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By Philip Runco. #ultrafresh photos by Nicholas Karlin.

Freshly Tapped spotlights one recently released beer, whether it be a new flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.

Today, our beer is 3 Stars Brewing’s #ultrafresh, a rotating-hop Double IPA brewed with Pilsen malt and a dash of wheat. The current iteration of #ultrafresh showcases Galaxy, Topaz, and Columbus hops.

Revisit our 3 Stars Tap Takeover profile and the 2016 update.

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Four years ago, Dave Coleman commissioned Kendra Kuliga to paint a mural on the wall of his brewery. The 3 Stars co-founder had connected with the graphic designer through local beer bar Meridian Pint, for whom she had been drawing posters to promote tap takeovers, beer releases, and various crafty events. He wanted her to paint a sugar skull.

“I’ve always been fascinated by sugar skulls, but my partner and I had never seen one that was really balanced in terms of the forehead, cheekbone, and jawbone,” Kuliga recalls. “So, we studied what would make an awesome sugar skull to put on his wall.”

Kuliga’s skull was all strong, prominent features, but she embellished them with personal details gleaned from her new clients. Across its forehead, she placed the three stars of the DC flag, itself the inspiration for the brewery’s name. She gave it green eyes shaped like shamrocks as a nod to the Irish ancestry of Coleman and fellow co-founder (and head brewer) Mike McGarvey. Within each eye, she drew a “‘Boondock Saints’ cross,” largely because it looked “pretty rad.” Similarly pretty rad were the tribal designs filling out the skull. Those were inspired by her partner, a professional belly dancer.

“It was kind of a culmination of a couple different elements, and special for the brewery,” says the graphic designer, who has owned and operated her Cielo Productions since 2006.

Her spin on the Día de Muertos iconography was a hit.

“Dave loved it so much that he put it on t-shirts,” Kuliga remembers. “Later, when 3 Stars decided to go into packaging for bottles, I said, ‘Well, the sugar skull is becoming an iconic signal for the brewery.’ So, I thought it would be clever to put it on the side of the bottles, just as a silhouette, since it was something that Dave felt very attached to. It was kind of their mascot.”

If you’ve bought a four-pack or bottle of 3 Stars beer, visited its home in Takoma Park, or interacted with the brewery online, you’ve been greeted by the toothy grin of Kuliga’s sugar skull. It didn’t spring from some grand designs or market research. It was just something Coleman thought would look cool on a wall.

Often, that’s how it goes at 3 Stars: The co-founder has a fanciful idea that, aided by the creativity and technical assistance of others, takes on a life of its own.

Of course, that’s not always the case. As with any brewery, decisions at 3 Stars are frequently rooted in and driven by practical and economic considerations. The brewery is, after all, a small business in an increasingly crowded field.

When it comes to #ultrafresh, the story falls somewhere in between.

First released in May, the rotating-hop Double IPA was born from the brewery’s decision to overhaul its approach to the hop-forward, boozy style. Its composition and availability were further shaped by a variety of market forces – the availability of certain hops, shifting consumer preferences, the import of serving IPAs fresh.

At the same time, this is a beer called #ultrafresh. It has the fingerprints of 3 Stars’ most outspoken voice all over it. The Double IPA comes in a poppy and irreverent packaging, which, in turn, has inspired a whole new artistic direction for the four-year-old brewery.

But we begin the story of #ultrafresh with another beer – its “very close cousin.” Or so says the man who breathed life into the recipes for both.

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Not long after he started brewing for 3 Stars, Nathan Rice was handed a big project: revamping the brewery’s “mainliner” Double IPA, Two to the Dome.

A former beekeeper at the USDA, Rice had avidly homebrewed for the previous seven years. He was planning to open a brewery with a buddy in California, but in 2014 the state’s severe drought brought those plans to a halt. He had also been working in 3 Stars’ homebrew shop, though, and had shared his business plan with Coleman and McGarvey, so when they heard about his misfortune, they floated the idea of Rice brewing for 3 Stars. After apprenticing for McGarvey that fall, he took on the position of lead brewer in January of 2015.

