People aren’t all looking for “extreme” beers.
– Ike Orcutt, Head Brewer, Hopothesis Brewing Company
A few weeks ago we told you about the seemingly sudden appearance of Hopothesis Brewing Company onto the Chicago beer scene. While their arrival appeared to happen overnight, head brewer Ike Orcutt and the mad scientist home brewers at Hopothesis, have been hard at work for years tinkering with their recipes. They wanted to make sure everything was just right before their beer started flowing from the taps of Chicago bars.
After our initial writeup we wanted to know more about this mystery brewery and the brewer behind it, so we reached out to Ike to find out more about his beers, his brewery plans and if he really thinks a 7-percent ABV beer is a session beer.
GDB: What’s the story behind Hopothesis? Not the beer (not yet, at least) but the name.
Ike Orcutt: I’ve always been pretty obsessed with how art and science really come together in the brewery. I mean there are some very complex chemical and biological reactions going on throughout the beer making process. The art side is sexy and fun…most breweries seem to lean that direction (Blue Moon’s “Artfully Crafted” for instance.) Where’s the love for the science? I’ve also got a big idea, my hypothesis, that people aren’t all looking for “extreme” beers. I think it takes a ton of expertise to create balanced and approachable, while at the same time interesting beers.
GDB: We know, according to your website, that you’ve been working for four years on your IPA recipe – but how long ago was the idea for a brewery hatched?
Orcutt: The idea really started to take shape in summer of 2011. The original idea was to build a brew pub. Basically cobble together enough equipment to get up and running, and build the brand from there. In August or September the conversation really shifted towards utilizing any excess capacity at other breweries. That was an extremely difficult thing to find. Capacity is really tight, especially in the 15-50 BBL range. The existing model for Hopothesis was really cemented in the September / October 2011 timeframe.
GDB: Okay, now let’s talk beer. Have you really been tinkering with that IPA for four years?
Orcutt: Actually, yes. I’m a home brewer. We like to tweak things out and keep tweaking with new ingredients, processes, etc. The backbone of this beer was established in 2008. The basics of bringing together a huge dose of Centennial hops with a complex malt profile. From there, it’s been a question of tweaking dry hopping regimes, fermentation profiles, etc. I’m really proud of how the recipe has evolved, yet stayed true to the foundation.
GDB: You caught a little bit of flack for using the phrase “session” when describing your 7% ABV IPA. A lot of people are passionate about session beers and properly defining them. In your mind, can a 7% ABV beer “sessionable?” And, if you could go back, would describe your IPA any differently.
Orcutt: Yes I would absolutely use different word choices. That was poorly worded and I freely admit it. I’m even a session-loving guy…so I can understand people’s umbrage. The whole idea with our IPA is creating something that is uniquely balanced and drinkable. One of our next beers, a pale ale-type, I’m describing as a Session Bitter. Something in the 4.5-4.7% range. I really do understand and appreciate the beauty of session beers, and how unique a drinking experience they provide.
GDB: What’s next in the lineup and are there any particular styles you’ll be focusing on?
Orcutt: Next up is Drafty Window Prairie Ale. The focus of this beer is to produce something uniquely American. It features all of the staple grains of the Midwest: corn, wheat and barley. We couple that with some amazing noble hops for Oregon…and a really interesting beer is born. It’s my take on a pre-prohibition style golden ale. Like the farmhouse beers of Belgium, but with a cleaner American yeast profile.
I really like a lot of different styles and types of beer. I don’t want to put a stake in the ground that we’ll never do anything high-gravity. Big beers can be incredible, but they need to be approached with caution and care. I’ve got some cool ideas for seasonal and special release beers, but we haven’t finalized anything yet.
GDB: We wrote, in our first post about Hopothesis, that your brewery seemed to appear out of nowhere. Now, by no means does the buck stop with us when it comes to keeping tabs on new breweries – but we like to think we’re pretty well plugged in. Hell, I check the ILCC’s Craft Brewer Application postings almost every day (nerd alert). So did we miss the boat on this one or did you purposely keep things relatively under wraps?
