Haddonfield, New Jersey native Tom Kehoe is the founder, president, and brewmaster of Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kehoe has been in the brewing industry since 1992 and began his career in college, cleaning kegs and working the bottling line at the British Brewing Company, a microbrewery in Maryland. Kehoe attended Lehigh University for engineering and graduated from Western Maryland College with a degree in business. He started Yards in October 1994 in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia and has grown the brewery from a cask-conditioned keg-only production of 15 barrels per week to a full packaging brewery with a capacity of over 40,000 barrels.
Tim Roberts first cut his teeth in the craft beer industry while living in London in the ’90s. After later returning home to the U.S., Tim worked at Dock Street, one of Philadelphia’s oldest brewpubs, where he started out as a bartender and server, and then volunteered in the brewery on his days off, working his way into an assistant brewer position. He went on to become head brewer at Independence Brew Pub, and then head brewer at Yards Brewing Company, the largest brewery in the greater Philly area. 20 years thereafter, Tim left Yards to become a rep and a resource here at Country Malt Group, working with brewers and distillers in the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
EPISODE 4: SELTZER SEASON
TOBY TUCKER – SENIOR DIVISION MANAGER, COUNTRY MALT GROUP
TIM ROBERTS – TERRITORY MANAGER, COUNTRY MALT GROUP
TOM KEHOE – FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, YARDS BREWING COMPANY
SOME OF THE TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Tim talks about his brief history of living in London and working at the world-famous White Horse pub in Parsons Green, along with UK Techno Music in the 90’s and the ‘upcoming’ CMG Band.
- Yards Brewing Co and the intricacies of setting up a new facility in 2008 at the cusp of the craft beer boom
- Increasing category of hard seltzer in the past few years and some tricks of getting into the segment
- A quick call to Tom Kehoe to catchup
Transcript - Seltzer Season
EPISODE S.1, E.4
Toby Tucker: (00:18)
All right. Welcome to another episode of the Brew Deck. I got up early, climbed up on the Brew Deck, looking at all the dials and getting ready to start the day. Looked at the whiteboard this morning, and it looks like it is time to brew some seltzer, which unfortunately begs the question: I don’t know the first thing about seltzer production. If it was left up to me, I’d just throw some vodka and some Topo Chico in there and stir it around and come up with something, but probably would not make it very long as a brewer. Before you hang up and decide to listen to something else, I know there’s a lot of stigma and opinions around seltzer, especially in the brewing industry. You got people that are adamant about, hey, I want to stay away from hard seltzers altogether, and then you’ve got the group that is really looking to capitalize on whatever piece of the market they can.
Toby Tucker: (01:04)
So excited about today to learn a little bit more about seltzers, production, and utilize that opportunity in your brewhouse and your current setup, and got the luxury of having Tim Roberts onboard. Welcome, Tim.
Tim Roberts: (01:19)
Thanks a lot, Toby. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Toby Tucker: (01:21)
Yeah. No problem. Before we brought you onboard, Tim, I saw some information about you. I saw your background. But you sent over your experience. In all honesty, it’s like a rap sheet of a hardened criminal. It’s so great. I mean, the experience that you have is unreal. I mean, started out in the craft beer industry while living in London in the ’90s, and then, I guess, you made it back to the US and worked at Dock Street, one of Philly’s oldest brewpubs. Started as a bartender server and then, like a lot of folks in the brewing industry, just volunteered on your days off at the brewery and worked your way into an assistant brewer position. Then after that, had Brewer Independence brewpub and then had Brewer Yards Brewing Company, as most of us know, the largest brewery in the greater Philly area. Twenty years later, you land with the Country Malt Group, and we’re unbelievably ecstatic to have you onboard. I mean, you’re just a wealth of knowledge and a fantastic representative of not only us, but our customers. So yeah. Really appreciate you coming onboard.
Tim Roberts: (02:22)
Yeah, sure thing, and thanks for the kind words, Toby. I was a brewer for 21 years, so like you said, I was lucky enough to have some opportunities and some help from some great people in the industry. So able to get some great experience during that time, and I always liked giving back and sharing as much as I can. Not to say that there aren’t people that have forgotten more about seltzer production than I know, but I certainly learned some tips over the way.
Toby Tucker: (02:45)
Yeah, absolutely. Well, interesting. Tell me about living in London.
Tim Roberts: (02:49)
Well, London, I mean, when I graduated, I graduated with a degree in international studies. So honestly, what’s that qualify you to do? Not too much, so I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. But hell, international studies maybe qualifies me to live abroad. So I basically signed up for what amounted to is a student work exchange program that allowed me to work legally in London for about… I guess I was there for about 10 or 11 months before I came back to the States.
Tim Roberts: (03:15)
I didn’t know it at the time, but I ended up working at a world-famous pub in London called the White Horse on Parsons Green, and it was run by Mark Dorber, who is a real bigwig in those stories about keeping cask beer. Because I don’t know how much everyone knows about it, but storing and keeping cask beer is a little bit more complicated, so you need to know a lot about it. So Mark taught me a whole lot about that process, what you do. So inevitably, you start thinking about beer in general, how it’s brewed, because in order to learn some of the details, you got to have the basics. So that’s when I formulated my plan to become a brewer because, honestly, I just had no idea what profession I wanted to do.
Tim Roberts: (03:52)
So the living in London was great. Living in London in the mid-’90s was awesome, and it’s probably something that not a lot of people know, but typically pub workers in London are from other places like Australia or New Zealand or, of course, the US and Canada. For housing, everyone lives almost in dorms up above the pub. So you could imagine they feed you. So all of my money was expendable, and I was living with about 15 or 20 other people in their mid-20s out to have a good time.
Toby Tucker: (04:22)
Yeah, I can imagine some listeners that would probably drop what they’re doing right now and take up that opportunity. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, I did something similar. I spent a couple years in Playa del Carmen shortly after college. It’s one of those where I would definitely encourage my kids to get out and see the world and do the same thing, so that’s an awesome experience.
