Summer is almost here and with it comes the return of our seasonal Coconut IPA, Maui Express. Our head brewer Jason has been brewing with coconut for years. At a previous brewery he created a Porter with chocolate and coconut that garnered a little cult following. With coconut being one of his favorite flavors in desserts and curries, it is only natural for him to carry those flavors into beer. We asked him a few questions about Maui Express and got some interesting answers:
What was the inspiration behind Maui Express?
Several years ago I was at the taproom tasting a Mosaic Pale Ale that I’d made and the idea of combining that hop with coconut just hit me. My brain just made a connection between the tropical fruitiness of Mosaic hops and I instantly thought of coconut. I’d never had a coconut IPA at that time and the combination of chocolate and coconut was so ingrained in me as a child from trick or treat days of eating Mounds and Almond Joy bars that as a brewer I’d always gone that route. But it sounded interesting and I decided to give it a shot.
How did you go about designing the recipe for Maui Express?
I knew I wanted the base IPA grain bill to be pretty neutral to showcase the hop and coconut flavors and not get into the way. I added a little wheat for extra protein and a touch of light caramalt but kept it simple. I wanted the bitterness subdued so kept the kettle additions of hops down with some late mosaic and a substantial mosaic dry hop. The rest was up to the coconut which I knew we’d need a lot of and other than that we gave it a shot.
How was the first batch?
Everyone loved the flavor. It really was a better combination between the mosaic and coconut than I thought, and with the lower bitterness I thought it tasted great. But I still knew it could be better.
Did you change anything after that?
Yes. I felt the hop character was a little one dimensional so we tried a couple of combinations on subsequent small batches but settled on Citra hops as the best partner to Mosaic. We also played around with the amount of coconut. I wanted the coconut to be a forward flavor but did not want it to cover up the hops in any way. It needed to be balanced and still be an IPA.
Was hard to scale it up for full production from the taproom size batch?
Yes! There’s a ton of coconut in that beer and we use real shredded coconut so getting that much coconut in the large fermenters was a logistical nightmare. We went through all kinds of trials with different equipment, made some modifications to our fermenters, etc. It took some time and we made some changes during that first season of large scale production but eventually got to a point where we could make it efficiently with the best possible quality.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It just blows me away how many people dig that beer. Coconut can be a polarizing flavor so I was definitely nervous about releasing it to the masses. I had so many people come up to me and say “I really don’t like coconut but this is pretty good.” I’m also happy to see people experiment with different flavors in our taproom. Our staff started pouring half Maui Express half Princess Yum Yum(Raspberry Kolsch) pours. It quickly became affectionately known as “Moana” and ordered frequently by our regular customers. We now brew a raspberried version of Maui Express as a limited release and it’s also become a crowd favorite on its own.