“They just kind of threw me right into the mix,” the soft-spoken brewer recalls. “In the back of my mind, I was always thinking, ‘I’ve got to live up to this opportunity. Let’s hope I make some good beers.'”

At the time, McGarvey and Coleman’s view of one of their own beers had begun to shift.

Introduced during the brewery’s first year, Two to the Dome was an old school West Coast IPA of sorts, its bitterness countered by an assertive malt backbone. Increasingly, though, IPAs were heading elsewhere – to drier, lighter, less bitter brews.

“Two to the Dome was a beer that was successful for us, but our tastes had kind of changed,” says McGarvey. “We’d had introductions to new IPAs in the market where the base beer was a little less sweet, allowing the hops to really shine through, and we wanted to do that with Two to the Dome.”

Making “that” happen fell to Rice.

“One of my first tasks, almost right away, was to start brewing up test batches of a new Double IPA,” he recalls. “Both Mike and Dave came to me with ideas, like, ‘We want it cross the bridge between citrusy and dank. We don’t want it to be too malty.’ In general, they would sometimes just throw a few words at me, and then I would do all of the research I could and try to make a beer appear.’”

Rice began his research for another Two to the Dome by deconstructing successful Double IPAs like The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.

“I thought, ‘What is it about these beers that really makes them stand out?’” he shares. “What I kept coming back to was how simple they are. Heady Topper has just enough of a malt bill to hang all of those hops on it. So, when I was thinking about how to do Two to the Dome, I was like, ‘I’m going to make this as simple as I can, and we’re going to showcase the hops.’”

It was easier said than done. Rice estimates he brewed as many as nine test batches over the course of 2015 before everyone was satisfied with the new Two to the Dome.

“What I ended up doing was cutting out a lot of the caramel malts and anything that would add sweetness without adding a whole lot of body, and at the same time, I dialed down the IBUs,” says Rice, who compares overly assertive hop bitterness with chewing on crushed aspirin. “It’s sort of the natural evolution. More people want to drink beer, which means there are more people who are turned off by intense bitterness but still like the juicy, flavorful components you can get from the different hops.”

The mix of hops 3 Stars settled on were Australia’s tropical Galaxy, the Pacific Northwest’s florally citrus Azacca, and another American west coaster, Columbus, a dank variety often used for bittering. The grist, meanwhile, was almost 95% Pilsen malt – a pale, sweet, gentle grain – with a complimentary dash of Vienna malt for a little extra dulcitude.

“As we’ve been working on sour beers and even our saisons, one thing we’ve found is that Pilsen is a malt that we really like,” says McGarvey. “It has the right kind of tang and qualities for sour beers and farmhouse beers, but it can also be a really nice, clean malt for IPA.”

In the end, the beer landed exactly where 3 Stars hoped it would.

“We have a process of design that incorporates a lot of opinions, and Nathan has a very good talent for turning that collection of thoughts into a beer,” the head brewer shares.

It wasn’t long before Rice was charged to do so with a Double IPA again.

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From the beginning, 3 Stars has positioned itself as a boutique brewery – one that’s constantly turning out big, bold, innovative offerings.

“We’ve produced at least three to five new beers every year, but I don’t think that’s enough,” Coleman tells me, sitting in the taproom last Friday. “We just want to keep pushing. It’s been our model since the beginning. We’ve never really been a core brand company.”

When the brewery self-distributed to a handful of accounts, it was easier to produce whatever beer it wanted on whatever timeline. If a bar ran dry of Peppercorn Saison, Coleman could show up and convince them why switching to Citra Lemon Saison or Nectar of the Bogs was a good idea. Retail is a whole other game, though, and since 3 Stars partnered with distributors in late 2014 and then began canning two of its beers last summer, the brewery has had to walk a tighter line.

“When you sign with a distributor, you kind of have to develop a core brand, because they need to keep going back to their grocery store placements and liquor stores that want to restock on the same items,” Coleman says. “When you’re cranking out those core brands, there’s a propensity to prioritize them. That’s your bread and butter. That’s what keeps the lights on. But we want to make sure we’re not losing sight of the creativity that’s the foundation of what we’re doing.”

It makes sense, then, that after 3 Stars felt it had unlocked the code to the next generation of Double IPAs, it would ask itself a question: Why not another one?

