Goldilocks Grows Up: The Evolution of Fort Point Park Beer
From hoppy wheat to a single-hop pale ale series
The beer industry moves quickly. Three months ago, if you’d asked me to tell the story of Park, I would have launched into a spiel about the salad days of Mill Valley Beerworks, the black magic of mash hopping, my contempt for hefeweizen and how that all came together into one refreshing, delicious beer … that will never be recognized in a formal beer competition, because apparently there’s currently no category for “creative beer.” While most of that holds true, I’m excited to add a new chapter to this spiel: We’re now building on Park, one of our favorite beers, by expanding it into a single-hop series that will be available year-round. Mosaic Park, the first in this new series, will arrive in April 2018.
If you already know and love Park, don’t worry. Nothing about the original is changing besides the name, which will become Citra Park, in honor of the hop that makes it sing. But over the coming months it will be joined by two new versions that use Park’s unique combination of malt and yeast to showcase different hop varieties, namely Mosaic and Galaxy.
I’ll introduce you to the new beers shortly. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning. If you’ve been reading this blog (thank you!) you know that means to Mill Valley Beerworks, about five years pre-Fort Point.
The year was 2009, and Beerworks was selling a lot of Paulaner Hefeweizen. Not every beer is born out of a wild fever dream — Park was born out of necessity, intended as a beer of our own that would appeal to the wheat beer crowd. One catch: I can’t stand hefeweizen, and had zero interest in brewing one. (Maybe regression therapy will one day reveal some unfortunate incident involving hefeweizen’s main flavors of bananas, cloves, and bubblegum.) Regardless, I knew we could do something more interesting than just recreate a classic style. I was determined to make a wheat beer that everyone could appreciate, even the strongest of detractors.
Park was intended as a beer of our own that would appeal to the wheat beer crowd. One catch: I can’t stand hefeweizen, and had zero interest in brewing one.
As I began writing the Park recipe, I figured that the yeast strain would be a good starting point. Yeast strain selection plays a huge role in the flavor profile of most wheat beers. I had already brewed a few beers with WY3725-PC — colloquially known as “biere de garde” yeast — that originated at a small brewery near the Ardennes, in southeast Belgium.
From past experience, I knew this yeast imparted several specific traits: the beers had a unique tartness, finished very dry, and had good malt structure that was present yet not sweet. This yeast seemed like a good choice because it would create just the slightest impression of spice character — familiar, but not as obvious as the aroma you would find in a traditional hefeweizen.
The next step was a grain bill. I wanted something light and refreshing, but grounded. Borrowing a page from Belgian witbier brewing tradition, I decided on pilsner malt, wheat, and flaked oats, which together provide body and a subtle background flavor.
However, the crucial component in maximizing the crossover appeal of Park was in hop selection. Hoppiness tends to be a divisive issue amongst beer drinkers. The goal was to capture the impression of a citrus slice on the rim of a glass. I wanted the beer to have a light citrus aroma but to not veer into the hop intensity of an IPA. The interaction between hops and yeast would also play a role in the way the aroma was perceived, accentuating the floral aspect and putting a slight twist (wink) on the hop complexion.
Mash hopping is a controversial subject. Some brewers argue that you might as well be throwing dollar bills into the mash tun, while others claim that it adds a softer, rounder hop flavor to the beer.
Citra was the hop for the job. As the name implies, it has strong citrus tendencies that lean toward grapefruit, with background flavors of passionfruit and melon. Because it was important to integrate the hop flavors in a way that was comprehensive, but not overly intense, the timing of the hop additions was also very important. Small hop additions were made at multiple points in the brewing process.
Now, mash hopping is a controversial subject. Some brewers argue that you might as well be throwing dollar bills into the mash tun, while others claim that it adds a softer, rounder hop flavor to the beer. Most experiments result in only anecdotal evidence, but for Park we joined the latter camp, and added small amounts of Citra to the mash at the beginning of the boil to give the beer a more “complete” hop flavor (note: this also makes the brewery smell incredible). Majority of the hops were added towards the end of the boil, resulting in a more pronounced hop aroma.
Fast-forward five years: Fort Point opened in the winter of 2014 with four core beers — KSA, Westfalia, Villager, and Park, a lineup focused on balance. KSA and Westfalia explored the maltier side of things, while Villager and Park had more of an emphasis on hops. (Among them, Park was the very first beer brewed at Fort Point; I remember it well because it was a long day, and a stuck mash kept us here til three in the morning.)
It was the Goldilocks beer — not too hoppy, not too bitter, pale yet structured, full-flavored yet refreshing: just right.
Of that lineup, I thought that Park would become our flagship beer. It was the Goldilocks beer — not too hoppy, not too bitter, pale yet structured, full-flavored yet refreshing: just right. That wasn’t quite what happened (KSA stole that honor), but Park was still a favorite here at the brewery, and it seemed to win over anyone who gave it a taste — in part for its crushability, but also for its intriguing hop character. Park clearly had a transformative effect on the hops, which begged the question, “If Park can make Citra special, what could it do for other hop varieties?”
With the expansion of Park into a series, we finally get an answer.
Up until now, Park has been brewed entirely with Citra hops. The biere de garde yeast elevates that grapefruit flavor and gives it more depth and focus. It’s like trying on a pair of glasses for the first time — everything becomes more vibrant. This transformation is evident in other hop varieties, but it shows itself in different ways.
While Citra gets brighter and zestier, Mosaic takes on a deep roundness of flavor that hones in on the berry-like quality of the hops. Mosaic hops are difficult to pin down — flavors range from papaya, to berry, to earthy forest notes. In Mosaic Park, the aroma focuses in on a soft sweetness that’s accented with cool herbal tones.
The biere de garde yeast elevates the hop flavor and gives it more depth and focus. It’s like trying on a pair of glasses for the first time — everything becomes more vibrant.
Meanwhile, combined with Galaxy hops, Park’s base has a refining effect, bringing out the hops’ bold pineapple, cannabis, and diesel-laced aromas. Galaxy Park is the wild child of the bunch, with a vibrant, tart fruit flavor that’s cool and refreshing — similar to a sauvignon blanc or vinho verde wine.
Although these beers may sound drastically different from the Park you’re familiar with, the only thing we’ve changed is the hop variety. Well, that and the can: we couldn’t put different Parks into the same cans, so a redesign was in order. You’ll find all three beers in the series in deep green cans, accented by colors that represent the new hop varieties.
After much discussion, we’re also changing the way we talk about Park. We initially described Park as a “hoppy wheat beer,” which made sense to us at the time. But this description ended up being a little misleading. Yes, Park is made with hops and wheat, but we’ve since realized these words don’t begin to cover what this Park actually is: a refreshing pale beer that brings out the best in every hop it comes across.
I’m incredibly proud to announce that the first release in this series, Mosaic Park, will be available in cans and on draft on April 3rd. This series has an exciting future, and I can’t wait to see how we’re able to incorporate new hop varieties. Agricultural innovation is part of what makes the beer industry special, and gives us tools to be continuously creative.
Lastly, I want to give a special thank you to that weird little biere de garde yeast strain. Couldn’t have done it without you, buddy!