Sound Brewery

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Mark Hood, founder of Sound Brewery in Poulsbo, Washington, is excited about his big, new brewery. It will be one of the most high-tech facilities in America, and it comes after just five years of professional brewing on his original, smaller system. The array of prestigious awards he has received is part of the reason his brewery got pushed to capacity. America’s Pacific Northwest is also a beer-thirsty area. More people drink craft than not, and IPAs are the favorite style. But now Japan is thirsty for his beer, too.

The big question is why export to Japan when it seems you have so much pent up demand in your area already?

The main reason comes down to our original company goals of creating a wide variety of product and distributing it throughout the world. If we wanted to just sell in Washington, we could easily sell everything we can produce now, but we would have to produce a lot more IPAs and IIPAs, which would mean a lot less of the other styles.

We also wanted to think ahead and start building our distribution network for when we moved to the next step with a larger brewhouse. We now distribute a little in Canada and Japan, and thus relationships and a bit of familiarity is already established in these areas. I also have a long history of traveling to and working with Japan from my former career as a computer game developer.

Your background is in homebrewing. How has that helped or informed your approach to professional brewing?

Homebrewing has really changed how we think about beer. When you homebrew, you don’t worry about marketability, only about quality and the styles that you want to make. When you brew 30-40 styles in a year, using many different yeasts, grains and hops, you get a familiarity with each that cannot easily be replicated in a professional setting.

People talk about a US West Coast style, but beers from Southern California are very different from typical brews in the Pacific Northwest. How would you characterize brews from your region? And how does Sound Brewery fit into that picture?

I think the Northwest likes mostly hoppy beers, much like the rest of the West Coast, but when I think of “Northwest Style” I think more about balance, not overpowering bitterness. Balance and nuance are important up here. I think we also tend to make our beers a bit stronger. That could have a lot to do with our cooler weather up here. Sound Brewery’s Double IPA, Humulo Nimbus is only 77 IBUs, but with a lot more total hops than a lot of southern California beers–hops that add flavor and aroma, and are not just bitter. We also balance that with a bit of crystal rye to give more complexity than a lightly malty, heavily bittered 100-IBU hop bomb. Sound’s IPAs reflect this brewing philosophy in Latona, Humulo Nimbus and even Reluctant IPA.

You bought a used brew system in 2010. Can you talk a little about the build-out in the last five years and also your new, cutting-edge brewery?

We put all of our profits into buying a 1999 Specific Mechanical 10 HL system back in 2010, and then a lot more money into getting the equipment we needed to do what we wanted. We found a 1976 used centrifuge way down in Southern California that was hardly being used in a research facility. I drove down and bought it for pennies on the dollar compared to what a new one would cost. It allows us to dramatically increase our production with cleaner, fresher, more stable beer. Our new brewery will be based around a Meura Mash Filter from Belgium. This will allow us the flexibility to quickly produce large or small batch beers, with far greater efficiency, less energy use and less total materials used. I believe we will be the first to use one in Washington, and one of the smallest breweries in the country to use one. This technology has been around for a very long time for large breweries. Breweries like Chimay, Westmalle, Rodenbach, Full Sail, Alaska, and even Stella, Budweiser and Coors use mash filters. Only recently has this technology been available to the small brewer. Now we will be able to produce 60BBL in eight to ten hours, as opposed to the 7BBL that now takes us at least six hours. We will have 15BBL tanks for the very small batches (that now take us two days to fill) that will take about 2.5 hours to fill. We can also fill 60 BBL tanks in a day, which is more than eight times what we currently do in a day.

Your philosophy is “Tradition Liberated”. Can you give an example of a style of beer you make that you liberated?

“Tradition Liberated” really is a philosophy we have that comes down to this: use the history of brewing and styles to guide you, but not hold you down. Don’t just add trendy ingredients and gimmicks. Focus on traditional styles and what has made them popular throughout the last century–maybe bend the rules in intelligent ways, focusing on flavor, aroma and balance.

Monk’s Indiscretion is a good example of this. It’s a very traditional Belgian style (basically a golden strong or tripel) with fairly aggressive hopping that compliments that banana character of the yeast with tropical aromas and flavors from hops. The bitter-sweet balance is traditional, the yeast is a very traditional Belgian tripel variety, the grain bill and fermentation are all traditional, but the Citra hops in particular accentuate the fruity character of the style.

We also make a “Belgian Style Imperial Stout” using a lot of the techniques that Belgian brewers use to keep a 10% abv beer drinkable with a light body. Lots of Belgian candy sugar makes the beer extremely drinkable for an imperial stout. Our Humulo Nimbus double IPA uses crystal rye to accentuate the fruitiness of the Galaxy and Citra hops. It “ripens” the flavors and aromas of those hops and, we think, makes it more drinkable.

Our most popular beer in the summer is our Sommerweizen. It’s a Kristalweizen, which is a style you sometimes see in Austria and Germany, but not nearly as often as the more popular Hefeweizen. For our Poundage Porter, we looked more to the English-style porter, with it’s smooth balance and drinkability as opposed to the big, bitter, stronger robust porter so popular throughout this country. Our Entendez Noel is a huge 11.8% beer that is truly “tradition liberated.” We call it a Pale Quadruple because we really wanted the fruitiness of the newer, New Zealand Motueka hop variety to shine through and impart its wonderful fruity melon flavors without the darker caramel notes traditionally present in quads.

Thank you Mark, and good luck with the new brewery!

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This article was published in Japan Beer Times #24 (Autumn 2015) and is among the limited content available online. Order your copy through our online shop or download the digital version from the iTunes store to access the full contents of this issue.