“We wanted to have more than one Double IPA in the rotation,” McGarvey states. “Two to the Dome has a great hop character, but people have different tastes. Some people like the big citrus notes; some people like more of the tropical fruit; some people like spicy. And we wanted to establish ourselves as a brewery that makes IPAs well, too.”

From here sprung #ulrafresh. The concept behind it was simple: Develop a Double IPA with a slightly different grist and an evolving hop profile.

Rotating-hop – or “evolving-hop” – IPAs are hop-forward beers produced with a different mix of hops each time. Generally speaking, the malt bill remains the same, the hops change, and a batch is produced once and never again. Examples can be found all around the country, including Sun King’s Fistful of Hops, Flying Dog’s Single Hop Series, and perhaps most notably, Firestone Walker’s widely available Luponic Distortion. The idea is that a neutral base allows the hops of each iteration the opportunity to shine.

“The rotating hop thing is starting to become very popular in the market,” shares McGarvey. “The undertone is that having the same hops all the time doesn’t necessarily matter; it actually can be interesting to change that assortment.”

In this regard, 3 Stars was somewhat ahead of the curve. #ultrafresh isn’t the brewery’s first shot at a rotating-hop beer: Its original white IPA, Samsquanch, had a “migratory” hop profile. But, eventually, that beer would stop migrating and become the year-round Ghost White IPA.

“We wanted to continue to rotate the hops on that, but we didn’t really have a pale [ale] in the line-up, and Ghost just had a killer line-up of hops,” the head brewer observes. “Plus, it was a very popular beer for us, so we didn’t want to stop making it.”

The evolving-hop IPA concept slipped by the wayside as McGarvey and his team became consumed by other projects. But as the market itself continues to evolve, now is as good a time as ever to revisit it.

“To put it mildly, it’s exploding,” Meridian Pint Beer Director Jace Gonnerman says of the trend. “With hoppy beers, everyone seems to be interested in trying what’s new, what’s fresh, what’s just come out. At this point, I’ve not seen one of those rotating hop series that’s failed to sell beer.”

Therein lies one appeal of rotating-hop IPAs: They’re designed to sate the appetite of the what’s new? crowd.

“There are certain consumers that are going to say, ‘I’ve had Two to the Dome. What’s new?’” Coleman says. “I have accounts that are constant Two to the Dome accounts, but the places where the beer nerds are going, people are only seeking new. So, you want to be producing new products, especially with the hoppy beers.”

For brewers, these series also provide an excuse for experimentation.

“Most of the guys here want to be creative – that’s what they got into brewing for,” Coleman observes. “The only way to harness that creativity is to empower them to create new things.”

“There are so many cool hops out there,” adds Rice. “We wanted to keep #ultrafresh very simple, and then keep rolling in a bunch of different hops to play with. But we kind of landed on a really nice hop combo from the start.”

There was the rub: With the first batch of #ultrafresh, 3 Stars had landed on a recipe so good that it forced the brewery to reconsider its approach to the beer.

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To cross the bridge between citrusy and dank, you need the right combination of hops.

“I initially built #ultrafresh around three different types of hops: one was going to be my bittering, one was going to be my flavor, and one was going to be my aroma,” Rice shares. “The idea was that I would probably keep the bittering hop all the way through but it might be fun to play with the flavor and aroma hops.”

For the first iteration of the beer, those roles would be filled by Columbus, Topaz, and Galaxy hops, respectively.

“Columbus is such a great bittering hop,” the brewer notes. “It brings a really, nice, smooth, very approachable bitterness.”

But the distinctiveness of #ultrafresh lies in the interplay of the latter two Australian imports. Topaz, a hop the brewery utilizes in its Above the Clouds farmhouse pale ale, leans towards resin and pine notes – something Rice calls “the forest smell.” Meanwhile, Galaxy is “just super tropical fruit,” according to McGarvey. Together, the two complement each other. And by waiting until late in the boil to add a “boatload” of both, 3 Stars ended up with a hop-forward, nearly 100-IBU beer without much bitterness.

