Great Divide Brewing’s huge packaging plant was built for speed and volume. It was designed to handle big runs of Titan IPA, Yeti Imperial Stout and newer hits like Denver Pale Ale. So aside from a few recent bottle offerings, most people don’t get to try the brewery’s small-batch beers unless they visit its two taprooms.
But that's changing. The brewery notched a major first last week when it delivered a small run (small for Great Divide, anyway) of 200 canned cases of its Hazy IPA to 25 liquor stores in the metro area. Originally draft only, this New England-style IPA has been the brewery's biggest seller at its two taprooms for the past year — and its fastest-growing draft beer in terms of volume. But until now, it had never been canned.
"It's challenging for us to do small runs, but it's also fun because it lets the brewers express their creativity, and it shows that after 25 years, we can still kick out great beers," says Great Divide founder Brian Dunn. "But to do that, our brewers and our packaging team had to put in a huge amount of effort; they had to go way beyond. Our head brewer, Brandon Jacobs, and packaging manager, Jeff Martin — they deserve a lot of credit."
Canning a total of 250 cases — the remaining fifty will be sold out of Great Divide's taprooms — took less than seventeen minutes on Great Divide's equipment, but figuring out how to make that happen took much longer, kind of like steering a battleship down a river.
The brewery has been releasing smaller, taproom-only batches of one-off beers in bottles under its Local Knowledge series, but Dunn says he feels like bottles held the series back since beer drinkers in Colorado are used to taking their cans everywhere. "So if we really wanted to have fun, one-off beers, we had to make a decision about canning smaller releases. Now that we figured out how to do it, we're planning to do more."
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In addition to the packaging challenges, Hazy IPA will also be a new concept for the brewery's sales and distribution channels. That's because it only has a thirty-day shelf life, and the stores that carry it all had to agree to remove it after that time period (if it hasn't sold out) in order to protect its freshness.
New England-style IPAs are supposed to be imbibed fresh, because age has a tendency to reduce the hops flavors and aromas. Since most are dry-hopped and unfiltered, they are also particularly susceptible to a clumping effect over time that can leave a beer looking like it's full of gunk.
"We wanted more people to get to know Hazy, but we wanted to be careful in how we approached it," Dunn says. "We'll keep supply tight so we know it's selling through and staying fresh. That's the only way you can manage that beer. Bars are used to that, but it's trickier to get stores to accept that approach."
Brewed with Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado hops, Hazy IPA is the result of months of testing and experimentation, and the result is a beer that more closely resembles popular New England-style IPAs from smaller breweries rather than some of the hybrid offerings from other larger breweries. "The flavor opens toward tangerine and lime zest, with notes of tropical papaya and mango, before a slight hop-bitter finish that is rounded by a hint of ripe strawberries," Great Divide says. Hazy IPA is 6.2 percent ABV and only 40 IBUs.