Jesse Houck didn’t waste any time. Just about one month after taking over the brewmaster post at burgeoning Golden Road Brewing, Houck has rewritten the recipes for the company’s two best-known IPA brands, including its flagship Point the Way.
When Golden Road launched in late 2011, it did so with two primary beers -- its namesake Hefeweizen and Point the Way. The latter was credited on Golden Road's website as being "one of the reasons we opened" the brewery. With most IPAs -- India pale ales -- coming in with an alcohol-by-volume of near 7% or above, Point the Way was an anomaly, a more demure offering with an ABV of 5.2%.
Yet while Golden Road has secured more than 500 draft accounts throughout the L.A.-area in less than two years, Houck is betting that customers didn't get too comfortable with the initial Point the Way formula. He has upped the alcohol, increased the hop bitterness and has essentially made-over Point the Way so it's more in line with what is typically considered a "West Coast-style" IPA, meaning it's now one that places its hops front and center and has no room for sweeter malts.
"With Point the Way, I tried to move it more toward a drier, lighter in color, cleaner West Coast-style IPA," Houck says. "We brought the ABV up a little bit. We launched it with the concept of putting out a sessionable West Coast style IPA [sessionable beers are lower in alcohol so more can be enjoyed in a tasting session]. I think what we did is we listened to the market and we've seen they want a little more, so we're taking it up from 5.2% to 5.9%. That'll help balance the heavier hop load on it. So it's hoppy, but not way too dark and dank. That makes it a very enjoyable IPA -- sessionable still."
The original Point the Way was crafted by brewmaster Jon Carpenter, who recently left Golden Road for a post at Angel City parent Alchemy & Science. The beer arrived in direct opposition to the current trend among craft brewers and IPAs. This was not a so-called "hop bomb" with an overpowering citrus bite. It was calmer, with the malt balance giving the beer a taste and mouthful slightly more syrupy in nature than the typical California IPA.
Houck's take on it does away with the caramel malts and streamlines the beer. It's crisper, sharper and, well, gets more to the point. The original received largely mixed reviews on beer destinations such as Beer Advocate, and Houck thinks the new Point the Way will be more in line with consumer tastes.
But does upping the bitterness and increasing the ABV to just under 6.0% get away from Golden Road's original mission of creating an easy-drinking IPA?
No, says Houck, who notes that the new Point the Way will come in a 12-ounce can rather than a 16-ounce can. "I'm a fan, as a brewer, of brewing what you're passionate about but also listening to the market," he says. "Per can, you could probably have two of these if you had two of the larger size."
What's more, Golden Road is also pouring a 5.0% ABV Pale Ale at its pub, and Houck promises there will be more lower ABV brews to come. Houck says he's "very passionate about West Coast-style bitters," which are akin to Pale Ales that come in with a few more hops than a typical low-ABV offering.
Houck comes to Golden Road from the Bay Area, where he most recently served as the production manager of San Leandro's Drake's Brewing Company. Prior to working for Drake's, Houck brewed for San Francisco's 21st Amendment. He cited the latter's Bitter American -- a 4.4% brew -- as something of an ideal beer.
"I'm looking to do something like that down here at about 3.8%," he says. "You want that as an option, and you want bigger beers."
Houck was among those who originally interviewed for the Golden Road job, and jumped at the chance this year when the post became available again in January. While it's not uncommon for brewers to move around, it is more rare for them to be given the chance to rework established recipes.
"There's a lot of breweries," he says, "where they say, 'Don't touch any of these. These are working for us.' When I was at Drake's, I didn't make many recipe changes. I was working with a whole team of brewers and we made a couple news beers. The beers there were pretty set. This being a younger company, I have more opportunity to innovate and create change."
Also getting a new look is the double IPA Wolf Among Weeds. For the latter, Houck essentially shredded the original recipe.
"That was a ground-up recipe change," he says. "You'll see a huge difference. I pulled a lot of the heavier caramel malts out of that beer, and went with some English malts as a specialty grain, as well as a little bit of malted rye. The rye is going to give you some body and a little spiciness in texture without using a darker malt. It will be pretty light in color and we're still shooting for about 8% ABV."
But the Golden Road Hefeweizen? Houck says his brewing paws are staying off of it. "I'm pretty happy with that," he says.
While Houck has only just recently relocated Los Angeles, he says the city's relatively nascent beer scene has reinvigorated him. The more mature beer culture of the Bay Area, he says, has become a little "static," save for the arrival of tiny nano-breweries.
"There's just lots of young, fresh innovation down here," he says. "I think that it helps that it's a younger scene. Things are received more readily. There's not the old-standbys on tap because someone has been drinking the same IPA for the past 10 years. There's opportunity for change in Los Angeles."