Beer Man

Lugene Chocolate Stout turns Odell Brewing into Willy Wonka's factory

Chocolate is sweet and sultry and delicious. Chocolate tastes great, smells great and looks fantastic. Chocolate is supposed to be fun. But Bill Beymer of Odell Brewing wasn't having much fun in late 2012, when he was trying to figure out how to melt hundreds of pounds of chocolate into the brewery's then-latest creation, Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout.

"We had to hang a colander down into the brew kettle from a chain," he says. "I made it myself from a stainless steel pot. Then we put thirty pounds pounds of chocolate into the colander at a time and lowered it down into the kettle."

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But that was more than a year ago, when Odell was using using its old fifty-barrel brewing system. Since then, the Fort Collins company has undergone a multimillion-dollar expansion that included a new taproom, new storage tanks and a two-story, 120-barrel brewhouse.

Odell made its first batch of this year's Lugene -- a seasonal beer that will be available in six-packs from late January into April -- last week. And the process was much easier.

With the new system, Beymer and his fellow brewers can add 250 pounds of chocolate to a 100-barrel batch of Lugene within twenty minutes, and then accurately control the temperature of the kettle so that the chocolate melts at the right time.

The wort (which is beer before it has been fermented with yeast) "came out very chocolatey, creamy, just unbelievable," Beymer says.

"It was amazing. It smelled like a chocolate factory in here," he adds. "I had images of Willy Wonka in my mind. We don't have any oompa loompas, though. Maybe we will try to get some for the release party." That's set for Saturday, January 25 and Sunday, January 26 in the taproom.

Over the next few months, Odell will use more than 2,000 pounds of chocolate -- one third of it dark chocolate and rest milk chocolate -- to make Lugene.

Another challenge for Beymer was figuring out how to scale up Odell's recipes from the old fifty-barrel brewhouse to the new one -- and it's not just a matter of multiplication. "Because the new brewhouse is so much more efficient and we get more extraction out of the grains and the hops, we had to adjust," he says. "There was also some luck involved, but we were able to nail it within the first couple of brews and replicate exactly what we were making in the old brewhouse, but in larger quantities and much faster."

Of course, he points out, after Lugene is brewed, the kettles have to be cleaned extra well to get all the chocolate out. And no one gets to lick the spoon.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes