How a Beer is Born

Head Brewer Rusty Packer, Sebago Brewing

From a twinkle in a brewer’s eye at hop harvest to the final concept, some beers are years in the making. Throw in a pandemic and other wrenches, such as can shortages and you get Sebago Brewing Company’s “Pressed for Time,” a juicy New England IPA that first hit shelves this past April.

It started with a hop – Idaho 7, to be specific. Sebago head brewer Rusty Packer first fell for the hop known for its juicy tropical and stone fruit characteristics at Crosby Hops, a fifth-generation hops farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, during their 2019 hops selection. He visited during their harvest when breweries were invited onto the farm to sample that season’s hops first-hand. There, brewers could discover what they were looking for in a process known as rubbing – literally rubbing the hops cone between two hands to release its aromas and brewing potential.

Packer was struck by the unique aromas of this hop. “There were six or seven brewers in this room rubbing this hop and there were immediately 20 different descriptors that were beyond ‘citrusy, pleasant,’” Packer said. “The little hop cones were releasing aromas like cotton candy, tropical fruits, and different types of citrus. And, it was just like, ‘We gotta make a beer with this at some point.’”

Packing Sebago Brewing’s “Pressed for Time”

The first beer they made with Idaho 7 was a single-hop IPA, but it wasn’t hitting that “wow factor” Packer had experienced during the rub, so it was back to the drawing board for what would be Sebago’s first full distribution release since 2019’s Haze Fwd, another New England IPA.

“I knew I wanted something new, but also, I’m deep into the dad life here so I wanted something that I could stay between the lines and enjoy myself,” he said. “Hitting 7% [ABV] all the time doesn’t quite cut that.” 

Packer continued to tweak more than four iterations, brewed on the pilot system – a smaller brew system breweries use for experimentation that Sebago patrons got to sample in the taproom. The evolution of that brew included changing up the yeast strain to London 3, a popular strain for hazy juicy IPAs the brewery also uses in Haze Fwd, and rounding out the beer with Secret, Mosaic, Cascade and Centennial hops before Packer felt like he had hit on something similar to the aromas he smelled during that harvest. Better yet, the brew clocked in at a more reasonable 5.7% ABV

Once the kinks are ironed out in a beer on the five-barrel pilot system, the next step is putting it into the brewery’s 40-barrel system to see what it does. 

“Pressed for Time” cans on the line at Sebago Brewing

“You have to chip away at it in a methodical way until it’s finally hitting that spot,” said Packer, which meant the first canned batch was a blend of three initial batches, a common practice in breweries to achieve consistency. 

Then it was time to come up with a name. With New England-style IPAs popping up all over the country, “the well’s going dry,” as Director of Brewing Operations Peter Dahlen put it.

After riffing off plays on citrus and juice pressing only to find all their ideas already taken by other breweries, someone made an offhand comment that they’d soon be pressed for time. “And everyone was like ‘wait, wait!’” said Dahlen. They Googled it and quickly registered the name when they discovered it wasn’t yet taken.

So Pressed for Time it was – little did they know that the name foreshadowed the launch of the beer. 

Every Beer Born Different: How Other Breweries Got to the Finish Line

Each beer has a unique origin story that depends not only on beer style but also on the size of the brewery, its customer base, and focus. For Mast Landing Brewing Company, the excitement of new releases is a major driver. They typically release a new beer at least once a month, sometimes weekly, depending on the brewing schedule. 

“We tend to be pretty fast-paced and dynamic in all elements of the company,” said Director of Marketing Gene Buonaccorsi. The double dry-hopped double IPA “Stamos on Drums & Guitar” was recently released as part of their “From the Vault” series, where they take past collaboration brews and tweak the recipe to make it new and exciting. 

Tumbledown Brewing releases about two new beers a year. “There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to it,” said brewer Dane Kaiser. They look for what’s popular and how they can put their creative spin on it. Their recent “Between the Trees IPA,” a fundraiser for Saddleback Mountain’s ski patrol, was brewed with spruce tips.

“Funny thing about naming beers,” said Packer. “Sometimes the name comes and then you start to figure out the true irony in it.” The team liked the initial fit of the name. It came out of a pandemic, where everyone was feeling a little pressed for time and so many parents were working from home and homeschooling kids, said Packer, who was juggling that himself. But, he wasn’t sure how the name was going to fit in the brewery.

The phrase ended up appearing in many more conversations as materials and ingredients showed up late. Then when the beer was ready to be canned, like other brewers across the country, Sebago faced a can shortage, fueled by an across-the-board increased demand for cans that began before the pandemic. 

“We asked ourselves should we have named it something different to make our life easier?” Packer joked. “But, like with anything, the hard work pays off.”

The beer made it out into the world only a few days late, but the work doesn’t stop there. Packer said they still have to keep batches consistent and up to the standards of that initial vision.

“Each beer kind of takes on a life of its own once it’s released,” said Packer. “There’s the logistics and working out the finer point of improving it to get it to be the best beer it can be.” 

Story & Photos by Catie Joyce-Bulay. Catie is a Winslow-based freelance writer. When she’s not writing about beer, farming, and travel, she’s hitting the trails or searching for her next favorite brew.

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