This distance between Portland and Vancouver is shrinking every day.
Last week, Ex Novo and Brothers Cascadia collaborated on a new beer called Koel & The Gang with a packed-house release party at Vancouver’s Final Draft Taphouse complete with a funkadelic playlist turned up all night long. The beer’s name calls on some of the trailblazers of funk, Kool & The Gang, while the beer itself utilized a centuries-old brewing technology most known for it’s role in imparting the funk to wild ales and farmhouse ales.
But this beer is neither a farmhouse or a wild ale. It’s not even funky.
For the uninitiated, a koelschip (sometimes anglicized as ‘coolship’) is a broad, open-top fermentation vessel in which wort cools. By allowing the wort to chill to fermentable temperatures with a very large surface area, wild yeasts in the air can find their way into the sugary liquid and begin making alcohol. Those wild yeasts leave behind flavors most often described as tart, funky, wild or even cheesy.
Not many breweries have a koelschip or have ever utilized one, although they’re gaining popularity. After asking several brewers and industry folks where other koelschips may exist in Washington and Oregon, the list I could compile is short. Breweries that were named included De Garde (most famously for fermenting almost exclusively on the vessel) along with Engine House No. 9, Urban Family, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Wingman Brewers, Alesong, Floodland Brewing, Ale Apothecary and Dwinell Country Ales. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but of the 373 breweries now operating in the State of Washington alone, it’s surprisingly difficult to find more names to add here as of this publishing.
Brothers Cascadia Brewing has already produces some fantastically enjoyable sour ales in their 10 months of existence. But this collab with Ex Novo, using a vessel whose primary function is to aide in the production of sour ales, did NOT result in a sour ale at all. The first journey of this koelschip, designed by Vancouver-based brewing equipment supplier Glacier Tanks, used the unit as a hopback in the production of a hazy, New England-style IPA.
When I caught up with Joel Gregory, founder of Ex Novo, at the jam-packed Final Draft Taphouse event he quickly deferred to Ex Novo head brewer Ryan Buxton and Brothers Cascadia newcomer Matthew Fields (previously of Wicked Weed and Glacier Tanks) as the project being their brainchild.
“Those two guys got to talking in a Facebook group and really put this together,” deflected Gregory as he shared that the relationship formed on social media and developed quickly in a one-thing-led-to-the-next sort of way. I later learned that Facebook group was called ‘Milk The Funk‘ and is a niche group of home brewers and commercial brewers discussing bacteria and alternative yeast cultures.
Matthew Fields joined the Brothers Cascadia team in January from Glacier Tanks where he’d been working to design a koelschip and market it to breweries across the nation, but particularly on the west coast. He ended up on the receiving end of the very koelschip he helped design and shared with Ryan Buxton an article he’d found in New Brewer about koelschips being used across the nation.
“One brewery [in the article], I think they were from Texas, they had used the koelschip as a hop back,” shared Fields. “Right as I was transitioning from Glacier Tanks to Brothers Cascadia, I had already started the conversation at the brewery about bringing in a koelschip and had already started chatting with Ryan at Ex Novo about using it together this way.”
What Ex Novo and Brothers Cascadia did was to transfer the wort to the koelschip at 185-degrees. They added southern hemisphere hops Rakau and Motueka along with some Mosaic. While in the koelschip, the wort cooled down to 160-degrees. The koelschip also acted like a whirlpool in the sense that it allowed for the much of the trub (or sediment and proteins) to fall down into the vessel’s trench before the rest of the liquid was transferred out to a conical fermenter. Of course, the final product was intended to be a hazy IPA, so a lot of proteins carried over resulting in the murky juice-like appearance in the glass.
In the end, Koel & The Gang is a refreshingly crushable hazy IPA with notes of grapefruit, guava and a little melon. It’s just 6% ABV, so you can Get Down On It and have a Celebration.
This article was originally written for our friends at New School Beer.