Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Left Hand places big bet on its new flavor

Milk Stout Nitro an American first, company claims

LONGMONT -- Left Hand Brewing Co. used the recent Great American Beer Festival -- and a party it hosted for several hundred people on the 37th floor of the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver -- to introduce its new bottled Milk Stout Nitro.

The hullabaloo surrounding the brewery's newest offering was warranted, company officials say, because of the rarity of the product.

"It's the first time a craft brewer has attempted a nitrogen product in a bottle," said Mark Sample, Left Hand's production manager. "It's not easy to do -- it's not something there's a lot of information on."

Left Hand introduced its Milk Stout Nitro, the first American microbrew to replicate draft beer in a bottle, at the Great American Beer Festival in late September. The brewery invested hundreds of thousands of dollars inventing the "trade secret" process for producing the brew. Wednesday Oct. 19, 2011. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call) ( LEWIS GEYER ) has offered Milk Stout Nitro on tap at its tasting room for about six years, according to the brewery's co-founder, Eric Wallace, and it started shipping the beer to its restaurant and bar customers in kegs about three years ago.

Although the company's flagship product, Sawtooth Ale, remains its best seller in Colorado, Left Hand's original Milk Stout overtook Sawtooth a few years ago as the company's best seller in the other 25 states the brewery sells to. And the introduction of Milk Stout Nitro on tap has been very well received.

"The nitrogen version of Milk Stout on draft is our No. 1 product," Wallace said.

Recognizing that, a few years ago Sample approached Wallace with the idea to bottle Milk Stout Nitro and offer it in six packs as well as kegs.

"There's an adage in the industry that draft beer sells six packs," Sample said.

Aside from Guinness, which has offered its Guinness Draught -- essentially draft beer in a can -- for several years, there are few examples in the world of that type of brew that Left Hand could borrow ideas from. Trial and error -- and "a couple of hundred thousand" in R&D costs -- went into Milk Stout Nitro.

"It came about step by step," Wallace said. "It was $40,000 here, it was $20,000 there."

"The way we began doing it, we don't do it like that anymore," Sample said.

"We were meeting every week for months and months," Wallace added.

Milk Stout Nitro in bottles is being rolled out first in Colorado. After the first of the year Left Hand plans on high-profile rollouts across the U.S.: first Chicago, then Boston, Texas, Cleveland, Atlanta and New York City and beyond.

"We're trying to be cautious because we're in the midst of expansion ourselves, still," Wallace said.

Late last year the company began a $2.2 million expansion that it is just now wrapping up, he said.

Next up is the addition of three more 480-barrel fermenting tanks and a new 500-barrel bright tank. The new bright tank -- that's the step between fermentation and the beer going into bottles -- is more than double the size of Left Hand's other bright tank, which will significantly help production, Wallace said.

The total price tag for Left Hand's newest expansion -- which will include the purchase of a centrifuge that sells for a cool half-million dollars -- will be about $1.3 million, he said.

Much of the newest expansion is to support bottled Milk Stout Nitro, but all will be for naught if people don't learn how to use the product correctly. Instructions on the side of the Milk Stout Nitro bottle show how to consume the product properly and a "QR" code on the side links to a website with a video showing how.

"We in general want people to drink beer out of a glass anyway because it tastes better, but in this case to get the effect you've got to drink it out of a glass," Wallace said.

"What you have is nitrogen, which is difficult to get into beer and difficult to get out of it," Sample said. "You need a catalyst to get it out of the beer -- the catalyst that we're using is a 'hard pour' out of the bottle.

"It's the first time with a beer I've ever had to instruct bartenders how to pour a beer."

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