am, only from our Tasting Room. Don’t miss out!