FLEX® Brewer’s Spotlight: Wiseacre Brewing Co.
Ever since its introduction a few years back, FLEX® has quietly emerged as a preferred bittering product for many of today’s most innovative brewers. We recently sat down with Davin Bartosch, co-owner and brewmaster of Wiseacre Brewing Co. in Memphis, TN, to discuss the benefits of brewing with FLEX®. And you can watch video highlights of the interview on our product page.
So, what made Wiseacre famous?
Davin Bartosch: I think we’re mostly known for pilsner. It’s about 50% of what we make these days, but we make a very large array of different beers. Probably around 300 since we opened in 2013. We’re a regional brewery, currently in 18 states, but primarily in the Southeast.
Not everyone focuses on bittering in craft these days. But you’re traditionally trained—you attended Siebel in Chicago and Doemens Academy in Munich—why is bittering important?
Davin: Bittering beer is important because anytime you have malt in beer, there’s sweetness that comes with it—and you need to balance that sweetness with bitterness. Beer’s a social beverage, so you want something that’s snappy and clears your palate, so you have to have bitterness to balance the sweetness. I think a pilsner is the epitome of balance. You want something that has sweet malt but also clears your palate really fast, and is nice and bracingly bitter as well.
How did you first learn about FLEX®?
Davin: Actually, Micah [Cawley, the Midwest key account manager for HAAS] told me about it. He said that HAAS had a new product that was built for bittering beers but also should provide us some savings in other places, too. You have to understand, I’m a cheap person, so it appealed to me immediately—just because any place I can save, whether that be shipping or wort loss or whatever, it all kind of made sense.
What were the trials like?
Davin: We did some trials with Tiny Bomb, because that’s the beer that we are mostly producing. We had done some brewing trials with other extracts that are very waxy and they’re difficult to deal with. They’re hard to measure, they’re hard to weigh, they’re hard to move around, they’re hard to store. They dry out. It was a problem.
And how did FLEX® match up?
Davin: The biggest thing for me was that we liked it better—it tasted better. You ask any brewer, the preference is always going to be for what tastes better, so that was initially very attractive. After the trials, we found out that we actually save a little bit of money using it, primarily because the storage and shipping is so much less. The amount of hops that we would have to store to make the amount of bittering that we get out of FLEX® is prohibitive.
You don’t often associate alpha hops with flavor, what tasted better about it?
Davin: With FLEX®, we noticed that there’s a cleaner, more specific bitterness—less earthy vegetal bitterness. A lot of times, especially if you’re using very large loads of bittering hops, lower alpha, lots of quantity, you end up with… like a ‘cooked broccoli’ type bitterness, not a very specific bitterness. I think FLEX® gives you a very specific bitterness; it’s just bitterness without flavor. We have tons of other things that provide flavor, we don’t want to muddy it up with broccoli water.
And how is FLEX® saving you money at Wiseacre?
Davin: FLEX® is much higher in alpha acids, so it’s a much more compact version of the bittering hops we’d normally use. And FLEX® stores in neat, little, very stackable jugs as opposed to bags and boxes that take up a lot of space. The same thing with shipping, you can get so much more of it on a pallet than you can on traditional hops.
It ends up being space for aroma hops and things like that. Cooler space is limited for everybody and being able to have more cooler space is a better situation for us.
Is there wort savings too?
Davin: We end up with a lot of whirlpool hops in a lot of our beers, including our pilsner. And in those beers, we end up with a lot of wort loss. This is a situation where something like FLEX® helps us a whole bunch to save that wort, so we end up with a much smaller trub pile at the end of our knockout.
To be completely honest, we’ve been using FLEX® for three years and I remember us getting 3–8% more wort than we had been getting. It wasn’t enormous, but it was definitely helpful. I think, obviously, the bigger your brewhouse is, the more important it becomes because the larger your bittering charge would be in your brewhouse, the more wort you’re going to lose.
Micah is always talking about Wiseacre and FLEX® and the shampoo bottles—what’s the situation with that?
Davin: Ha, yeah—the fact that FLEX® is so flowable makes it really easy to measure. We use a lot more of it here at our new brewery than we did at the old one, but at the other brewery I bought shampoo pumps and I just stuck them in the FLEX® bottles and you could meter out your bitterness in shampoo pumps. It makes it a lot easier to deal with than weighing out hops.
Maybe we should update the packaging…?
We added that because it made our lives easier, but you definitely don’t need it. That’s just how we chose to dose it.
So, how many of your current beers use FLEX®?
Davin: All of them. We use FLEX® in all of our beers because we want clean bitterness in all of our beers. If you want to work with a clean pallet, you want to start with a very clean bitterness in the beer. And we’re getting bitterness from other places in the brewing process, as well. A lot of times with dry hopping and a lot of times with whirlpool hops and other hops in the kettle—so we want to add complexity with hops but it’s good to start with nice, clean bitterness. And we get that with FLEX®.
To learn more about FLEX®, visit our product page. To give FLEX® a try, contact your HAAS representative, or your favorite HAAS distribution partner. And, please, let us know what you think!