Our Pilot Program - From Then to Now

As Head Brewer, Derek Brown, was brewing batch 300 on our pilot system, there were many things to look back on, and forward to, when it comes to test batching and experimenting. A lot of time and energy is invested in perfecting our brews before they hit the market, and assessing your valued feedback during the Fourier Series process is one of our favorite things to do. Here, Derek takes over our blog this month to tell you his reflections thus far, and what is in store for the new year.

The Fourier Series
One of the best parts of my job is running our pilot beer program, the Fourier Series. Pilot beers are experimental beers brewed on a system 1/15th the size of our large scale production facility. Brewing smaller batches gives me the freedom to experiment with new and unique raw materials and different beer styles. Through the experimental pilot program I’ve deepened my understanding of what raw materials fit into our brewing philosophy of making balanced and approachable beers.
Pilot beers are how breweries expand their beer portfolio. Before we decide to brew a beer at full scale production we brew many pilot batches, sometimes up to 8, and ask our taproom patrons to give feedback on each batch. When served a Fourier Series beer in our taproom, it will come with a comment card asking for feedback on what was great about the beer and what could be improved. We always utilize taproom feedback when developing a new beer. Finding the right balance in the beer design has led to 7 beers (Lecky, Watts Wheat, Ohmic, Funkenfest, Tiny Circuit, Daisy Chain and Dynamo) being moved from the one time releases to full-scale production beers. As a new brewery in the industry it has been really interesting to learn about the evolving tastes and preferences of the local craft beer drinkers. 
In 2016 I brewed  24 pilot batches using somewhere around 100 different ingredients. Some highlights from this year’s Fourier Series for me was creating Ohmic, a smoked stout, in collaboration with Handsome Hog restaurant. The idea was born (like so many of our greatest recipes) over a pint. Handsome Hog’s restaurant manager, Joe, and Head Chef, Justin, and I decided to create a beer that would feature and compliment Handsome Hog’s smoked food. We bounced ideas on what type of wood to use and what level of smoke the beer should have. I gave them malt to smoke and I developed a new smoke recipe that highlighted my favorite features from our Short Circuit Stout which include the caramel and roasted flavors to pair well with the smoked english malt. In the end we found the right smoke level and created a smooth and flavorful smoke beer. Ohmic is now a production beer and can be found on tap at Handsome Hog year round. (Read more about our day smoking malt behind the brewery here.)
The pilot program is a great way for us to interact with key accounts and our friends within the brewing industry. We use the Fourier Series to participate in “brew-offs” against other breweries. Ingredients are chosen by the local beer drinking community through an online poll via social media and each brewery brews a beer highlighting the chosen ingredients. Some examples of ingredients I was forced to get creative with were: Tamarind, sumac, cucumber and lingonberry to name a few. After the beers are finished key accounts hosts both breweries where the beers are released and put to the test by local drinkers. Also, rumor has it, there's another one coming up so stay tuned...
Another favorite pilot beer of 2016 is the Daisy Chain Saison. We did 9 different variations of Daisy Chain using regional ingredients you would find in a traditional saison, and then tried some local spices and honey. 
The other pilot beer we’ve received some really great feedback on is Dynamo, a chocolate orange imperial stout. Our other brewer, Tony Kocon, and I worked on the imperial stout recipe together, using lots of chocolate and oranges. Dynamo is now in production and will be featured by Tin Whiskers at this year’s Winterfest. (Taproom release on February 17  |  22oz bottle release to liquor stores February 13)
I want to continue to explore the world of smoke and apply it to making the Ohmic smoke stout taste more unique each time we do it. I have one particular pile of wood from Kentucky I am anxiously waiting to burn up on the next batch of Ohmic.  
I also want to focus more on dialing in hop flavor and aromas in certain styles that aren't necessarily hop forward beers. What that means to me is finding a nice back round flavor out of a new variety hop to compliment a solid malt bill in some sort of lager or pale ale. 
When brewing at home and on the pilot, I get to use raw materials in extreme directions by using unique blends that do not necessarily fit into a large production product. The Fourier Series beer allows me to use my admiration for certain ingredients I may not have used more of at home. 
The pilot program has existed since the beginning. We use the pilot program to seek out and guide us through recipe development. Recipe development is important for us to stay efficient with our production beers, but risk taking to potentially find a hidden gem within the many variations of one style.  The Fourier Series has helped grow our brand portfolio and we are able to hit the ground running with a recipe design we are confident the first time we package it full scale production.