Toby Tucker: (04:39)
We’ve got some music fans in our group. When they knew I was going to get you on this morning’s podcast, they asked specifically if you got to see any performances by some UK bands or a little Radiohead or some Blur or some indie Brit-pop bands while you were out there.
Tim Roberts: (04:56)
Well, oddly enough, Toby, I don’t know if you know this about me, but I was a drummer in high school and college and stuff like that, and I’ve recently took it back up. So what I’m about to say would probably have… I know it would have shocked high school Tim or Tim before he got to London, but I did see some American bands, actually. I saw Primus there. When I was studying there, I saw the Smashing Pumpkins on the Siamese Dream tour in a small club, like maybe 800, 1,000 people. So that was probably the best live show I saw in London. But what I really got into, and it was easy to do in London in the mid-’90s, was techno. As I say, I never in a million years would have imagined me getting into electronic music, but just the atmosphere and the clubs and everything involved, I was able to see people like Carl Cox and Richie Hawton and Surgeon and Ben Klock. Just some unbelievable people in London and really gained an appreciation for techno at that time.
Toby Tucker: (05:52)
Man, that’s wild. Learn something new every day. I’m thinking about our crew and how many people have played musical instruments. We should get a band together. You can handle the drums. I think [Letkis 00:06:05] plays the bagpipes pretty well. That’d be a strange mix, but, I mean, we could do something together. That would be pretty interesting.
Tim Roberts: (06:11)
Yeah, for sure.
Toby Tucker: (06:12)
So once you got back stateside, I mean, you settled into what became a pretty hefty brewing career in Philly. So I think a lot of people, or most people, know about Yard, so tell me about Yards, when you started there compared to more recently. I bet you saw a lot of evolution over the years you were there.
Tim Roberts: (06:29)
Yeah. For sure. It’s funny just thinking about evolution, just saw some beer through the ages kind of thing, or for the craft beer through its history. When I started Yards in 2008, there were about 1,500 breweries when I started brewing in ’98, and that really didn’t change. That was really kind of surprising to me. I remember starting at Yards, and the explosion hit, but it was a little later than I thought, so I think it really started to take hold in about 2014. Then the last five years of my brewing career, the amount of breweries went from, say, 2,000 to 8,500. So yeah, I saw some changes, and I saw some changes at Yards too.
Tim Roberts: (07:05)
I joined them when they had a company split, and one partner kept the physical brewery and started a new brand. Then I, of course, joined Tom Kehoe, who owned the brand of Yards as president and founder, and then we built a brewery. There were about seven of us that really were super duper hands-on where we were running electrical line and putting up drywall and floor coatings, and I learned how to pipe glycol and all the intricacies of chillers and all that stuff, which was really going to, down the road, help me a lot. But the year before that, I had started at Yards, their largest production was 5,700 barrels. Our first year at the new facility, which, of course, part of that new facility was to add for capacity; I think we did 9,400 barrels the first year. The last year I was with Yards, we did about, I don’t know, just shy of 45,000 barrels or something like that. So it was a big growth.
Tim Roberts: (07:56)
I’m not saying that’s attributable to me by any means. It was; certainly, it was an explosion in the industry like we all talked about. But that growth really afforded me some really unbelievable opportunities to, a) most importantly and what I always say, is the best part about craft beer, it’s not the beer, it’s not the breweries, it’s the people that are involved. That’s really what, for me, has kept it interesting for 21 years. And yourself included, Toby, and everyone at Country Malt Group has been really kind to me and really supportive in what was really a big change.
Tim Roberts: (08:27)
Over the years, sure, we’ve won some medals, and we made some beer that I was really, really proud of, but to me, when I talk about my brewing career, probably the thing that stands out most and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Tom and the owners of Yards for having a lot of faith in me in terms of the impact that I was able to have in building… We built a pretty large brewery not far from the original brewery that I started at Yards, but it was 77,000 square feet. We were asked to open a brewery with 100,000 barrels capacity, and we’ve calculated that the end capacity of this brewery, with obviously some fermentation space capacity, will be about 300,000 barrels. We bought a 100 barrel Ziemann brewhouse that was capable of doing 12 brews a day, which is pretty spectacular. So if you think about it, you’re starting a new boil every two hours. So that capacity is a lot of capacity.
Toby Tucker: (09:17)
Tim Roberts: (09:18)
Yeah. It was something else. We had a separate lauter put in, a 20 barrel lauter, so we could use all the rest of the vessels to also do 20 barrel batches for R&D or account-specific kind of things. Of course, then all the other… One of the other motivations to building a new brewery in a new location was to install a canning line. So we bought a KHS canning line, which was the first small machine that they ever made at about 225 cans a minute. I don’t know if you’re aware, but KHS makes the largest filler seamers in the world that might do 1,200 cans a minute. Heineken’s running multiples of them and Budweiser and all of those guys. Of course, we put in a dedicated CIP system, a new 30 square meter Primus D2 DE filter, which maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I’m a believer in DE filtration. We put dedicated CIP systems, yeast handling. Alfa Laval did all the piping and valve matrix.
Tim Roberts: (10:10)
Also, going back to learning a lot of the nuts and bolts of brewing at the first brewery, we were able to design or certainly integrate chiller systems and water treatment systems and boiler systems. So it was really, to me, and probably one of the reasons I talk about it and started talking your ear about it, but it was the culmination of a lot of learning that I had done that really put it all together. So that was really exciting to me, even beyond tasting the beer, which was better right out of the gate than the old brewery, in my opinion, and seeing all that shiny stainless steel.
Toby Tucker: (10:44)
Yeah, absolutely. The term jack of all trades is certainly right up your wheelhouse. It’s pretty cool.
Tim Roberts: (10:50)
As I say, I’m a dinosaur. We used to be more like that. I think people have gotten a little more specialized. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know.
Toby Tucker: (10:56)
Yeah. You mentioned multiple GABF medals. That in itself is fantastic. But what is this all-time grand champion royal stumbler? What is that? I see this in your notes here. I’m curious what it is.
