Crystal Bridges and Ozark Beer Company have developed a new and unique beer inspired by a number of beer-related notations and ingredients discovered in journals contained in the Fly’s Eye Dome Archive. The archive was recently acquired along with inventor Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, a 50-foot structure installed on the museum’s north lawn, set to open to the public in August. The dome and the new beer project represent a unique collaboration that embodies the spirit of innovation that Buckminster Fuller championed throughout his life. Based on classic west-coast brewing tradition, the beer, which is yet to be named, debuted Wednesday, July 19, at Crystal Bridges and Ozark Beer Company.
An American architect, visionary, and inventor, Buckminster Fuller had revolutionary ideas around ways to improve the quality of life for the human race. Although, Fuller is best known for designing the geodesic dome as a lightweight, affordable housing option, Crystal Bridges is focusing on his last housing project: the Fly’s Eye Dome. He worked with engineer and surfboard designer John Warren for about 10 years on this project and experimented with what was a relatively new material at the time—fiberglass. The form was inspired by the multiple lenses of a fly’s eye. (Learn more about Buckminster Fuller and the Fly’s Eye Dome here.)
“But how does the Fly’s Eye Dome relate to beer?” you may be wondering.
Well, wonder no more!
Behind the Scenes:
The Fly’s Eye Dome archive, parts of which are now on view to the public for the first time in a special exhibition, includes candid letters, photographs of experimentations, sketches and geometry calculations marked out and reworked, and examples of the team’s initial failures with the dome’s structural integrity. This archive proves that even individuals admired for their genius and innovative thinking often needed collaborators and go through a series of trials and errors to create something new.
The collaboration with the brewery started when the Crystal Bridges exhibition team first examined the archives and found a journal that includes sketches and writings about daily progress on the dome. We noticed a few pages on which Warren and Bucky were attempting to come up with a recipe for a homebrewed beer. From there, the team thought, “what if we could actually make a beer inspired by this journal entry?” We contacted Marty Shutter, Director of Marketing and PR at Ozark Beer Company, to see if the brewery would be interested in embarking on such a crazy-sounding, open-ended project.
The notes in Bucky’s journal consisted of bits and pieces, rather than a full beer recipe, which allowed Ozark to be innovative with their new beer. “What we found in the journals were some smatterings of ingredients, calculations, percentages, and timing schedules. There was hardly anything resembling a recipe, which is actually a great positive for us,” Marty said. “Interpreting the journals is more honest to what we’ve both done, and in so doing, [this has] given us license to create.”
All aspects of this beer are deeply thought out. The brewers said that it looked like Bucky was going for a 12% ABV beer, which is very strong. They have instead created a beer that is around 4%, looking to Buckminster’s ideas around efficiency, accessibility, and innovation, as well as the history of home brewing.
Utilizing Bucky’s commitment to innovation, the brewers decided to try Cryo Hops, the latest technology in brewing. Instead of dried pellets, these hops are frozen on the vine, and therefore kept fresh. Almost every beer uses dry pellets, but Cryo Hops reduces waste because it’s so potent that brewers can use half the product. The cryogenically frozen hops smell like freshly mowed grass, essential oils, and harvest. The resin sticks on your fingers. It’s lighter and comes in a powder form instead of pellets, and has a brighter, cakey consistency. It is noticeably fresher smelling and feeling than the dried hops. This is a brand-new process which could result in more beer and more savings, also echoing Bucky’s focus on efficiency. Fuller would always ask, “what does your building weigh?” because he held a fervent belief that a simplified, streamlined housing structure would give a homeowner just what they needed without any excess waste. This idea, when related to Cryo Hops, could go a long way in brewing efficiency in the near future.
The team at Ozark also did their research into what Bucky might have been drinking at the time and place he was attempting to concoct his homebrew. It was the early 1980s in Southern California and there was a home brewing revolution in the West Coast pushing out small batches. The new brew resembles a classic California Pale Ale—in the tradition that birthed Sierra Nevada, which debuted in California in 1980.
“This is a very unique collaboration because most of these are brewer to brewer or brewery to brewery, but this was looking at a page found in a journal and learning about a character to then interpret. This is a group concept applied to Buckminster Fuller,” said Jesse Gagnon, Head Brewer, about the collaboration. “The art and science together is really exciting.”
