Brewer’s Spotlight: Ross Koenigs on brewing with INCOGNITO™
Our “Brewer’s Spotlight” is a series of conversations with innovative brewers across the country. Recently we sat down with Ross Koenigs, R&D Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado, to discuss INCOGNITO™, the innovative new hop flavor and aroma product from John I. Haas and the Barth-Haas Group.
What are some of the things that led New Belgium to consider using Incognito?
Ross: In the market right now, IPA is almost synonymous with craft beer. I saw somewhere that it’s 30-35% of the business—it’s just table stakes at this point. So, we’re trying to explore the different flavor, bitterness, all of the great attributes that come from hops expressed in our IPA portfolio. We want to show the broad range of diversity of flavor outcomes, the different aroma outcomes, and package them in different stylistic formats—be that haze, be that bright beer—to get all of those wonderful hop attributes from all of the different species that are out there.
Producing hop-forward beers, it’s very driven by yield and losses—just the amount of solid loading that you have just from a T90 pellet makes it a big challenge. We want to produce our beer very efficiently, very cost-effectively, and then also exceed our consumers’ expectations on what our beers can be. There’s a lot of competition out there and we want to deliver both value and that memorable moment in a glass.
So, how does Incognito help you walk that tightrope of big flavor and reduced process loss?
Ross: With Incognito, you get that punchy, intense flavor and aroma, but we’re not loading it with so much solid material that we’re just dumping 15-20% of our batches right down the drain before even having a possibility of getting to our customers’ lips. Incognito allows us to get a lot of those beautiful aromatics while allowing us to recapture a lot more of the beer out of the process.
Working with Haas, when we were exploring whether or not we wanted to take Incognito to a much larger stage, the revenue proposition was big. We did some trials both in our pilot brewhouse, and in our larger brewhouses, to make sure that we understood what the overall economic impact would make to our beer. I can’t give you an exact quote or dollar amount, but we save a lot of money brewing with Incognito. Not only does it deliver a great beer but it also delivers an economically viable product for us.
What varieties of INCOGNITO have you brewed with?
We have brewed with all of the commercially available varieties [including Incognito Mosaic®, Incognito Citra® and Incognito Ekuanot™]. Haas has even been kind enough to give us some sneak samples of other varieties in the works, as well…so we’ve tried quite a few.
What did you think when you first tried INCOGNITO?
When the Haas guys came in, they told us they had a really new, exciting product and started describing the functional benefits of it. At first, I’m just like, ‘This sounds a little too good to be true.’ But we started moving it along…now we’re both doing more research trials along with a couple of fully commercialized products now. The main commercial product that we have right now is in our Voodoo Ranger series and it’s a product called Liquid Paradise, which uses the Incognito Mosaic.
Were you worried about making a switch from pellets, from a flavor perspective?
We were very conscious of the fact that it is a different product. We wanted to understand whether or not there would be any flavor differences from migrating from a T90 or a T45 pellet into Incognito. Through many brewing trials, through multiple blind studies in our sensory science department, we found that there is no appreciable difference between a T90 pellet of, say, Citra and Incognito Citra. As far as I can tell, I don’t think our customers can tell a difference at all. They’re just looking for the aroma and it’s up to us to deliver it in that really true-to-type way.
Have you mixed together Incognito and pellets or Incognito and other things, other Incognito varieties?
We’ve mixed Incognito with pellets, we’ve mixed Incognito varieties with other Incognito varieties, we’ve done multiple Incognito varieties mixed with multiple varieties of pellets. Liquid Paradise is a great example of that – it is Incognito Mosaic with AzaccaⓇ T90 pellets and Cascade T90 pellets.
There’s advantages and disadvantages with everything, so I think there’s certainly an argument to be made for using Incognito in its own right. It delivers a beautiful, wonderfully juicy aromatic product. But when you also add Incognito and pellets, it provides a great amount of flexibility and versatility in our overall brewing processes.
What’s your overall experience been with Incognito?
It’s really easy to handle, gives great flavor and the yield-loss savings are just absolutely phenomenal—in just about every part of the process.
Most of our big hop-forward beers are 7% ABV and up, so we’re getting wort savings coming out of the whirlpool—not only is that losses associated with adding hops and hop products, but also malt and salts and lactic acid and water and energy, everything like that. Even if we’re in, say, a 200-barrel batch, we’re getting an extra 4 to 5 barrels. That’s a considerable amount of volume.
But then—as we start looking at just how aromatically intense Incognito is—then you start to look at it from a recipe design perspective: I have all my aromatics right here. Do I really need to dry hop? Or at the very least, do I need to dry hop as much?
Then as you’re processing your beer on the cold side, you’re going to have losses due to yeast and clarification and all that. But throw in a large dry hop load on top of that, now all of a sudden you’re talking about even more losses. So with Incognito, it really allows us to get all of those aromatics but concentrate it in one specific location, so we’re really minimizing losses in just about everywhere throughout the entire brewery.
Have you seen any other functional benefits?
We have a lot of trials ongoing as far as shelf life goes. We kind of run the raw materials through the ringer. We’ve analyzed the product in a multiple ways: storing it quite warm, baking it out in the sun, leaving it cool, all of the different things, and it holds up beautifully. It really doesn’t degrade. It gives us very consistent aromatics, to a degree, no matter what the storage conditions. From a product shelf life perspective, there’s a lot of benefits. I think the aromatics tend to stick around a little bit nicer.
But most of all, it’s the flavor. The flavor is absolutely the best benefit of Incognito. It is clean, it is bright, it is true-to-type to the aroma. Regardless of the loss savings, regardless of the economics, it’s just a fabulous hop product.
To learn more about Incognito, call your Haas Sales Representative today or visit our Incognito product page. Better yet, brew a batch of Incognito for yourself and let us know what you think. Cheers!