Thoughts on lagers and ales from a local brewing veteran
Of the oldest fermented beverages, beer is a favorite. Hops, malted barley and grains give you what is called a wort; finish it off with a little yeast and soon you will have beer.
Sacramento has a few local brewpubs to choose from. Hoppy Brewing Company has been making beer for 10 years at its East Sacramento brewery and restaurant. As it gears up for its 10th anniversary, Ed Kopta, brewmaster since the beginning, is dusting off the recipe book from the last decade and brewing some of his old favorites to serve on tap all year long.
He took some time out from brewing to talk about beer.
Why did you get into brewing?
I was doing it as a hobby. I was stocking shelves at a grocery store, thinking that was not the thing to do with the rest of my life, and just kind of said, “Well, heck, why not?” and I gave it a shot.
I took a vacation to Maine one time, around Bar Harbor. We went out of town one day to see this brewery where they were giving tours. We went by this house that had a sign in the front yard, saying that this is the Bar Harbor Brewing Co. So we took the tour.
The guy took us into his basement and showed us all the tanks and stuff. His wife would paint the labels; he would pack it all into his truck and take it around town doing all the deliveries.
I thought, “Hey, you can support yourself this way,” and that’s what I did.
How long have you been brewing beer?
I have been brewing beer for 11 years now.
Where are you from?
I was born in Macomb, Illinois. … I grew up around Schenectady, New York.
What is that thing in the corner on wheels?
That is a diatomaceous earth filter. Underneath that hood you have a stack of plates; diatomaceous earth will form under those plates as you pump liquid through it.
What is the favorite beer you brew?
Personally, I like the Liquid Sunshine Blonde Ale.
You offer 22-ounce bottles. Do you brew those on site?
Yes, this is our only location. Everything is done right here.
Being an avid home brewer, I am interested in the differences between commercial brewing and home brewing.
Ironically enough, you have a bit more control over the quantities you use in your home brewing. Here, we kind of rely on our weigher to be accurate. We have to stay on top of it to make sure it is accurate—sometimes we are dumping more than we think that we are dumping, or less than we think that we are dumping, and that will mess us up.
We do have more control over the fermentation [temperature] than you have in your basement or whatever. It is fairly similar: We just have a single-temp infusion mash tun. That is all we really can do with the equipment that we have.
What is your favorite part of brewing?
The brew day, making the batch of beer. It is the longest day, but it is the most fulfilling, I find. … We brew one or two batches one day of the week.
Do you have a least favorite part of brewing?
There is a lot of grubby cleaning, like tank cleaning … any fill-in-the-blank cleaning. It needs to get done, but it is not very fun. … I like to say that I am a janitor with a hobby.
How many different kinds of grain do you use?
Well, it varies. We use the same base malt for everything. We use a couple different kinds of caramel malt. We use black and chocolate. We use wheat for a lot of things. One beer gets very light Munich malt … and some beer gets smoked malt.
What kinds of beer do you brew at Hoppy?
We primarily do ales. We will do a lager now and then, as a brewer’s special, but we pretty much stick to the ales, everything from our cream ale up to our black ale.
What is the difference between ales and lagers?
Ale is fermented at a higher temperature than lagers. Lagers are generally fermented down around 50 to 55 degrees; ales are up to 68 to 72 degrees. It takes a quicker time to ferment and produces a few more flavor compounds besides just the yeast metabolizing sugar into alcohol. You get different esters that give you different kinds of flavors, like an apple, or really all sorts of flavors. Lagers seem to be a bit cleaner and have a little simpler flavor profile.
How much beer is brewed here?
We do 1,000 barrels a year. … There are 31 gallons in a barrel.
There are so many different smells when brewing, and the characteristics that the aroma brings change so much when brewing. Do you have a favorite smell during brewing process?
When we brew something that we don’t brew too often, that different mash aroma will hit me with something unfamiliar that is not as routine; those are quite striking.
What is a common misconception about beer?
There seems to be a lot of ideas that don’t die. There are a lot of people who still to this day think that ale is something separate from beer. I want to stomp that out as much as I can. Ale is beer!