Tim Roberts: (11:09)
You’re digging deep into my biography. So a good friend of mine, and in fact, that’s where I met someone that I call one of my brewing mentors, his name is Brandon Greenwood, at the Nodding Head, and he had a barman there named Brendan Hartranft that designed a beer festival that was a little bit unorthodox. Maybe arguably a little bit less about tasting beer than other ones. So basically, what it amounted to was a keg race. So the winner, the royal stumblingest brewer, was the first person to empty their keg. So the first year, everyone thought, “Wow, no one’s going to actually kick a half.” It was a pretty small event. It was maybe a couple hundred people there or something like that. It was a pretty small location. But sure enough, someone emptied it the first year.
Tim Roberts: (11:50)
So after that, I got it in my head to win the rest of them. So I didn’t win the rest of them, but I think I’ve won maybe something like six out of 10 of them. The whole trick was, I was working at brewpubs, in the beginning, was you’d bring a whole bunch of good-looking waiters and waitresses, and they’d walk around with pitchers, and everybody wants to get a beer from those guys, right? Then you’d get a couple big oafs sitting by the keg just downing beer after beer. I think the last year they had it, I think we finished the keg in something like 14 minutes. I mean, you would just open the spigot and start pouring it, and then that was it.
Toby Tucker: (12:23)
Tim Roberts: (12:24)
Yeah, good place.
Toby Tucker: (12:24)
Sounds like a place I’d like to be on a weekend. Yeah. Man.
Tim Roberts: (12:27)
Yeah, it doesn’t exist anymore, but it was a fun festival. After the festival, it always turned out to be really fun too, as you might imagine.
Toby Tucker: (12:35)
Oh, I bet. Well, we’ve got an official new nickname for you. Stumbler.
Tim Roberts: (12:38)
Toby Tucker: (12:39)
All right. Yeah. Cool. That’s awesome. Well, let’s get into seltzers. Again, I mentioned there’s kind of a stigma, right? You got some real hardcore craft guys, craft breweries that just really take a dump on it to… no other better way to put it. Then you got the ones that are really embracing the opportunity to roll some of this into their portfolio.
Toby Tucker: (12:59)
Just some quick numbers. All of us may already know, but hard seltzer industry could grow to be a $2.5 billion beverage category by 2021. Currently, it’s worth $550 million. That growth assumes a 66% annual growth rate. So put it in perspective, in 2018, 14 million cases of hard seltzer, that beverage category, sold, and they’re looking to be 72 million cases in 2021. There’s a lot of people getting into that market. In all honesty, and Tim, I think you’ve probably seen it in your history of the market as well, but seltzer is eating away at some of the craft beer market share. I mean, granted, they are taking some historically vodka drinkers and wine drinkers and converting some of those, but it’s something that we all need to look at and certainly something that needs to be considered when folks are looking to add into what they’re doing, add in their portfolio, and look into increasing some of that revenue by way of hard seltzers. You know what’s interesting? Also, yesterday I saw Coca-Cola is now releasing a hard version of their Topo Chico.
Tim Roberts: (14:06)
Oh, yeah? I hadn’t heard that.
Toby Tucker: (14:06)
Isn’t that wild?
Tim Roberts: (14:06)
I can’t say I’m surprised.
Toby Tucker: (14:07)
Nope. Not at all. So that being said, Tim, why don’t you tell us a little bit about seltzer, what experience you’ve had with it, specifically at Yards, and then a little bit about production and then some details about how our listeners can take a look at it and potentially brew some of these there with the equipment they’re working on.
Tim Roberts: (14:26)
When I left, which was the very beginning of 2019, and on good terms, I’ll add, we were playing around. We were doing some test batches. I know now they’re putting out more of it because, like you said, they’ve taken hold of the market, and I think people talk about it, especially at older breweries like Yards, relevancy, and do you leave money on the table if someone’s buying a seltzer. Do you want to jump on the bandwagon? Do you want to be second to the party?
Tim Roberts: (14:51)
There’s all these terms, but I was talking to the same guy that I mentioned earlier, Brandon. He made a lot of seltzer in his life, and we both agreed, being kind of old dogs now, is making seltzer’s a craft just like making beer. You can make a good one, or you can make a bad one. There’s no doubt about it. So to me, in my life, whether I’m behind a drum kit or whatever I’m doing or if I’m going down a mountain on a snowboard, I’m trying to do something the best that I can. So to me, it’s a craft. You can do it better. So why not learn that craft and learn how to make something that’s tasty and drinkable rather than a hot mess that some of your competitors down the street are doing? To me, really, the only way to approach that in both beer brewing and into seltzer brewing is with knowledge.
Toby Tucker: (15:34)
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. All honest, there is times where I want a seltzer that refreshes… Plus, you’re down here in Texas. Man, it gets hot.
Tim Roberts: (15:42)
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I’m not-
Toby Tucker: (15:43)
It’s low-calorie, and, yeah, it tastes great. I think you’re right. The more we see of this product in market, the more people realize it is a craft, and there’s people that are being completely transparent with their ingredients, which some of the big guys are not. So I think we’ll continue to see this segment progress.
Tim Roberts: (16:00)
Yeah, absolutely. Another way to look at it, it’s another chance to be creative. You know what I mean? It’s a lot like beer in a lot of ways that people don’t ever talk about, but there are differences, and those differences are obviously avenues for making changes and adding some creativity. I would argue that the entire craft beer movement is founded on creativity and doing something that they couldn’t get somewhere else, right?
Toby Tucker: (16:23)
Yep. That’s right. Well, let’s get into some of the nuts and bolts. A lot of this will probably be over my head, but I’ll send it your way and let you start talking about some of the details about what’s important to look for in creating seltzers in the brewhouse and what you’re looking to focus on.
Tim Roberts: (16:37)
Sure. If I’m boring you to tears, cry, “Uncle Toby,” I’ll probably-
Toby Tucker: (16:41)
Never. You’re never boring.
Tim Roberts: (16:43)
I’ll keep it medium technical, I think, but I’m also always happy to follow up offline after this and clear any things. But like I said, I like to start talking about seltzers as some of the similarities, right? So the strength is usually 5% or so, which is kind of common for beer, right? You’re talking about an alcohol that’s not distilled, and so you take that aspect of it out. It’s obviously liquid, and you’re talking about fermentation, right? So the big, big difference, of course, is that it’s not malt. So you don’t have malt sugar, which is… and you don’t have wort, which is these are all questions, and these are some of the challenges everyone has to deal with if they’re going to make a seltzer. So, where is that sugar?
