Deciding What Beer Styles Work for Your Brewery

If everyone agrees that IPA is king, what should the rest of a brewery’s portfolio look like? With more than 100 styles and multitude of varieties on each beer style, the decision process can be daunting when picking what will be a hit, not just with a brewer and their team…but what will sell with consumers to help a brewery grow.

Brewer Magazine contacted Brewmasters Jeff Edgerton of BridgePort Brewing in Portland, Oregon and Jeremy Kosmicki of Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan to speak on style formulation and what the future possibly holds for the craft beer landscape.

BREWER: How does the decision process go when creating a whole new recipe? How are these ideas formulated and sifted through?

EDGERTON: It’s different every time. We typically start with a style or basic philosophy for a beer (session, dark, hoppy, malty) then build the beer around it. We assess malts and hops via our taste panel so that we stay on top of new ingredients in the marketplace. Then we put together a test brew recipe. We are usually able to do test brews on [Oregon State’s] 1.7 bbl pilot brewery.  Once we brew it we bring back some samples and evaluate it analytically, visually, and for taste and aroma. We typically don’t hit all of our desired parameters the first time and will do additional brews to fine tune a recipe.

KOSMICKI: We have a handful of shift brewers who are talented recipe writers, and our owners are always thinking big and sometimes will throw ideas out there. Ultimately, though, our Brewmaster is responsible for designing new beers and bringing ideas to life. Our smallest brew system is a 3 bbl, and we use that if there are legitimate concerns as to whether an idea will work or not. It’s also helpful for working through minor tweaks to new recipes. Generally, though, we’ll brew batches on our original 30 bbl system and serve them through our taproom where we get instant and excellent feedback.


BREWER: Do current market trends play a role?

KOSMICKI: We definitely make an effort to not just follow trends. Obviously we want to sell beer, but it’s much more satisfying to do that by blazing new trails. We’ve done pretty well with things like turning people onto barrel-aged beers and making Session IPA a household word with “All Day” IPA.

EDGERTON: Sometimes. By the time a market trend has been established it seems that the market is flooded with great examples of the style. So I really like to try to think ahead of trends if possible. Better to try to be trendsetter, right?


BREWER: Do you have guideline set on what your brewery’s culture is and do you try to keep it in those guidelines at all?

KOSMICKI: “Brewed for us” is our motto, so we’re really just looking to brew high quality beers that we personally enjoy drinking. We’re certainly not tied to brewing anything the traditional way, so we really enjoy experimenting with different ingredients and variations on styles, as long as they taste good.


BREWER: In terms of making sure the new beer is of high quality and consistent, how long does that process take before taking it to market?

EDGERTON: BridgePort has always had a philosophy of consistency and quality, so that is a built-in mindset with our staff. We don’t release something if we know that we can’t deliver it properly. Development of new beers can take a couple of months or be done in one test brew. It all depends on whether we, as a group, think that it’s a good beer that consumers will enjoy.


BREWER: What beers do you have in your portfolio that was not there, say 2-3 years ago? Even 12-18 months ago?

EDGERTON: Our “Stumptown CandyPeel” IPA is new from last fall and Cream Ale was released this last spring.

KOSMICKI: We’ve just recently in the last year or two begun brewing some lagers. One of them was an experimental Pilsner-style brewed with some of our favorite American hops, called “PC” Pils. It was a big hit and is now debuting in our seasonal lineup.


BREWER: What is a future style you see being successful in the next year or so?

EDGERTON: Boy, that’s a tough one. If I knew an absolute answer to that question I’m not sure if I would want to reveal it! But seriously, I really like the trend of making more session-style beers. For quite a while, every brewery seemed to be hell-bent to make super high alcohol, super hoppy beers. While these have their place, I think that it takes a lot of brewing skill to make lower ABV beers that are balanced yet deliver tons of flavor. Hybrid products like beers with coffee, cider-beer blends, etc. will likely become more common. Consumers of craft-products demand limitless choices and love to see creativity, sustainability, and local ingredient sourcing. I’m sure we’ll continue to see that.

KOSMICKI: Tough to say! We made a few fruit-infused Goses this past summer and would definitely like to continue experimenting in that direction.

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