Home Brew, Caramelized (Burnt) Sugar & Odell Brewing Company

Please help us re-welcome Justin Carpenter to the Focus on the Beer blog. He wrote an article about a year and a half ago and now we've invited him to write another when we learned that his beer was chosen to be brewed up at Odell Brewing. He'll tell you all about his beer, and we'll give you the details on how you can get some of it!

Yes, this is a beer blog, and yes, we’re going to talk about beer, but first, we have to head back in time about 80 years, to a quiet town in Kansas, to the tranquil home of Walt and Gertrude Zscheile (shī´ lē). Every Sunday, true to family tradition and recipes brought over through Ellis Island, Walt and Gertrude would milk their Jersey cow and make two batches of ice cream for themselves and their four children: one was a regular batch, and one was made with burnt sugar. This burnt sugar recipe was coveted, cherished, and once again passed down through a few more generations. As a child, I salivated at the thought of my mom cooking it on the stove; as an adult, I often made it for myself, and even shared it with close friends.

Start of caramelization

Now for the beer part: I began brewing about five years ago and was focused on learning traditional techniques and styles. As I slowly began to experiment with various hops, yeasts, grains and special ingredients, I was amazed to discover that there is really no end to the uniqueness that a beer can become. Late one night, I literally woke up with a “Eureka!” on the tip of my tongue. I shook my wife awake (much to her chagrin) to explain that I had finally thought of a way to bring family and beer together in my own creation. But how could I do it? I initially planned to attempt some burnt sugar with a brown ale, but the recipe felt like it would become a stuck mash; so I cellared the idea for a few years.

Fast forward to June of 2012: by this point I added to my silo of brewing abilities the knowledge and expertise of my fellow BrewBrothers of Pikes Peak, a local home brew club founded in Colorado Springs. The former president of the club, Steve Maszkiewicz, conquered a lofty endeavor to create an in-club competition that would eventually partner with Odell Brewing Company. The winner, chosen by club members and the brewers at Odell, would brew the winning recipe on their five barrel pilot system.

When I found out about the competition, I knew I wanted to enter, and I knew I needed to enter something truly unique. This was enough to get the sparge turning again: thus came the idea for the burnt sugar Belgian quad (aka Dark Strong Ale).

Pouring in to the mold to cool

The competition was held in the fall. Though there were many impressive finalists, my beer was chosen as the winner. After conferring with the head brewer for the pilot system, Brent Cordle, we figured out that we needed 31 pounds of burnt sugar! A warm weekend in early January served as the perfect setting for a brew kettle, a turkey fryer, and a whole lotta sugar! The entire process literally took two whole days to complete: it was extremely labor-intensive and our arms were undeniably sore after extensive stirring with a mash paddle.

We had two different batches: one was kept at 325° for a more caramelized flavor and color; the other was held at 360° for a dark, rich color and more of the burnt flavor.

The caramelized and "burnt" sugar

My wife and I loaded up the dogs, and of course, the burnt sugar, and headed north to the great microbrew town of Fort Collins, accompanied by nine of our closest friends. Matt Pomeroy, Sales and Brew Representative for Odell Brewing Company, greeted us with a smile and a pint. We were all escorted to the brewery where the pilot system and its master, Brent, were located. The excitement of the group was palpable, and we were all anxious to get started. We began by perusing the recipe with Brent, discussing any changes that needed to be made due to the conversion of a small batch to a very large one, and chatting about the sack of caramelized sugar that we lugged from the car. Brent had already loaded the pilsner and Belgian specialty malts into the hopper, so we jumped right into the mash.

Brent Cordle describing the 5-barrel system at Odell
Shoveling spent grain (donated to a local farmer)

The enormity of the mash tun as well as the lauter tun was quite impressive, especially to those of us who normally only brew five or ten gallons at a time. As many of you know, there’s a lot of down time while brewing, so we filled the time by, yes, you guessed it, drinking and talking about beer; we also played some fairly intense games of Cornhole. Brent was extremely gracious in fielding all of our questions, which became more “unique” as the day went on and as more Odell beer was consumed. In between drinking and questions, we marveled at the dumping of 2.25 pounds of Sterling bittering hops. After shoveling more than 500 pounds of spent grain and running the hot wort through the plate chiller, we concluded the day by pitching the exploding Westmalle yeast and toasting to the completion of a successful brew.

After a little cleanup, Brent took us on an extensive tour through the brewery, one that most people don’t experience. This tour included a stealthy jaunt to the secret barrel room, accompanied by a tasting of Friek before the addition of raspberries; an unsteady elevator ride up to the third floor to see the tops of the massive fermenters; and a saunter past the high-velocity centrifuge. We left feeling like royalty, weighed down with tasty beer and schwag: Odell certainly earned ten loyal customers for life.

For many weeks we’ve incessantly checked email for any word of the beer's progress. At last, King Albert has arisen: it finished as strong and determined as its namesake, coming out big, sweet and full of Belgain character at a whopping 10.2% ABV! King Albert brings with it, once again, a feeling of royalty to us ordinary (albeit proud) home brewers: it’s officially on tap at the Odell tap room in Fort Collins and soon to make its Colorado Springs debut at Brewer’s Republic on Saturday, March 23rd. See you there!

King Albert Tapping

Sat. March 23rd / 4pm till it runs out!

Brewer's Republic / 112 N. Nevada, Colorado Springs

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BeerEric Steen