Tim Roberts: (17:24)
So as I was brought up in the industry, it was always they had to be 51% malt sugar-based, so they were sort of beers, that first generation. Like Bartles & Jaymes. I mean, I’m dating myself, but Bartles & Jaymes and Zima, and sneaking them in your neighbor’s backyard and all that stuff. But now-
Toby Tucker: (17:40)
I remember those well.
Tim Roberts: (17:41)
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean, Zima, whoa, one of the big tidbits I always throw out to non-brewers that everyone’s interested is Zima was clear because they actually filtered the color out. They filtered it so finely. Yeah. So that’s how they were able to get it clear, and I think that’s also the clarity of seltzers is something not to be ignored. And including with the base.
Tim Roberts: (17:59)
So nowadays, the base is just sugar. Right? So sugar, there’s lots of sugars in the world, right? But it’s not maltose, and it’s not maltotriose, which yeast will only ever eat a percentage of. So most people, I think, are doing it with dextrose. So dextrose is really cheap. In theory, it’s 100% fermentable, though I did some tests. We brewed with some sugar when I was at Yards, and we ended up using invert sugar, which is a very common British brewing sugar. To my palate, the dextrose left behind residual sugar or at least character, right? At least the perception of sugar. So there’s a reason that the champagne of beers tastes like the champagne of beers is that I believe that dextrose is not as clean as other sugar sources. It’s certainly a quality brewing ingredient, but it does impart both flavor, and surely it imparts color.
Tim Roberts: (18:45)
Again, I’m offering up all this advice in the spirit of creativity and knowledge, not in me trying to beat anyone over the head about the right way or the wrong way to do it. But in my opinion, the best source of sugar for seltzers is cane sugar. So you can buy granular cane sugar; you could buy liquid cane sugar. It just depends. That decision will just depend on what type of brewery you work in. So at Yards, we have the resources and wherewithal. When we’re looking at safety in breweries that large, we’re going to pump it into the kettle, right? Whereas you’re in a five-barrel system and you want to climb up on a platform and dump bags of sugar in, that’s the other option.
Tim Roberts: (19:23)
That leads me to another point, do you need to boil the sugar? Like in most things, I would generally say better safe than sorry, but I know that really, really large seltzer producers, in order to save in energy and time and space, they’re not even boiling it, and they have to have very, very stringent microbiological controls in order to do that. But it’s just something that comes up, so it’s something to consider. You know what I mean? Do you need to dedicate a 75 minute or 90-minute boil to seltzers? The answer to that is certainly no. Really, you’re just trying to sterilize the liquid, right? Before you send it to fermentation.
Tim Roberts: (19:54)
While I’m on that topic, topic of strength and water and stuff, one of the big tips that I recommend and it’s something we did a lot of at Yards, not really quite high gravity brewing, but basically the idea that you’re brewing a beer or a seltzer to a higher strength than you actually want the final product. Then as late in the process as reasonable, you’re going to add water to it. So in beer, because you have the staling mechanisms of the hops and the malt interaction and all that, right, you have to be very, very careful about oxygen content. So we had a deaerated water system that made water with dissolved oxygen at levels of less than ten parts per billion. So that’s not so easy to do. That’s a little bit expensive. But larger breweries will have the wherewithal.
Tim Roberts: (20:38)
But what I recommend to people making seltzers is look at making your own deaerated water and adding it later. There’s a reason for that, but how you do that, you just take hot liquor basically, and you bubble CO2 through it. You’re not going to get under ten parts per billion, but you’re going to get pretty oxygen-free water. In this case, the oxygen eventually could interact with the flavorings. But the idea of doing that to a little bit, you could just store it in the tank, and then you could dilute it. The idea there is to minimize esters. You want to minimize esters because you want this thing to taste like nothing, which is something weird to talk about, but you want your base to be as flavor neutral as possible. So arguably, the largest flavor contributing to brewing beer is yeast, and that’s another… certainly a hot topic.
Toby Tucker: (21:19)
Yeah, it’s probably one of our most frequently asked questions, is which yeast to use. There is a lot of them out there. I guess every brewer will probably have a different opinion about what they use, but tell us about that, yeast selection.
Tim Roberts: (21:31)
Well, yeah, it’s like how many brewers does it take to change a light bulb? It takes 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have done it that way.” It’s the same thing. Again, I would go to the yeast as another common ally between traditional beer and seltzer. Right? So what are the things that yeast does? I mean, it ferments. Then beyond fermentation, which all least do, there’s some qualities to yeast. There’s attenuation. What percentage of sugar will it eat? That’s kind of a different question here. Typically a cleaner product or a crisper product flocculate. That’s a big issue because seltzer’s clear. To me, it’s in a way like nitrogenated beers. A lot of the presentation of seltzer is the looks, right? I mean, I would argue presentation is important for beer too, of course, but for seltzer, you want it to look a certain way.
Tim Roberts: (22:14)
Is it alcohol tolerant? That’s a big one. Of course, is it alcohol tolerant? Because a lot of people are brewing stronger seltzers, or they’re diluting them. Like I said, they’re trying to do them fast. The big buzz words when you’re deciding on seltzer yeast, are you using distilling yeasts? Are you using champagne yeasts? Are you using turbo yeast? Or are you using yeast that you can crop from the neighboring fermentor that has beer in it? I think that’s really up to the brewer, and I think there’s no right or wrong answer. I mean, I think you want a… As I say, a distilling yeast could have all the qualities that you want. A turbo yeast could have all the qualities that you want, but hopefully doing things faster for processing time, and so could a champagne yeast.