“When I look at Double IPAs, the things that I like are not just the tropical or big citrus notes, but also something that provides that resiny character, where you get a combination of dank or fruit or spice,” the head brewer shares. “What I like about #ultrafresh is that I get all of the hops throughout the beer, but it has a really mellow, clean finish.”

To showcase those hops, 3 Stars utilized a grist of approximately 95% Pilsen again, but it swapped out Vienna malt for wheat, which lends the beer a slight haze.

“It’s exactly the kind of IPA I want to drink,” Coleman adds. “It’s light. There’s not a lot of sweetness. It’s really juicy. It’s got a nice bitterness to it that’s not overwhelming. It’s 8.3% alcohol and it drinks like a 6%. I catch myself some nights, like, ‘How many have I had? Because I feel great!’”

3 Stars brewed an 18-barrel batch of #ultrafresh in May. The brewery had purchased a labelmaker at the Craft Brewers Conference the week before, which allowed it to print and affix the proper tags onto 16-ounce cans. (For the previous releases of Ghost White IPA and Citra Lemon Saison, 3 Stars had to order and store a massive number of each can with the label already etched onto it.) The plan was to sell those #ultrafresh cans in the taproom over the weekend of its release, and if there was a fair amount left come Monday, maybe send the beer to a few retail accounts.

By Sunday evening, 3 Stars had blown through the vast majority of it.

“I think we knew it was going to be a successful beer, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well received it was,” Rice says.

Soon, the word of #ultrafresh started to spread to those who had missed out on the initial rush, as often happens online with buzzy beers these days.

“There was a huge outreach from our customers, like, ‘Wait, how do we get some of that #ultrafresh?'” McGarvey recalls.

The problem was that 3 Stars didn’t have the hops to brew it again. The brewery hadn’t planned to reproduce this version #ultrafresh. And the point of the rotating hop series was to make one batch of the beer and move on. But, ultimately, 3 Stars decided it couldn’t ignore those voices – and potential sales.

“We’re always trying to find the balance of exclusives and things customers want in the market,” McGarvey admits. “I guess the lesson was that a small batch wasn’t what the total release should be. It should be more about the number of barrels.”

Suddenly, the head brewer had to scrounge up enough Topaz, Columbus, and Galaxy to make the beer again. In doing so, 3 Stars hoped to avoid the online boards, where secondary sellers charge upwards of 100% mark-up.”You never find a good deal,” Coleman says. “There is no such thing as a good deal on hops anymore.”

Instead, McGarvey began to backchannel through his hop suppliers and other breweries to ascertain who might be sitting on some Galaxy hops.

“It’s a little old school,” the head brewer shares. “You kinda gotta know a few people that you can network through and find out who has the inventory but maybe doesn’t need it.”

In the end, McGarvery secured enough for two more batches of #ultrafresh. Two batches is probably not enough to make everyone happy, but that’s by design.

“Honestly, I want people to run out of it,” Coleman tells me. “That way I know it’s fresh.”

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When it comes to IPAs, freshness is tantamount.

Once a hop-forward has been kegged, canned, or bottled, the aromas and flavors of those hops begin to fade. The change is incremental, but after six weeks or so, an IPA has lost a fair amount of its initial luster. That’s not to say that the beer has gone bad – it’s just different. And it’s certainly not the version of the beer that a brewery spent a bunch of money on exotic hops to produce.

This isn’t exactly a secret of the craft brewing industry. Savvy consumers know to look for date stamps on their IPAs. A beer bar like Meridian Pint advertises when it has received an especially fresh batch of hoppy beer.

“With IPA drinkers, a beer’s freshness is almost as big of a deal as the beer itself is at this point,” observes Meridian Pint’s Gonnerman.

But the average consumer may not know they’re picking up or being served an IPA that’s wilted on the vine over three months. They just think a brewery produces a bland IPA. The conundrum for breweries, then, is how to insure that their hop-forward beers reach all consumers fresh.

A brewery that self-distributes to only a handful of accounts can monitor if a bar sits on their kegs for longer than it should. A brewery that pretty much only sells IPAs out of its taproom, like Boston’s Trillium or Herndon’s Aslin, knows exactly what it has in stock. It also knows how to properly store it, something that can’t be said for all grocery stores, bottle shops, and bars.

