20 Questions: Paul from Blind Bat Brewry Talks Hops and Smoke
I stumbled across an online mention of the Blind Bat Brewery soon after it started up. It’s been about a decade since I first read about Paul Dlugokencky ditching his day job and transforming part of his house into a commercial nanobrewery.
He’s kept my attention from Texas, won a local following on Long Island and some famous boosters- including Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, by brewing beers a little outside the norm. One of his first releases was a smoked wheat beer called “Vlad the Inhaler”. Before most of us had any idea that Piwo Grodziskie was a beer style, he was doing it commercially.
He will play with ingredients that many brewers wouldn’t normally consider (potatoes to get the right balance in his Irish style Dry Stout) and smokes his own malt.
I was curious about the interplay of hops in smoked beers. Luckily, Paul agreed to play 20 questions.
Can you give us a little background on how you first got interested in brewing?
I actually started making wine at home with my wife before we got married (gave bottles of our wine to the guests at our wedding), but she kept catching me wandering over to the beer section of the wine and beer home-brew shop we used to frequent. She surprised me one Christmas with a kit for a milk stout, and it was boy-meets-brewing love at first sight.
What made you want to jump from homebrewing to commercial brewing?
Similar story to countless others, I suppose — I really enjoy brewing and decided to make the leap. Even a bad day cleaning the brewery is better than a good day at the office.
In general, how do you decide to use a particular hop (or combination of hops) in a recipe?
That would always be dictated by the style I’m brewing.
I know from reading your blog, that you draw a lot of inspiration for your recipes from beyond the usual British/American/German/Belgian style range. Can you share what sparked your interest in Polish beers (thinking of your Vlad the Inhaler)?
I’m half Polish (on my Father’s side), so trying my hand at a Polish style was appealing. That it was a smoked style was all the better, as I have been brewing a number of smoked beers already, smoking the malt myself is part of the fun of the process.
Seems like you’ve done a lot of collaboration beers- any tips for brewers working together for the first time?
It helps to get along as people first! Trust each other, keep one’s ego on a leash, and be willing to try new things together.
You do several smoked beers, any recommendations for how to pick hops when designing a smoked beer?
The hops are generally the same as what would normally be used for the base beer (non-smoked version). For example, my Hellsmoke Porter uses hops typical of a Robust Porter. My Old Walt Smoked Wit (for which I smoke wheat over mesquite) uses the same hops as any other Wit.
Where do you get your smoked malts from?
I’ve been smoking all the malt I brew with, and haven’t relied on any maltster to do so. Not that there is anything at all wrong with using malt smoked by a maltster - I just happen to like to have control over that part of the process.
Were there any resources you relied on while learning to smoke malt that other brewers might find helpful?
An excellent resource for anyone interested in smoking malt is the book Smoked Beers by Geoff Larson and Ray Daniels. If you are into grilling or smoking meat, you can smoke malt.
Can you share the outlines of your recipe creation process? Any tips for developing recipes with unusual ingredients (oysters, sweet potatoes, potatoes, Thai basil, lemongrass, etc.)?
One of the things that got me more into brewing beer rather than making wine years ago is how brewing beer is a lot more like cooking — you can play with all sorts of ingredients and variables. Just like cooking, think of what it is you want to get out of a beer (flavor and aroma wise), and work from there on thinking about what might get you there. Also, just like cooking, you may need some trial and error before you get to where you want to be.
I would imagine some additions will accentuate the hops, and others might mute them (at a guess, the potatoes might do this in the same manner that they soak up salt in a soup). Has that been your experience?
The right combination and addition of various herbs can complement the hops. For my potato beers (Long Island Potato Stout, Sweet Potato Saison), the potatoes are added to the mash, and so I’ve not detected any effect from those on the hops.
Can you share a little bit about your brew house? I know it’s considerably smaller than a lot of craft breweries opening now. Any adaptations to your brewing equipment that made running a nanobrewery easier?
Yes, it is indeed smaller than most - I can brew three barrels (93 gallons) of beer per batch. That’s an increase over the ten-gallon batches I started with! I haven’t adapted anything.
Do you have access to all the local ingredients that you need for beer, or are there some that you still need to source from out of state? Is Sourcing New York ingredients even a concern for you?
Now that I have the NY State Farm-Brewery license, I’m trying to source everything from New York State. I’m only required at this point to use 60% NY State ingredients, but that will change in a couple of years to 90%, so I’m trying to work out recipes now using as much as possible of the NY ingredients.
Have you been involved with any of the hop farms in New York?
Not directly, I have visited the Condzella hop farm here on Long Island to purchase hops, otherwise I’m just checking in with various hop farmers in the state via email or phone while searching for hops. I do believe that as the farmers get more experience, and the bines become more established, the quality of the hops have been improving.
Have you seen large variations in hops from year to year from the same supplier?
Really only in the AA%, so one can easily compensate for that by changing the amount of hops used.
What have you learned about using hops, after starting to grow some of your own?
We don’t grow a lot of hops, we generally use them as fresh hops.
Do you have a favorite hop?
No, not really! For me, it all depends on what I’m brewing, and then it’s a matter of choosing the best hop for the job.
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