Tim Roberts: (22:52)
So look at that, because really what you want going back to it, and I don’t mean to harp on it, but you’re trying to make something that tastes like nothing. So you really want to minimize esters, which is the whole point of dilution like I had mentioned earlier. You also want to make sure you have a very, very healthy fermentation because if you don’t have a healthy fermentation, you’re going to get flaws, which are going to come out like gangbusters in a really delicately flavored base. So you want to make sure you have all the elements of the right flavor, the right nutrients, and everything for the yeast, and also to not get any higher alcohols other than ethanol.
Tim Roberts: (23:23)
The one that I come back to, and I think it’s just how it’s packaged, is really good, I’ve seen it referred to as TY-48. I’ve seen it also referred to as Pathfinder. But it’s basically yeast. It’s dried yeast that’s packaged with nutrient. So it takes some of the guessing game out of it. You think the yeast question is one that everyone has an opinion on. You start talking about nutrient; that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. But because it’s all packaged together, it really takes off, and I’ve had people tell me that they use it with no nutrient at all and that they’re getting super clear and clean fermentations. Just the ease of everything, I think, really appeals to me because 12 brews a day, you’ve got some pretty fancy stuff there at Yards. But I would argue that with recipe formulation, and if you can keep it simple in every way of the brewing process, keep it as simple as possible because you’re just inviting mistakes to happen.
Tim Roberts: (24:09)
So I touched on it a little bit there, but the biggest difference, I would argue, between seltzers and beers aside from any kind of flavor issues is the idea that there is no malt in it. So when you look at your malt specs, what are the big numbers that jump out at you? The first one, of course, is extract. Everyone wants to see 80, 82% because that’s where your fermentable sugars are going to come from, your body, and you want bang for your buck.
Tim Roberts: (24:32)
I would argue the next number everyone’s looking about is the color because color… Everyone has an idea what kind of beer they want to make. Color would often define a lot of the character in the malts. So everyone’s looking at color. Do you want something at two? Do you want something at chocolate malt at 400? What do you want?
Tim Roberts: (24:45)
So I don’t know how you can make an argument, but the third number everyone looks to on malt spec sheets is protein. So protein is typically around 10%, a little higher for distilling malts, but everyone knows it’s right around that kind of ballpark. The protein in brewing beer gives you the matrix, which holds the foam, which is very important. But, I mean, when you talk about… If you’re buying malt by weight, 80% of it is extract, it’s carbohydrate, and then you’ve got some hops. But then 10% is a lot of it, and that’s protein. Protein is important for foam, like I said, but it’s really even much, much more important for fermentation because yeast needs what’s called free amino nitrogen in order to have a healthy fermentation.
Tim Roberts: (25:23)
Going back to it, if you’re not giving your yeast in your seltzer fermentations free amino nitrogen, you’re not going to have a healthy fermentation, which is exactly what you need. So that’s referred to as FAN. Let me play a little acronym game. A lot of people talk about DAP, which is really just the purest form of nitrogen, which is an acronym for diammonium phosphate. All of these things are very, very important, and you really have to find a nutrient or some kind of other source for these things because really, the nitrogen is building blocks for amino acids, which is building blocks for protein. All of these things are dancing around the issue, but they’re all very, very important for yeast synthesis, as are the steriles and fatty acids that are often… When people use yeast hulls or what’s really dead yeast for lipid production, which the yeast needs in order to reproduce and healthy reproduction of yeast, is really essential of, going back, harping on a clean fermentation because that’s really what you want.
Tim Roberts: (26:17)
Then there’s a million of them. There’s a million. You shop online. We have five of them, right? There’s a lot out there. But you know what? And I get asked this question a lot. For the most part, they’re all the same stuff. You really want nitrogen and lipids. That’s the important thing. Supplier-specific. They all have specs on it and stuff. I have noticed, and I’ve talked to people about it, a lot of them say, “Oh, you got to put this much in,” and you’re starting to really talk about a lot of costs per barrel. I’d argue, and I have some brewers looking at it, is because it’s sort of all the same stuff, that you can start paring that down. Start at a supplier recommended dosing rate and see if you can back it off a little bit. See if you can continue to have healthy fermentations because really, no one’s splitting the atom here, but you do need absolutely yeast nutrient if you have a pure sugar base because that’s the only way you’re going to get a decent fermentation.
Tim Roberts: (27:04)
When you start talking about beer fermentations or seltzer fermentations, one thing that I think brewers gloss over, and I’ve always felt is very, very important in getting upright in terms of brewing, is oxygenation or aeration of your wort. That’s extra crucial here because you’re stressing the yeast because these yeasts, in general, want all the stuff that’s in malt. I mean, it’s not an accident that people have been brewing beer for 6,000 years. It works because these things work well together. So I really want to emphasis you really want to oxygenate your wort. You cannot over-oxygenate your seltzer base.
Tim Roberts: (27:34)
I know some people, and I’ll recommend, especially if you don’t see a real jump off in fermentation, go ahead and circulate that tank through an aeration stone and just circulate and circulate it. Make sure that yeast has enough air, which allows it to use the lipids and steriles in order to reproduce. Make sure it has enough because it’s absolutely essential.
Toby Tucker: (27:52)
At the end of the day, if the product sucks, it just doesn’t taste good, nobody’s going back to it. So I know the purpose of producing the seltzer on the production end is obviously get it as flavorless as possible, but at the end of the day, there’s fruit purees and flavoring, et cetera, et cetera. Tell me a little bit about those and how a brewer can ultimately get a great end product that doesn’t taste like… Yeah. I don’t know any other way to put it. I’ve had some that are bad.
Tim Roberts: (28:21)
We’ve all had bad ones, and that’s not really an elephant in the room. But if you’re making something that tastes like nothing, that’s going to be your clean slate to add something creative and hopefully delicious, and hopefully you do it in the right way. So to get back, real quick, to making a flavorless base, there’s a couple other techniques that are often used, and I’ll tell people to do it before adding flavor. One is scrubbing. It’s also done in beer, but it’s a little bit more work. You can just bubble some nitrogen through the bottom of the tank, and it’ll drive off all flavor. So you’re typically using it to drive off the flavors that you don’t want, but in this case, you don’t even need to worry about scrubbing it because you don’t want any flavor. You also don’t need to worry about ruining the foam or collapsing protein in your tank, which will cause precipitate. No worries there.