“The storage of IPAs is a critical thing that doesn’t get talked about enough,” Gonnerman shares. “Refrigerated IPAs at 38 degrees will keep and maintain that fresh, bright, hoppy character much, much longer than the average consumer thinks it will. But IPAs stored at room temperature or even hotter are going to fall off even quicker than people think they will. If an IPA is in a bottle and sitting at 75 degrees on a shelf somewhere, it’s probably going to die. That happens a billion times more than most people think it does.”

A brewery like 3 Stars faces a logistical headache with 300 accounts and three different distributors.

“How do we make sure our Double IPA isn’t sitting there, getting old, and turning into shit?” Colemans asks. “Four-month old Double IPA isn’t really ideal. It just doesn’t compare to when you get one that was canned two days ago, and it’s like, ‘This is awesome.’”

The only answer that 3 Stars could come up with was to make less.

“The way to manage it is by not putting out a lot of Double IPA,” Coleman continues. “Otherwise, it has the potential to sit. One of the things that perpetuate people holding onto beer that’s not fresh is consistent rebrew, rebrew, rebrew, stock the shelves, maintain inventory. If the distributors are rolling in inventory, you start to wonder, ‘How long has that been there? Has it been there 30 days? 45 days? 120?’”

All batches of new Two to the Dome and #ultrafresh have been 18-barrel batches. It’s hardly nano-brewing, but it’s far short of the 30- to 50-barrel batch you might reasonably expect. And it means either beer can often be tricky to find outside the brewery.

“We don’t maintain inventory of #ultrafresh or Two to the Dome because of we want to brew it, we want to sell it in the taproom or get it in the right accounts, and then it’s gone,” Coleman says. “It’s never sitting in a warehouse.”

Gauging market demand can be tricky, though.

“We do #ultrafresh in small batches because we want to make sure it’s fresh, but it’s hard to predict those small batches will go,” McGarvey shares.

If you’re going to call a beer #ultrafresh, though, you better make sure it’s fresh.

Speaking of which, we should probably talk about that name.

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A beer called #ultrafresh sounds like a Dave Coleman creation through and through.

“Hashtag ultrafresh?” the co-founder asks rhetorically with a knowing chuckle. “Yeah, it’s definitely a Dave Coleman creation.”

As followers of the brand’s social media likely know, the Twitter hashtag “ultrafresh” predates #ultrafresh the Double IPA by almost two years.

Coleman, who controls all of 3 Stars’ social media, started using the hashtag whenever a beer had recently been released at the brewery.

“I’d be like ‘Two to the Dome is back! #ultrafresh,’” he remembers. “Or: ‘We’ve got Peppercorn Saison on draft. #ultrafresh.’ It kind of grew into its own thing.”

“The ultrafresh hashtag was something that Dave was for establishing for us, so what else would be better than calling a Double IPA #ultrafresh?” says McGarvey.

From the farmhouse pale ale dubbed after Gang Starr’s “Above the Clouds” to the forthcoming Charm City collaboration Two-Headed Unicorn to a beer recently submitted to GABF as Bretta Got a Big Ole Brux, most of the outlandish ideas originate with Coleman.

“I’m the one who proposes some of the more ridiculous names, and often people are like, ‘No, dude, I don’t even know what you’re thinking,’” he shares with amusement. “But at the same time, I can be the one that vetoes names for other reasons. There’s stuff that gets proposed and I’m like, ‘No way. It’s not consistent with our brand or our messaging or our image. It’s not who we are.'”

Those sorts of judgments are proudly within Coleman’s bailiwick. In the last year, he believes he’s solidified a new role within the brewery.

“In the beginning, I was a sales guy,” the co-founder shares. “I was in charge of selling the beer. Now, I’m in charge of selling it at a different level. My job is really messaging and branding, which is kind of crazy considering how many times I’ve been quoted saying asshole shit.”

Coleman has always been involved in how 3 Stars’ beer is packaged and presented.

“Dave and I have found this awesome balance of trust and understanding,” says Kuliga, who has handled all of the brewery’s labeling. “There’s not a lot of conversation that goes on when he gives me a design concept. He just says, ‘Hey, I need a label for something.’ And I always ask, ‘What is the impact that you want to put out?’”

