Vignette 35: Dan Kleban (Maine Beer Co)

As a follow-up to my piece on Maine Beer Company, here are some excerpts from an interview I did with co-founder and brewer Dan Kleban back in 2016. The topic was his approach to making hoppy ales, and his comments became the cornerstone for this article. Read more vignettes here.

“I think the mindset of brewers who operate in this space—American-style, hop-forward beer—it’s certainly different from how I learned to brew. If you pick up a textbook and read it, this technique doesn’t exist. But it’s the only way you can do it.”

“I’m sure there were nuggets of advice or information that I picked up along the way, but for me it was ‘I know I only have so many IBUs to play with to keep this beer in balance’—that’s just a law—so if I only have that many IBUs and I want to make this thing really hoppy, logic dictates that I’ve got to put a [truck]load in at the very end. And that means I can’t put very much in at the early addition. And so that lends to working backwards. If I know I’m going to put a ton in at the end of the boil or the whirlpool, I only have so many [IBUs] to play with, so it’s whatever’s left goes in at the beginning.”

It’s thinking about it in the reverse order; that’s been the paradigm shift in brewing hoppy beers.

“Not all IBUs are created equal. People tend to think of an IBU as an IBU, and I guess at a base level, at the chemical level, by definition it is—but I would challenge the assumption that they all taste the same. You can calculate on paper a 50 IBU single-hop beer, use different hops in it, and the bitterness in the beer will be different. If you’re using a hop you know has a jagged, rugged bitterness to it, you might want to [lower] the IBU that you want to derive from that. On paper, it says it’s going to be 10 IBU, but I know it’s really going to be perceived more like 15, I’m going to dial back the volume a little bit.”

“In my mind you can’t make a hoppy beer without dry-hopping. At least by my definition. Just because of what happens on the hot side of the operation, in the boil, and also what happens during fermentation, it just drives off the aromatics.”

Jeff Alworth