Orcutt: We wanted to be sure we had something to say before we came out. Getting a beer company up and running is fraught with delays, difficulties, etc. We were a bit concerned about getting in front of the media too early and any potential hand-wringing about a false start. So yes, we kept things quiet (maybe too quiet) until we were already on the move.
GDB: When we looked up your label approvals online (again, nerd alert) we saw that you’re currently contract brewing at Minhas. How has that experience been?
Orcutt: It’s always difficult when your brand is very dependent on another company. While our experience has been okay, it’s really just served to redouble our efforts to get our own brick-and-mortar in place in Chicago. To me, craft is dependent upon a level of love for your own beer that maybe only you can give. It’s kind of like a child. It’s difficult for me to hug fermentors and sing yeast lullabies when we don’t have our own place.
GDB: Are you planning a permanent brewing location in Chicago and, if yes, where?
Orcutt: Yes! We are really in love with West Town / West Loop. I think there is the making of a craft beer cluster here with the likes of Haymarket, GI Fulton & Wood, and Chicago Beer Company (I think they’re looking at this area too?) Plus it’s easy for a packaging brewery…good truck access, close to our wholesalers, etc. Plus a nice selection of real estate that’s not too expensive, yet.
GDB: What are your goals for your first year of operation (i.e. barrels brewed, beers introduced…Facebook likes)?
Orcutt: Our goals are to really get the brand out there. I know it’s kind of soft, but we really want to get deeply involved in the craft community in Chicago. From a more concrete standpoint, I’d like to get a few more year-round SKUs out, as well as launch a really solid seasonal / special release program.
GDB: There are a lot of breweries coming on-line in Chicago and a lot more in the works. Are breweries springing up too quickly? And do you think there are enough thirsty and curious craft beer drinkers here to support them?
Orcutt: Chicago has been a craft beer desert for so long. I think that small start-ups are one of the coolest things about craft. I think there are enough consumers in Chicagoland to support a really sizable brewery pool. I do believe that over the next 5-10 years we will see a movement towards hyper-local drinking. Kind of like back in the old days of neighborhood breweries. I’m incredibly excited to see how this plays out. How cool would it be to see a new style of beer that’s native to Chicago?
GDB: What will set Hopothesis apart?
Orcutt: It’s about embracing the art and science of making great beer. We’re trying to appeal to those people who are interested in how things work. We want to provide the opportunity for something more cerebral. I have to take my hat off to Sean Mahoney, our Art & Evangelism guru. He’s done such an incredible job of branding and design. I think that our geeky-fun approach to beer and design are pretty unique.
GDB: And now we get personal, sort of; favorite style of beer?
Orcutt: So this changes on a semi-annual basis. I still get really excited about continental pilsners. Right now I’m really into some of the classic English porters. They are just so good to drink, but without pushing the limits of alcohol or extreme-beerness. I would always opt for something that has subtlety over a one-dimensional extreme beer.
GDB: Favorite brewery (in Chicago or otherwise)?
Orcutt: I really like Lagunitas. They’ve got some cool stuff going on…and a totally off-the-wall character in Tony McGee at the helm. Really good range of American-style beers.
GDB: If you could only drink three beers for the rest of your life…scratch that…overdone. How about, if you could drink any beer (“retired” or active), from any brewery of any vintage – what would it be?
Orcutt: So…my Grandpa worked at the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee during the great depression, right before he got shipped off to Europe for WWII. If we could somehow go back in time to get a fresh example — I’d love to crack a 30’s-vintage PBR with my 92 year-old Grandpa and take a trip down memory lane. I guess I’m like a sappy hipster…but that would be pretty special.
GDB: Bonus question – would share that beer with us?
Orcutt: I’d PBR you ASAP!