Early on, 3 Stars had favored what Kuliga calls an “elegant wine look” for its bottles.

“The 750 [mL] bottles were very severe, very strong but formal,” Coleman says. “And then the original Ghost and Citra cans, while playful and colorful, also had very rigid formatting.”

With #ultrafresh, Coleman had something different in mind. He told Kuliga he wanted to go in a brighter, more fun direction: “I was like, ‘Let’s make it pop. Let’s make it fun. Let’s not take it so seriously.’ That was the whole idea of #ultrafresh, anyway: Let’s make a beer we can have fun with.’”

With its name and the use of a hashtag, #ultrafresh reminded Kuliga of products like Tide detergent, and she wanted to summon the ‘70s era of their advertisements.

“The design of #ultrafresh is on a slant, and it has a splash star behind it. It feels very pop art,” she explains. “It just occurred to me, like, ‘That’s what we need to do!’ So I worked the stars and bars in there, and then I showed it to Dave and he loved it! It was a totally different direction, and it was fresh out of the box. We didn’t have a lot of pre-discussion about this. It was like, ‘This is what #ultrafresh feels like to me.'”

The label and its subsequent reception struck a chord in Coleman.

“#ultrafresh changed a lot of our spiritual direction as far as packaging,” the co-founder says. “It was the first thing that got such a crazy response. People were like, ‘That packaging is out of control. It pops so hard. It’s so exciting. It stands out.’ And that really kind of shifted things for me. I was like, ‘You know what? That’s what I want us to do. I want us to have fun.’ We make really intense, crazy beers, but often times, people get too serious about it. It’s not that serious; it’s beer. When people drink your beers, you want them to be like, ‘This is fun.’ I mean, that’s why beer exists: to get over our terrible lives and things we don’t want to talk about with anyone.”

Not long after, Coleman asked Kuliga to redesign the label for Two to the Dome 16-ounce cans. She retained the original’s image of the Capital but pushed it to the corner. She incorporated the Celtic knots of 3 Stars’ Viking mural – an Easter egg for fans of the brewery. She gave it a poppy playfulness. And then she threw everything on a tilt.

“I remember a study from when I was in art school that said if put things on a slant or focus the composition on a 45-degree angle, it really captures the eye,” she explains of the direction. “It’s about instability. The thought was that having the words and the stars and bars on an angle would be different from the other kinds of beer on the shelf.”

The two weren’t done there, though. Last week, 3 Stars released tallboys of Grapefruit Ghost, the citrusy spin on its white IPA. Working on Coleman’s request to incorporate Grapefruit slices into “juicy and bright” artwork, Kuliga came up with a design that gave an old friend its first close-up.

“I was thinking about what we could do that made the most sense for the brand and this new direction, and it occurred to me, ‘Hey, we can use one of the sugar skull eyes as the grapefruit, and then put elements of the sugar skull around the label so it kind of harkens back to something that people are already familiar with,’” she explains. “If people are familiar with the sugar skull, they’ll see it. Otherwise it’s just an abstract design on the can.”

A forthcoming redesign of the Ghost White IPA can will borrow the basics of this same scheme in different colors, as will new cans of Peppercorn Saison, Above the Clouds, and Nectar of the Bogs. (The brewery will keep the Double IPAs and other imperial beers like Starsky & Dutch in 16-ounce cans, but in another shift, everything else will be go into to 12-ounce cans.)

“I feel like we finally found a direction that incorporates 3 Stars’ identity in a really powerful way,” Kuliga shares. “We’ll just ride this train until Dave decides to go somewhere else with it.”

“Kendra basically takes the ideas that are in my head and creates them visually,” Coleman says of his creative partner. “I have no drawing ability whatsoever. I’m not an artist. But I know what I want, and I know how to talk about it, and she can actually translate that.”

Even though McGarvey concerns himself primarily with the daily operations and production of the brewery, he appreciates the change in direction.

“We’re working to brew the best beer we can, and Dave is focused on the best packaging, because, frankly, the shelf space is very crowded out there,” McGarvey says. “If your product doesn’t look finished, and it doesn’t pop, and it doesn’t at least catch someone’s attention for a second, you’re gonna get overlooked. It just emphasizes how much you have to look at every aspect of the product. There’s just too much going on out there.”

