In August, I attended the Lancaster Liederkrantz Blues and Brews Fest. The food, beer and weather were fabulous — all of it enjoyed along a stream, with live music in the background. One of the craft brewers at the event supplied an IPA that was tapped through an inline hop infuser. I apologize for not recalling the name of the brewer or the beer. I got waylaid by that contraption.
The inline hop infuser, sometimes called a Randall, works like a water filter, with liquid running through “tubing” and into a canister filled with hops.
I’ve said before that I’m not a hophead, so the inline infuser drew me in like the fly to the spider. Indeed, the beer was super hoppy and it got me wondering what kind of beer fan craves such a thing.
It attracts those who crave “big punchy aroma and fresh intensified flavor,” according to Jeremiah Estep of Lancaster County Brewers, a group of craft beer fans and brewers which meets the last Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m at Lancaster Brewing Company. (This month’s meeting is unusual because members will have a pumpkin brew competition at POUR, 114 N. Prince St., at 7 p.m. Estep says nonmembers are welcome to “come hang out and see what we’re about.”)
“Generally speaking, the intensity of a beer’s hop aroma is drastically increased by using hops in a Randall,” Estep adds. “Randall” is the name given to the original inline hop infuser, created by Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione.
“We did build the Randall the Enamel Animal, our beer infuser, sometime back in 2002,” says Mariah Calagione, vice president of Dogfish Head in Delaware. “We deliberately did not trademark it because we wanted folks to embrace the idea of beer infusions and run with it. In fact, we put our original plans online for folks to build their own.”
That’s exactly what Mike Doran, another Lancaster County Brewers member, did.
“Half the fun of home-brewing is building your own gear,” he says. “You can never walk through the plumbing aisle at the hardware store without finding at least something that you really don’t need, but that can be used in your brewery.”
Mark Garber at Lancaster Homebrew, 1944 Lincoln Highway East (soon moving to 1920 Lincoln Highway East), says people tend to make their own infusers, and that parts and fittings are available at the store.
Doran plans to infuse future batches of brew with fruit (particularly melons), cocoa nibs, chili peppers and cracked coffee beans.
“I had a coffee bean Randall beer once that was a bit over the top,” says fellow member Jim Weber. “Too much flavor spoiled the balance of beer.”
Colin Presby, new brewer at Stoudts Brewing Company in Adamstown, has infused using coffee beans, bourbon-soaked oak chips, vanilla beans and cocoa nibs, as well as some fruit and spices like peppercorns.
“I’ve seen and tasted some even more outlandish flavor additions like jalapeno peppers and bacon. Not all flavors work well with all beers, so I would advise small-scale taste-tests before setting up the Randall,” says Presby, who teaches home-brewing classes at Goggleworks in Reading.
“It’s a great way to jazz up beer,” Presby adds.
Three days from now is the 14th annual Learn to Homebrew Day. More than 80 events are slated across the nation and you can find nearby events at HomebrewersAssociation.org. Seems like the perfect day to learn how to make — and use — your own Randall.
Editor’s note: What Ales Ya is the brainchild of Lynn Schmidt but she solicited help from co-workers, knowing beer preferences run the gamut and that her knowledge of craft beer extends to the end of her arm only — as in, “I like this. It tastes crafty. I’ll have another sip.” Attractive bottle labels sometimes fool her.
“What Ales Ya,” a local column paying tribute to craft beer, appears every other Wednesday of the month in the Lifestyle/Food section.