Mistakes happen all of the time, in both life and in brewing. Sometimes, nothing good comes out of them, and other times, mistakes result in something so amazing that we could not have planned.
The good kind of mistake happened for our 2016 Employee Homebrew Competition winning beer.
“Pedal to the Kettle was a total accident,” said Jon, a brewer at Bell’s and team captain.
But a happy accident.
A kettle soured beer, Pedal was brewed with pediococcus, an organism that is commonly used for sour beers. It produces the tartness we know and love in sour beers.
Homebrewing is an important part of Bell’s culture and we want to make sure every employee has a chance to experience what sparked the love for brewing for so many, including our Founder and President Larry Bell, more than 30 years ago.
For the third year, we've hosted our annual Employee Homebrew Competition. Teams are made up of employees from different parts of the company. More than 89 Bell's employees participated in 17 different teams. In addition to the captain, Jon, winning team included Elanor, web developer; Tania, organizational development manager; Andrew, bartender and Shelly, tour manager.
Like most teams, the group met for a shifty to discuss their plans for their beer. They decided quickly they wanted to brew a style none of them had tried before, and decided on a sour. They also wanted to focus on fruity and tropical notes.
"When we sat down, we thought ‘why not take all the big trends that are happening now in beer and push them together?’” Jon said. “So we can get hoppy beers, we can get sour beers and throw a great big Frankenstein out to the world.”
First, the planned grain bill wasn’t milled, so they used another set of grain Jon had for a different batch he was planning.
With a totally different malt profile, they began brewing in Jon's yard over an open flame on a July evening. But then, another mistake: they ran out of propane and weren’t able to get to a boil before adding the souring agent.
Given the timeline of the competition, they couldn't make a proper sour, which can take anywhere between three months to three years. “A kettle sour knocks away 99 percent of the process that goes into a sour,” Jon said.
So the beer soured over two days before being fermented with brewers yeast, giving some of the sour flavor in significantly less time.
By the end of the brew, they had to MacGuyver several things. Their tools included a hairdryer, and a repurposed cooler hooked up to a Raspberry Pi programmable computer.
But it all worked out.
"When we sat down and tried it, we were unanimous,” Jon said. “This is the beer we have to enter because it is too good to not enter."
Although accidents abound, it ended up creating a beer none of them would change. In fact, our brewers worked to recreate it when they brewed it in downtown Kalamazoo at our original B1 brewery.
Pedal to the Kettle will be going on tap soon at the Eccentric Café -- keep an eye on our tap cam.