Hops and Grain's "culture" of success
By Andrew Thomas,
12:30PM, Fri. Dec. 12, 2014
If porters aren't that popular in America, heaviness is partially to blame. While the milkshake creaminess of stouts has found a niche, porters remain misunderstood. But Hops and Grain's new Porter Culture is likely to change some minds.
The notes of roast coffee and dark chocolate give the beer a light-smoky, bittersweet character. They hit the palate up front, and last all the way through a smooth finish. The flavors are deep, but not oppressive – good for drinking around the fire pit and the pool.
That's purposeful says H&G founder and brewmaster Josh Hare. Porter Culture is in the style of a Baltic Porter, which is not a beer most Americans recognize, but is perfect for warm climates like Austin's. Brewing with lager yeast instead of ale yeast results in a less fruity taste. It is also cold fermented, which gives it a higher alcohol content, but a drier, lighter finish. “You don’t feel like you’re chewing down a meal if you have a pint of it,” Hare says. Hops and Grain uses a blend of three dark malts, the most unique of which is chocolate wheat. The chocolate wheat malt adds smooth richness, helping the porter avoid being too stout. If all that sounds like a science project, it's no accident. Hops and Grain is one of the few Texas breweries with its own in-house lab.
For Hare, beer is a lifelong obsession. He initially started brewing in college. Hare very astutely realized that although he could not buy beer outright, the ingredients used in beer contain no alcohol. Home brewing began. Hare jokes he started “brewing out of necessity,” gaining quite a fan club for his initial brews. Later, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, and was immersed into a home brewing scene unlike anything he had seen before. “Living in Boulder really opened my eyes,” he says. He was enamored with the culture of craft beer, and drawn to the community of homebrewers and brewpubs.
But the move to a beer career was almost accidental. After helping open a running store in Austin with a couple friends, Hare was often in charge of finding beer sponsors for events. Back in 2005, the only area sponsors available were Shiner and a few Central Texas upstarts such as Real Ale, but there were no Austin craft breweries to reach out to. Hare decided to leave the shop and raise money to start his own brewery. After about nine months, he and his colleagues had raised enough money to lease out a space and start producing beer in 2011. Now there is almost no space left in the brewery.
Luckily, an ongoing expansion will add a little more capacity for their highly demanded beer and help Hops and Grain continue its mission of “enhancing the human experience.” Hare believes that it’s important that their beer is “accessible, approachable, honestly priced, consistent and high quality,” and a reflection of the tastes and cultures of Austin. The company ethos support sustainability and giving back. Hare himself recently went on a 1,400-mile bike ride to raise funds and awareness about prostate cancer.
Now that he's back in Austin, new brews are on the horizon. Hare says H&G are battling between two different styles that they want to brew after Porter Culture. However, with current capacity issues, some tough decisions will have to be made. Kölsch (a rarely brewed light-bodied style – Saint Arnold's Fancy Lawnmower being the most famous) and pale mosaic (a heavier pale ale resembling an IPA) are the two most requested beer styles for their next project. Both will be canned eventually, but the debate is which will come first. In the meantime, Hops and Grain is celebrating the success of Porter Culture. We'll give them a little bit to rest on their laurels.