Jesse describes the driving themes of the beer’s taste as minimal, barebones, light, efficient, and innovative. Ozark wants it to have a wide appeal, but look to cutting-edge brewing technology, referencing both Buckminster’s life in the early 1980s as well as his personal principals.
Making the Beer:
Ozark Beer Company’s commitment to quality and reflection of the region was a principal reason they were chosen for the collaboration. Members of the museum’s exhibition team who were working with the Fly’s Eye Dome archive met the brewery team at their new facility to learn how the beer is actually made. The building is a historic structure in downtown Rogers that was previously used as a grain storage and moving company. The history of the building is not lost on the Ozark team, who have a passionate dedication for what they do.
The brewers’ first step is to combine malted barley and a small amount of wheat that will sit and steep in hot water, in a process called “mashing.” Ozark is using a classic California yeast and a base malt common for pale ales with some caramel malt blended in. The mash temperature is set to 150, and grain is added to a large copper vessel and mixed with hot water to form the mash. The heat from the water activates the enzymes within the grain, converting the starches into sugars, which takes about an hour.
In the next step, the spent grain is separated from the sugary liquid. The mash is transferred to a vessel through a false bottom. Hot water is added to the top and “rinses” the sugars from the original mash. This process is called “sparging” and helps to stop the enzymatic sugar conversions that happen during the mashing process. Sparging must be done very gradually to avoid disrupting the grain bed, which acts as a natural filter for the liquid. All spent grain from Ozark beer goes to a fifth-generation dairy farmer nearby to feed his cows.
Once the sweet liquid has been separated from the grains, it is brought to a strong, prolonged boil for one to two hours. Boiling sterilizes the brew. Hops are added at the beginning of the boil to achieve bitterness, or they are added later in the process for flavor and aroma.
Once the liquid has cooled, it is moved to a fermenter, which is a large, double-walled stainless steel vessel. Yeast is added to feed on the sugars that were created during the mash. As the yeast consumes the sugar, it expels carbon dioxide and alcohol, as well as a variety of flavor compounds that vary greatly depending on several variables such as the specific strain of yeast and fermentation temperature of the beer. Once the yeast has consumed all the available sugars, primary fermentation is over. For ales, like this one, this can take just a week or so. Once fermentation is over, and the yeast have worked their way through the off-flavors, the tank’s temperature is dropped to 32 degrees and the yeast begins to settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. From here, the brewer can easily remove the yeast, leaving only bright, clear beer.
A First Taste:
After witnessing the start to the process, a week later the museum group has returned to Ozark to try the beer, but it was still warm and not yet carbonated. The pilot batch is small: 15 barrels, when Ozark usually makes 30 barrel batches of their staple beers.
The brewers pour the beer into a plastic pitcher. It is around 68 degrees, flat, and warm, but they are “cautiously optimistic” about the final outcome. We each pinch a little amount of Cryo Hops directly into our beer glasses. The brewers say that they will be cautious when adding Cryo Hops because of their strong bitter taste. Usually with dry hops they add one pound per one barrel of beer, but with this experiment they will start at one pound for the whole 15 barrels because they can always add more, but it’s impossible to subtract once too much is added.
The team agrees that in this initial stage we can still feel and taste a bit of that sunny and earthy quality reminiscent of the Southern California sun and air, but with a bit of bitterness to finish. It already tastes citrusy and pale-ale-esque when the hops are sprinkled in. “The nose on it is classic citrus. There’s a refreshing bitterness. No dissonance in it so it fits beautifully together,” Case Dighero, Director of Culinary Programming and Events at Crystal Bridges, commented.
“I’ve never seen these guys as excited before,” Marty said about the brewers and this collaboration. “We could end up with some changes to our processes that result in meaningful efficiency, cost savings, and increased production of a better-tasting beer.”
Be sure to try the new collaborative brew for yourself at Eleven, Crystal Bridges’ restaurant, or at Ozark Beer Company, located at 109 N. Arkansas St. in Rogers. We will also be serving it at the upcoming Summer Fling event on Saturday, August 12.
“The Brewing Process.” The Beer Temple. http://craftbeertemple.com/videoblog/brewing-process/
Photos by Marty Shutter