shred-hood-ipa

The author with brewmaster Brandon Sawyer

What could possibly be better than a nice cold beer after a day of shredding powder?

How about a beer you made yourself, to share with your mountain friends?

That's the basic idea behind the Shred Hood Imperial IPA, a DIY homebrew collaboration between Shred Hood and Condo Brew. We've got about 90 bottles of it left, and I gotta tell you, this is some tasty stuff. Other than a rather explosive opening the other night at the Cascade Ski Club & Lodge (which I attribute to bouncy roads, rapid elevation gain and the power of carbon dioxide) this is definitely a brew for the ages. But of course I am highly biased.

I got the idea for a Shred Hood home brew several months ago while hanging out with Brandon Sawyer, a fellow journalist with a gift for creative brewing. I have been a dedicated sampler of Brandon's concoctions for years, and I rank his Pumpkin Porter and Vanilla Stout among the tastiest brews I've ever tried. That's saying a lot, because I am also a long-time sampler of the homebrew masterpieces of my brother Al and my brother-in-law Andy, two of the finest brewers out there in my book. 

Let's face it. I have been a homebrew freeloader for a long time. It was time to roll up my sleeves and get some hops on my hands. Or at least help out with the tasks that don't require experience or skill.

The plan was to create a simple mountain beer of substance. I didn't want any pumpkin or vanilla or lavender or anything like that. I wanted a classic mountain brew, the perfect ending to a long day waist-deep in powder. If we lived in Europe, that beer would be a Pils. But we live in the Pacific Northwest, so it is an IPA, a beer strong enough to survive the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope without spoiling. Something about that aroma of fresh hops hitting you right in the olfactory pleasure center when you pour it out of the bottle and into a frosty mug. Porters are powerful and there is a place in the world for a lager, but nothing beats a solid IPA.

Make that an Imperial IPA, with a little extra in the way of hops and alcohohic content, but without the malty taste of barley wine. Super hoppy but also balanced. Dry-hopped, for that floral aroma I find so appealing.

The brewing was to be done at Condo Brew international headquarters, Brandon's 824-square-foot condo just off Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland. He shares that small space with his wife Michelle and his daughter Nora, and it is a real pain for the family when he takes over the kitchen for another pungent brew session. But they love him so they put up with it.

Given the inconvenience to the family for my benefit, the least I could do was pay for lunch and buy the ingredients:

  • 14 pounds of Great Western Premium 2-Row Malt
  • 3 pounds of Great Western Crystal 60 Malt
  • 2.5 pounds of Briess Victory Malt
  • 2.5 pounds of Castle Aromatic Malt
  • 3 pounds of Cascade Hops
  • 2 ounces of Warrior Hops
  • 2 ounces of Citra Hops (for dry-hopping)
  • 1 ounce of Fuggle Hops

And finally, the catalyst:

 The guy at the register at F. H. Steinbart's was intrigued. "That's a lot of hops," he said. "Are you sure?"

Yeah, why not? Go big or go home, right?

The Steinbart folks threw in a whole bunch of bottles from a recent beer-tasting party for free, and we were on our way. A few hours later we had that condo kitchen steaming with activity and good earthy aromas. We did our mashing and our wort-boiling and our sparging and our yeast-pitching, and I will spare you my attempt at a technical description of the brewing process. Suffice it to say that it is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon with someone who knows what he is doing.

Here's Brandon mixing up the goodies:

By dinner time we had about seven gallons of stashed in a fermenter with an air-lock that we racked and dry-hopped two weeks later.

I headed home with my batch of used bottles to peel the labels off for the next step in the process. This gave me the opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do: fill a bathtub with beer bottles:

I explained to my kids that I was making some beer soup, and the scary thing is, they believed me.

Pulling all those soggy labels off wasn't as much fun as brewing, but I got through it. Sadly, I had not yet discovered the joys of PBW, or I would have saved myself a lot of time.

Meanwhile, I was getting sporadic reports from Brandon that our beer was belching away nicely, releasing gas as the yeast did its heroic work. He snuck in a few nights later and made a second batch without me, doubling our output from about 7 gallons to 14. I was going to need to scrub out a few more bottles.

By bottling time Portland was blanketed with snow and just about everyone in town was out skiing and sledding and having snowball fights and driving really badly. I actually got lost during the 2-mile drive to Brandon's, I was so disoriented and distracted by all that beautiful snow and everyone playing in it.

The bottling process involved a lot of sterilizing and bottle-capping and a rather sticky floor from mishaps, but in the end it was another enjoyable afternoon when mixed with some Vincente's Pizza and Simpsons episodes to keep my son happy.

Next up: our label. This was a job for my Shred Hood partner Bjorn van der Voo, who designed the Shred Hood logo and has an excellent eye for composition. After a long, involved conversation about whether or not Bull Run water contains Mount Hood run-off (it doesn't), Brandon and I sent Bjorn a list of ingredients and slogans. This is what he came up with:

Needless to say, I was very happy with the result. A few weeks later we held a labeling party, and even my wife Christina, who really doesn't like beer at all, got in on the fun. I made her a fancy cocktail with ginger liqueur and extra spicy vodka from Portland's own New Deal Distillery, and that seemed to get her in the label party mood.

By the end of the evening, we had eight 22-ouncers, 47 12-ounce fatties and 40 standard 12-ouncers labeled and ready for sharing.

We opened up one of the 22-ouncers for sampling, and it was exquisite. Again, I am more than slightly biased, but it had the hoppy floral aroma we were after, the fine balance of smooth and powerful. It was also fairly lively with CO2, but it didn't explode upon opening (that would happen later, at the lodge).

The Shred Hood Imperial IPA is a homebrew. We aren't licensed to sell beer. But we do look forward to sharing it with friends, readers, sponsors and the many people who have contributed photos, stories, videos, encouragement and ideas during Shred Hood's first year in publication. 

Cheers!