Tim Roberts: (29:00)
Then another thing that a lot of people are doing is using activated carbon filtration. So that’s something that’s been used in the spirits industry for a long time because they’re trying to take out some of the nasty flavors that distillation sometimes brings about or really hot fermentations. So they use big filters in their dosing and pure carbon, usually powdered carbon. That sucks all the flavor out of the substrate, just like your Brita filter does in your home. So what I’ve seen is… And I know Paul makes a cartridge that’s impregnated with powdered carbon. You can also use sheet filters, and they do the same thing, but it’s just a nice way to help clean it up before you add your flavor.
Tim Roberts: (29:35)
So just like in yeast selection and just how brewers like to be creative, and probably to some degree, that’s why we’re all here, there’s a million ways to skin this cat. So there are just a couple things to keep in mind. So I think the biggest one, and a lot of people are doing it now, is back sweetening. So if you add your flavor, if you add a sugar source, which would be like fruit purees or concentrates or anything like that, you’re going to add a fermentable sugar back to your product when it shouldn’t ferment.
Tim Roberts: (30:01)
Now, maybe I’m calling myself out as a dinosaur, but to me, that scares me to death because either you better be really sure about your process that you absolutely have no yeast in there and zero yeast that’s really tough, or you need to temperature control it from the minute it leaves your brewery, or hopefully it doesn’t leave your brewery, until the minute that someone’s popping open that can. Otherwise, you’re going to get fermentation in the can, which can cause explosions and something that’s very dangerous. So obviously, let’s hope that everyone that’s doing this is very contentious.
Tim Roberts: (30:30)
But it’s also, first of all, a segue for me to talk about pasteurization. That, like seltzer, like you say, is kind of a dirty word in our industry. But if you want to can something that’s going to be sitting on your shelf and you have fruit juice in it, you need a tunnel pasteurize. Even a flash is not enough. So you need to make sure it’s stable. So there are additives and then there are actual fruit flavorings. Again, from one given supplier or one given company, sometimes I’ve found in my career that some additives taste good. For example, I had a terrible trial with a raspberry additive. It started to taste like Robitussin. But the chocolate additive from the same company just tasted great, and it was really a good tool to use. To me, I don’t necessarily, as long as it’s not unsavory, I don’t know, I don’t care how you get to the end result, but that’s what really matters to me.
Tim Roberts: (31:13)
Then there’s fruit. Fruit can be added post- and pre-fermentation. I have more experience adding it in pre-fermentation, and the con of that is that you might lose some of that character. For my money, maybe you did lose some character, but I always found the character of fruit added pre-fermentation very nice. You don’t need to deal with the sugar; you get extract from the fruit. Believe me, that character of the flavor does come through. The pro is that going back to it, you don’t have to worry about all that sugar in the end.
Tim Roberts: (31:39)
So I think you do want to add some flavorings as you would, and it can be the form of juice, it could be puree, it could be concentrate, or it could be additives. I think that’s just where people have to experiment. It could also be natural product like the zest of citrus fruit or a nothing. Or you could use whole raspberries, which is just a little bit of a different processing issue, but I think in the farm-to-table movement, I think we’re all part of the same movement. That can be an advantage for everyone or a nice story to tell your customers.
Toby Tucker: (32:04)
Yeah. Just a fantastic amount of information. Reach out to Tim if you’ve got any follow-up questions. He’s at [email protected] Yeah, along with Tim, we’ve got a lot of people on our squad who have had some experience with seltzers, process, and obviously can help you out if you’re looking for a particular product if you’re just getting started in that side of things. So that’s awesome, Tim. Thanks. Any final words before we go into something a little fun that might pique the interest a bit?
Tim Roberts: (32:31)
Yeah, let me just bend your ear for just another minute or two, Toby. I think what everyone talks about, stabilizing. The typical stabilizers are potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Ideally, you don’t need these products. I mean, if you have sugar in seltzer after packaging, you do need it. You need something in it. It could either be a tunnel pasteurizer like I mentioned or something like this, but I’m asked a lot about dosage rates. What I recommended, it’s something that everyone has to find their own way, but a good starting off point would be about five ppm or parts per million of potassium sorbate. For potassium metabisulfite, I recommend 0.02 ppm.
Tim Roberts: (33:06)
It’s kind of going at it, the same problem, from two different ways. The potassium sorbate is a preservative that stops and inhibits fermentation in wild yeast, in your yeast, and in yeast reproduction. The potassium metabisulfite is a) an antioxidant, so it will scavenge oxygen, which is also the enemy of a lot of the flavor additives, but it will also create sulfur dioxide, which is just a natural sanitizer that it’s okay. It’s something that can be consumed by humans, obviously, and it’s a healthy product. So it’s something to consider, but for me, to keep it simple, if you can avoid them, avoid them.
Tim Roberts: (33:40)
One last note, just know your customers. Know some of the real big health food chains who are not going to let you have those in your products. So just something to think about and know where you’re going to sell it.
Toby Tucker: (33:49)
All right, Tim. Hey, we’re going to take a quick break, but another session of the Whirlpool is coming up real quick. So stick around.
Speaker 3: (33:56)
Country Malt Group has added several yeast strains to fit the needs of your newest craft beverage creations. Today’s spotlight, Red Star Premier Cuvee. Known for its high alcohol tolerance, low hydrogen sulfide production, and low foam, Red Star Premier Cuvee is well-suited for neutral alcohol bases for hard seltzers due to its neutral flavor profile and high level of attenuation. It can also be useful for restarting stuck fermentations. For more details about this yeast and yeast nutrients, email [email protected] or contact your Country Malt Group representative.
Toby Tucker: (34:55)
All right. Now is for my favorite time of the day. We talked business and now get to jump in the old whirlpool where it’s hot and steamy. Have you ever gotten into the whirlpool in one of your facilities? Like literally?
Tim Roberts: (35:19)
Oh, yeah. Too many times to count. Well, yeah.
Toby Tucker: (35:21)
Tim Roberts: (35:21)
Yeah, for sure.
Toby Tucker: (35:21)
Yeah, right? Yeah.