After four years of working with 3 Stars, Kuliga still feels fortunate for the opportunity to collaborate with the brewery.

“In the first couple years of working for Meridian Pint, I would make beer posters for lots of breweries, but I was dying to be able to work for a brewery and actually make labels and cans,” she says. “It’s a dream come true that I’m even able to partner with them. I’ve kind of grown up with 3 Stars.”

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The next time 3 Stars puts #ultrafresh into one of Kuliga’s cans, it’ll be a different beer. They promise. And even if the brewery wanted to reproduce the recipe, McGarvey has run out of the original hop combination.

“Unfortunately, Galaxy is becoming a very difficult hop to get,” the head brewer admits. “It’s fortuitous that it’s time to rotate on.”

In that sense, a rotating hop series can be a blessing: There is no pressure to reproduce an IPA.

“With #ultrafresh, we wanted the ability to change a beer when a hop isn’t available or when we get sick of it, which happens,” Coleman says. “Our palates change around here. What we like changes; it changes with the season. #ultrafresh is super juicy this time, which I like – it’s really refreshing – but when it turns fall and gets a little colder, am I really going to want that? Or am I going to want something that’s maybe a little more piney?”

Of course, 3 Stars aren’t the only ones with shifting palates.

“IPA is the most moving target in terms of what the consumer is looking for,” Gonnerman observes. “I think what a lot of the breweries are doing with these IPA series is trying to target that by playing new hops, using yeasts that they’ve never used in an IPA, playing with the grist bill. And I think that consumers recognize that and are eager to give the beers a go for that very reason.”

When we spoke, Coleman was excited about South African hops like African Queen. McGarvey was excited about the upcoming harvest of Southern Hemisphere hops, like Victoria’s Secret – a more attainable derivative of Galaxy. “There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on,” the head brewer says. “There will be some hop hunting to see what we can find and what’s available. That’s where we’ll come up with what the next #ultrafresh will be.”

Regardless of where 3 Stars settles, Rice won’t be able to contribute to the next iteration of his baby. A few weeks ago he moved to Austin with his fiancé – a native Texan. After a combined twenty years in DC, the two opted to mix things up.

“We were like, ‘Maybe it’s time for a change,’” Rice says. “The biggest thing I gave up was my position at 3 Stars. I loved what I was doing there. But sometimes you have to go see what’s out in the world.”

“Nathan is a very talented brewer,” shares McGarvey. “We hated to lose him. But that’s life – people do move on.”

While Rice considers his biggest contribution at 3 Stars to be sour and wild ales coming out of the brewery’s Funkerdome over the next year, he says he’s proud of the reactions the Double IPAs have gotten. “When I first did a test batch of Two to the Dome, I had someone come in from California who said, ‘I live in the land of Pliny the Younger. I live in the land of everything that Stone’s doing. This is the best Double IPA I’ve ever had.’ I still hold that compliment in my head.”

Coleman is similarly enthused about the response to the brewery’s new Double IPAs.

“As an owner and a creative person, one of the things I love about #ultrafresh is how much the market loves it, and how often, like, I get people walking up to me in the grocery store, being like, ‘#ultrafresh! Hi-five!’” the co-founder shares. “That’s the really cool shit. Or when you’re out at a bar with your friends and they’re, ‘Man, #ultrafresh, what the fuck? How did you do that?’ And I’m like, ‘Hey, my brewers and my team, they all worked on it and created exactly what we all wanted.’”

“It’s about all the creativity that goes into it,” Coleman continues. “That gives me a huge sense of pride – not just in the process and the ability to execute on a plan, but in executing on creativity through science and creating something that was born out of imagination. I mean, that’s like rainbows and unicorns and soldiers and shit. That’s like when you’re a kid and trying to draw the perfect picture, but you always fuck it up because you don’t know what you’re doing yet. And then later on in life, when you start to actually execute on your imagination, it’s really fulfilling. That’s how musicians feel. I’m not saying I’m a musician or a painter or anything like that, but I think #ultrafresh is perfect.”

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