We all love beer here at Harpoon, but we’re not all brewers. That changes when the Owners Cup, our annual employee brewing competition, rolls around. Small teams of employees from all over the brewery work with a brewer to perfect a recipe and brew what we all believe to be the winner.
The stakes are high – the winning team is crowned the Owners Cup Champion and the winning beer is mass produced and featured as part of the 100 Barrel Series (our small batch, limited edition beers). Everyone’s dream starts on our 20-gallon pilot system and one’s fate is decided by a companywide tasting panel.
Last September, Maddy Chambers and Emily Lawson were crowned the victors with their unique hazy, hop forward wheat IPA – Don’t Be Bitter IPA! Now that it’s available in a bars/ store near you, we sat down with the ladies behind the brew to get the scoop on how they dominated the cup and what they learned along the way!
1. How would you describe the Harpoon Kettle Cup? Was this your first time as a team?
Maddy: The Kettle/Owner’s Cup is an employee homebrew competition that takes place every year at Harpoon. All employees are encouraged to participate no matter their brewing experience- which makes it a really cool opportunity for everyone here. Brewers help create recipes then guide us through the brewing process on our homebrew system here at the Brewery.
Emily: This was our first entry for the Kettle/Owner's cup. We started working just before the Kettle Cup entries started 2 years ago so we didn't participate but when we got to the taste testing portion, we got super excited about the idea of brewing our own. After Thunderfoam came out, we started brainstorming what type of beer we would want to drink and also one we thought would win. We almost didn't get our entry in on time and considered giving up and not brewing at all! (7am to come in for a brew seemed pretty rough for us)
2. Have you brewed any beers before this one? If so, describe them!
Emily: I've personally done a little homebrewing with my family but just stuff from kits, never making a recipe. (Although I did go all out with creating our homebrew a facebook and twitter and logos- El's Ale) Steve on the other hand had done tons of homebrewing, which is why we wanted to work with him!
Maddy: I had never brewed before this! Since I’d been working at Harpoon for a while before we entered, I knew the process, and had helped toss some hops into the kettle before, but definitely never done it completely.
3. How did you come up with the idea for the beer?
Emily: We wanted to brew a beer that would appeal to both Harpoon and UFO drinkers, but also something that we wanted to drink! We love hazy, juicy IPAs but we wanted to add the wheat twist to make it a more approachable IPA for the UFO drinkers.
Maddy: We were seriously trying to be strategic so we could win this thing, but also truly love the style, so it was an easy choice.
4. Describe the ideal setting in which to enjoy Don’t Be Bitter.
Emily: Don't Be Bitter should be drank with friends in the Beer Hall! It's where we all met and have made amazing friends who even after leaving the company, are still some of our closest friends.
Maddy: Completely agree- there’s no better spot for me to enjoy this beer than sitting on a Beer Hall bench with Emily and our friends.
5. Were you influenced by any other beers?
Emily: We were influenced by the very popular hazy New England IPAs (i.e. Trillium, Night Shift, and Lawson's Finest, etc.) and we generally just love drinking these types of beers.
Maddy: It would be hard not to be influenced by the beers around us!
6. What was the most difficult part of the process? Most enjoyable?
Emily: The most difficult was first actually waking up to brew the beer but after that was done it was pretty much smooth sailing.
Maddy: I was even late to our brew day, so I didn’t have time to stop for coffee… Sneaking sips of Emily and Steve’s coffees while they were doing stuff was a pretty serious challenge for me. I also let the kettle boil over on the one single occasion that I was left alone, so that was pretty embarrassing.
Emily: We had some trouble finding the right hops we wanted but we actually ended up getting help from yet another Beer Hall alumni, Tom Casey at Boston Homebrew Supply in Brookline, where we got the perfect dry-hopping hops for our original batch.
Maddy: One of my most enjoyable moments was when we were getting house yeast to use off of a fermenter. Steve opened the valve while Emily held a container up to the opening. It sprayed ALL over her. Not sure if you’ve all seen yeast before, but it’s pretty gross looking, so I couldn’t control my laughter. (I also have pics to prove it!)
Emily: But really, the most enjoyable part has been being able to be serving the beer to our guests in the beer hall. I feel very proud every time someone orders the beer (although I often wait to tell them I brewed it until after they start drinking it!). The reception has been awesome to experience first-hand.
Maddy: Sharing Don’t Be Bitter with friends, family, and strangers has been incredible, but I’ve also really enjoyed being able to share the experience with my best friend!
7. What was the original name of the beer and why?
Emily: The true idea for the beer came from our original name Bitterwheat Symphony (which former beer hall staff member and now Brew Crew member, Katie Gibson came up with). We kind of ran with the idea that we wanted wheat and we wanted less bitterness. Once we had the name in mind, there was no going back.
Maddy: Once we won the competition and realized that our beer would actually be produced and distributed, it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be able to use this name anymore, so Katie helped us out again, and came up with Don’t Be Bitter. We immediately knew it was perfect not only because the beer wasn’t bitter (despite most common ideas about IPAs), but also because we won the Owner’s Cup competition by one single vote. The second place team was two fellow Beer Hall-ers, and they were indeed bitter! (I would be too…)
About the Brewers:
Emily Lawson is a Senior Beer Captain in the Beer Hall. Her favorite beer (besides Don't Be Bitter) is the Harpoon Dark or Hoppy Adventure (or Bissel Brothers Lux if we're talking non-Harpoon beers). She does a lot of running in my spare time and is training for her 6th marathon this Fall. She really enjoys hanging out with friends, drinking great beer, eating cheese, petting cats, and discussing feminism among other things.
Maddy Chambers has been working at Harpoon for a little over 2 years now, and is the Event Coordinator in the Beer Hall. Her favorite Harpoon beer is definitely the Harpoon Dark, and her other favorite beer would probably be Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez. She likes to be creative, and wrap herself up in a random DIY project every so often (the last one was candle making!) but also just likes to sit around outside with Mexican food, a beer, and some friends!
Thirsty for 100 Barrel Series #61 – Don’t Be Bitter IPA? Learn more and find it near you!