Tim Roberts: (35:24)
To clean, and I always toyed with the idea of a hot tub, but no, I never did that.
Toby Tucker: (35:28)
Right. So we call this segment the Whirlpool. Really a pun intended where we just, we have a good time. We jump in the hot water and grab a beverage and have a good time here. So one of the things I’ve done in the past, and I’d like for you to do it, and hopefully we have some luck with it, but I call it the Rolodex Roulette. If you’re willing to play, it goes like this. You just take out your phone, spin your contact wheel, see who it comes up on, and if one of those hits is someone that might be willing to chat with us, we’ll give them a shout. Are you in?
Tim Roberts: (35:58)
Sure. Absolutely. Let me give it a whirl, as they say. Okay. My daughter is a fascinating 11-year-old, but I think… I’m not sure it’s appropriate to have her on an alcohol content topic, right?
Toby Tucker: (36:10)
Unless she’s been making seltzers. Who knows?
Tim Roberts: (36:12)
Yeah, well. Not as far as I know, but she does stay up pretty late. So let me try one more time. I don’t think you need to see the guy or talk to the guy that just redid our kitchen—one more. Hey, speak of the devil. His ears must have been ringing–how about Tom Kehoe? Founder and president of Yards Brewing Company. I left on good terms, but we’ll see. Maybe this will cement it. Or maybe you’re about to hear a big fight. Who knows?
Toby Tucker: (36:36)
Yeah, it sounds like a good idea. Let’s see if you can dial him up.
Tim Roberts: (36:39)
All right. Let me give him a ring. Hey, Tom. How you doing?
Tom Kehoe: (36:51)
Hello? Who’s this?
Tim Roberts: (36:52)
Hey, this is the one and only Tim Roberts. How you doing?
Tom Kehoe: (36:55)
Good. How you doing, Tim?
Tim Roberts: (36:57)
Good, good. Life after Yards is, while not the same, it’s still going well. I got to warn you, I’m doing a podcast, so I’ve kind of sprung this on you, but they asked me to talk a little bit about seltzers and a little bit about my history, which you probably know way too much about those two things after working together for a decade. But I don’t know, we just wanted to chew the fat and just see how you’re doing.
Tom Kehoe: (37:19)
Sure, I’ve got a few minutes.
Tim Roberts: (37:20)
Toby Tucker: (37:21)
Toby Tucker here. Country Malt Group.
Tom Kehoe: (37:23)
Hey, Toby. How you doing?
Toby Tucker: (37:25)
I’m pretty good. This is a bit awkward in that someone that used to work with you is giving you a call, but I appreciate you spending some time in this odd call here. But seems-
Tom Kehoe: (37:39)
Tim calls on us all the time. We buy stuff from you guys.
Toby Tucker: (37:39)
There you go. It seems like a fitting call regarding the subject that Tim was chatting about here today.
Tom Kehoe: (37:44)
Yeah, you said you were talking about seltzers and stuff like that.
Tim Roberts: (37:47)
And I was telling Toby that by the time I left, we had played around with some test batches and this and that. But I think you guys are doing a lot more of it now, right?
Tom Kehoe: (37:57)
We doing a lot of seltzers. We’re actually contracting for a local seltzer maker called Two Robbers.
Tim Roberts: (38:03)
How’s it going?
Tom Kehoe: (38:04)
Going very well. They’re have a popular local brand. I know they’re expanding territories. It’s an interesting change from brewing beer. A lot of the same processes, but at the same time, you’re looking out for different things.
Tim Roberts: (38:18)
See? Vindication, Tom. That’s one of the things I talked about, is that a lot of people don’t want to talk about the similarities, but it’s a lot of the same kind of idea and same principles of brewing a quality beer go into brewing a quality seltzer.
Tom Kehoe: (38:30)
Absolutely. It’s your SOPs. It’s the things that you do on a normal basis to keep your beer clean. You’re going to want to do the same thing for seltzer.
Tim Roberts: (38:40)
Yeah. Absolutely. I was also talking about, there’s a couple, I think, maybe two or three times I referred to myself as a dinosaur because I’m old, but not as old as you, granted, sure.
Tom Kehoe: (38:49)
Yes, that is true.
Tim Roberts: (38:50)
But you’ve had a lot.
Toby Tucker: (38:50)
Aw, come on. That was a shot.
Tim Roberts: (38:54)
Yeah, well. Sure. I think he had that-
Tom Kehoe: (38:57)
From him, that was mellow.
Tim Roberts: (38:58)
Yeah, right? We are on a public forum here. But we both saw, from going way back in the day, Two Dogs and Hooch and Zima and stuff like that. I’m just wondering your take about, I don’t know, the future of it or how that’s going.
Tom Kehoe: (39:13)
It’s really interesting. I mean, we’re talking about adapting to the marketplace. It’s like do you follow trends with doing a beer like a hazy IPA if you never did a hazy IPA before? I mean, doing things like that, this is no different than following a trend that all of these places that make seltzer, they’re all native breweries. White Claw doesn’t have a seltzer factory; they’re contract brewing somewhere. It’s a brewing process.
Tim Roberts: (39:37)
Yeah, what I said earlier.
Tom Kehoe: (39:39)
They even tax it the same way beer is.
Tim Roberts: (39:41)
And it’s something that you can do poorly, or you can do well, and it’s just a way… It’s a way to a) be creative and to show your chops in a different way.
Tom Kehoe: (39:49)
Right, it’s why you do test batches. I mean, you can rip down fermentation, get it up to alcohol, get it whatever, but if you’re using yeast or something that’s not giving you a good flavor profile, you might need to ferment slow or change things around. It’s all in how you run your brewhouse and what flavor profile you want to get out of your seltzer.
Toby Tucker: (40:10)
Now, Tom, are you guys doing your own brand of seltzer there at Yards or just contract run?
Tom Kehoe: (40:14)
We’re not. We came out with a couple new brands this year. Believe it or not, during COVID, we’re coming out with new brands. So we’re concentrating on that. We’re looking at the seltzer, maybe. We’re not sure. We want to see the market play on a little bit more before we’re ready to commit to a seltzer.
