Test Kitchen: Educational Strategies with Hops and Base Beer

Test Kitchen is an ongoing print column and online blog by the Publisher of Brewer Magazine and Test Kitchen Brewer Tyler Montgomery. With a 1.5 barrel brewhouse launched in 2019, this is his experience and notes from the journey along with reviews of products and services. 

While Kentucky as a whole has seen its fair share of the craft boom over the past decade, there are still so many segments of the Bluegrass State that don’t have any education on craft beer.

The town which the Test Kitchen is located is only 20 minutes from Lexington, Kentucky — home of horse racing, bourbon and stalwarts like Country Boy Brewing, West Sixth Brewing, and many, many others.

Even being so close, the education in our town on craft beer is minimal. Some individuals are highly involved in the Lexington craft scene, while some can tell you specific details about bourbon and distilling, but might think you can get drunk off hop pellets.

Education has been at the forefront of the Test Kitchen since it opened. Not only to explore and relay information to Brewer Magazine readers, but also in our tiny community. This brought me to an idea where I’m doing both.

One of the most consistent beers since opening has been our Blonde Ale. Mainly because as a homebrewer I made the Blonde more times than I can count.

Besides, it was the first beer made on our nanosystem and was utilized to continually work out our kinks. It’s got a fantastic body and has a wonderful flavor even without adjuncts. It’s also relatively low ABV (4.2%) making it easy for new craft drinkers to enjoy — and we have a ton of them.

Some of the biggest questions outside of brewing itself have been hop varieties. You can only use “floral” and “citrus” in descriptors so much before your clients begin to assume all hops either taste the same or you truly have no idea what you’re doing (all are actual fair assumptions).

About a month ago I started working on a strategy of experimenting with our blonde. While it usually utilizes Cascade (Alpha Acid 4.5%-7%) to generate an IBU of 24, we’ve been changing up this strategy. Most recently we substituted the Cascade with Idaho 7 (Alpha Acid 9%-14%). The vast majority of our customers know what our traditional blonde with the Cascade tastes like, so it provides us a unique opportunity to discuss another hop variety while allowing them to taste the difference.

When we’re adjusting the hop additions I strive to keep the IBU similar so that we aren’t completely changing the general idea of the blonde. While it is essentially the same beer from the malt bill, it’s also extremely different which gives us the platform for our discussion.

The new IBU with the Idaho 7 is about 22. However, the SRM (4.3) is still the same. Our goal in this process is to:

  • Experiment with a multitude of hop varieties so the brewing team can understand subtle differences
  • Further educate our team on how hop varieties operate
  • Utilize the education and pass it along to our customers in the taproom.

Education is the key to our business. The Test Kitchen should be positioned in a location where we need to overly educate, due to its sister brand being entirely devoted to educating an industry.

I’ve really enjoyed this experiment. I think the different varieties really get to shine within this beer and have already provided our team with several opportunities to educate our customer base.


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