Toby Tucker: (40:32)
Tim, this may be a question for you as well, but I know there’s different types of seltzers, right? I mean, there’s wine-based, there’s obviously sugar-bases. I see some popularity of some wine spritzers. There’s different names for them. Are they ultimately the same thing, just starting with a different fermentation base?
Tom Kehoe: (40:49)
Well, I would say with that, you’re talking about a different tax base too. The cheaper tax base is always the malt-base or, I guess, if you’re using pure sugar, that’s being consider a different kind of malt beverage. So I think that’s why most of them are malt-based.
Tim Roberts: (41:03)
As opposed to using wine, which a lot of people are playing around with, a lot of people are using grape musk.
Tom Kehoe: (41:07)
Right. Like the old days of doing the wine, Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers and stuff like that.
Tim Roberts: (41:11)
Toby Tucker: (41:11)
Tim Roberts: (41:11)
Tom Kehoe: (41:13)
Yeah, I think that was more of the gimmick. I mean, what are you going to do with bad wine? Put juice in it and sell it. Turn it into sangria.
Tim Roberts: (41:21)
Well, and those were sold at liquor stores, weren’t they? Probably not everyone knows how Pennsylvania works, but we have a really strange alcohol sale system. But weren’t Bartles & Jaymes and stuff, they were sold in liquor stores, not beer distributors, weren’t they?
Tom Kehoe: (41:30)
Tim Roberts: (41:31)
I thought so.
Tom Kehoe: (41:32)
They had to be sold in the store. But if you’re in Jersey, everything’s sold in the same place, so didn’t even… There was no hiccup there.
Tim Roberts: (41:39)
Except for the tax issue.
Tom Kehoe: (41:41)
Toby Tucker: (41:42)
Well, I know there’s a lot of people diving into the market. Again, I’m not trying to throw anybody off course here, but here in Texas, you go into the new, I don’t even… they’re calling it Globe Life Park, but the old ballpark in Arlington, you go in there and order a margarita, it’s actually a fermented malt-based, correct? Well, that’s what I’ve heard.
Tim Roberts: (42:00)
Huh. Yeah, I mean, you can-
Toby Tucker: (42:02)
Tim Roberts: (42:02)
And when you talk about fermentations and things that are not 80 proof or if you’re going to, in theory, dilute something from 80 proof to about… What’s a margarita? Maybe 5, 8% by volume, right? You can just do that straight up. Then you don’t have to distill it, and you don’t have to pay the taxes that way. Right? So why not?
Tom Kehoe: (42:20)
One thing that you’re mentioning the margarita, a thing that’s becoming really popular here in Pennsylvania are these beer slushies. Some of them are like a margarita flavored malt beverage that they’re putting in these slushy machines, getting them to freeze, and serving them to the to-go public. Because you really aren’t able to really sit and go to restaurants the same way that you used to, so people are taking things to go. And it’s hot. The frozen drinks are working. I would think in a ballpark like that, absolutely, is what would happen.
Toby Tucker: (42:51)
Obviously, this is tough times for all of us with COVID going on. Just curious what you guys are working on. Is there anything specific you’re focused on during these times and what the next six months to a year looks like over there for you guys?
Tom Kehoe: (43:05)
So what hasn’t slowed down for us is the packaged products. Bottles and cans. Keg product has really slowed down and really hurt us because being in a big city, having a lot of draft accounts, taverns, and bars all across the city, we’ve lost all that business since nothing’s really going. But that has picked up with takeout and, I guess, what we call the off-premise. So we’re concentrating on that. We’re really working on trying to make sure we’re working with our customers to be a better supplier to them and also coming out with new brands. We came out with a hazy IPA right in the beginning of March, and we just came out with a hazy low-calorie citrusy pale ale.
Tom Kehoe: (43:44)
So we’re coming out with new products and trying to do innovative things with packaging by doing cans and doing different size cans. Yeah, we have our stadium pack, which was the 19.2 ounce can, a Philly pale, which the stadiums haven’t been open. So we’ve adapted to that, and we’re selling them where you would buy singles in the stores that… six-pack shops where you might get a single to go or something like that. So it’s all packaged products these days, and it’s working out that we’re having some growth there. It’s good for us. As a packaging brewery, a lot of these smaller breweries that were really only selling cans and bottles over the counter or over the bar and selling a few things to go, they’re not having the same success during this time. Granted, we’re still down, but we’re properly staffed for that.
Toby Tucker: (44:35)
Well, we’re hoping this thing ends soon. Obviously hoping that everybody makes it through it. Tim, any final thoughts before we let Tom get back to business?
Tim Roberts: (44:44)
No, and I know he has lots of stuff to take care of. I remember… As Toby said, feel free to email me with questions. Nice catching up for a little bit, Tom, and thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
Tom Kehoe: (44:55)
Yeah, definitely. Thanks for the call. I appreciate this impromptu being a part of something. It’s great.
Toby Tucker: (44:59)
Thanks for lending us Tim on our team. He’s a fantastic addition. We’re super happy he’s here with us, and I guess I should thank you for that.
Tom Kehoe: (45:08)
Absolutely. He’s a class act.
Toby Tucker: (45:09)
All right, Tom. Hey, I appreciate it. Have a great day.
Tom Kehoe: (45:12)
All right. Bye now.
Toby Tucker: (45:13)
Hey, once again, Tim, I really appreciate your time and joining us today. Just obviously a wealth of knowledge, and you know I could chat all day about seltzers, but we are short of time. But I would encourage everybody again to reach out to a territory manager here at Country Malt Group, or if you want to specifically reach out to Tim, he’s at [email protected] So more than happy to answer any of your questions, and I hope everybody hangs with us for next episode. I’m sure it’ll be interesting. So I appreciate everybody’s time. Tim, I will chat with you soon and take care, buddy.
Tim Roberts: (45:45)
Absolutely. Thanks, Toby.
Toby Tucker: (45:46)
We look forward to seeing everybody on the next Whirlpool session. Please join us. Again, I’m your host, Toby Tucker. Have a good one. Cheers.