.Big Chicken Week: HenHouse’s labors of love

Fresh beer is best—that’s the idea behind the upcoming celebratory Big Chicken week at the North Bay-based HenHouse Brewing Company.

The concept of Big Chicken week is simple: Once a year, the HenHouse crew brews a crisp and hoppy Double IPA (DIPA), then packages, delivers and fills customers’ glasses across the Bay Area all in the same day.

This much-anticipated annual beer release has been a HenHouse tradition since 2016, and following their “zero-day IPA” policy, will bring the beer from their brewery to local taps in less than a day. Big Chicken 2023 is taking place through Feb. 12, and the local brewery’s employees have been working and will continue to work tirelessly to distribute their specially-made Big Chicken brew that Bay Area beer enthusiasts won’t want to miss.

“Big Chicken is our big celebration of our passion project: fresh IPA in February,” explained Zach Kelly, brewmaster at HenHouse Brewing Company. “It’s going to be some of the freshest beer you can get in Northern California. It’s going to be packaged the day of and will be the freshest beer across the South Bay, North Bay, up all the way up in parts of Oregon!”

Kelly has spent the past 13 years learning to brew and has been brewmaster at HenHouse Brewing Company for over a year. He got his start in the beer industry when a friend got him a job cleaning kegs after Kelly’s Blockbuster job fell through (for obvious reasons). Since then, Kelly has committed himself to the fine craft of beer brewing and is excited to share his most recent creation and his reasoning behind fresh beer’s superiority:

“You have to understand that, in fermentation, there are all these volatile compounds that have to do with aroma and flavor, and these are things that’ll degrade with time, so a six-month-old beer won’t taste the same as a day-old beer,” explained Kelly. “In a well-crafted beer that’s meant to age, you’ll get nice toasty notes. But with an IPA, you won’t get that big blast of aroma—instead, you’ll get more of a stale cardboard, movie theater butter or even creamed corn flavor that can come from malt.”

Kelly and his crew began working on the recipe for 2023’s Big Chicken brew in November, at which time they began hashing everything out with their growers and suppliers. The first batches began brewing on Jan. 11, about four weeks ago, in order to make a higher alcohol content beer that is allowed to ferment slightly longer, thus making a deceptively drinkable 10% alcohol content beer. This year’s batch is, according to Kelly, more of a West Coast IPA-style beer, meaning the yeast is less hazy and a little more neutral tasting in order to bring out the fruitier flavor profile.

This year’s Big Chicken brew was made with careful consideration to the ingredients and their sources. The barley was sourced from Petaluma’s own Crane Ranch, and after a quick trip to Alameda and back for malting, became a main ingredient in the 2023 Big Chicken beer. According to the HenHouse Brewing Company website, the hops used were “Mosaic hops from Loftus Ranches, Simcoe hops from Coleman Agriculture, Cascade hops from Green Acre Farms and Centennial hops from our old friends at Crosby Hop Farm.”

“Especially with a brew that’s so big and has so much malt, and since malt is inherently sweet, we like using a lot of hops in the blend to really counteract that sweetness,” explained Kelly. “So, you have to think about how to take these locally-grown hops from Petaluma, especially since they’re really local and grown in a single field. It’s less blended and has a singular taste you want to balance out with enough of and the right kinds of hops.”

Another element to HenHouse and the Big Chicken DIPA, aside from the locally-sourced ingredients and freshness, is its carbon footprint (or lack thereof). While the process of fermentation naturally produces CO2, HenHouse is one of only a handful of breweries in the nation that utilizes a form of CO2 reclamation in their brewing process. Rather than releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere, HenHouse captures the gas and uses it, instead, to re-carbonate the beer. This significantly reduces the carbon waste generated in the brewing process.

“We’ve pushed really hard to contextualize and offset our carbon emissions, and we’re about to use 30% less CO2, making a more sustainable beer and really thinking about our relationship with our local environment and community,” explained Kelly.

The reclaimed CO2 also ties into the “fresh is best” idea, as there are many flavor repercussions that occur as beer ages and carbon dioxide falls flat—this can affect the crisp bite and mouthfeel of a beer, as it can and will degrade over time.

Though the historical origin of IPA is rooted in preservation, and the excess use of hops was primarily invented as a method of preserving beer for long oversea voyages, the modern IPA is different from its predecessors.

“What beer is now vs. what beer was then is far removed,” said Kelly. “The flavors are an entirely different blend. And while hops are a preservative, they’re also extremely prone to oxidation. So they’ll keep the beer from going bad or sour, but they’ll also create more of those cardboard flavors in the process.”

Fresh Big Chicken DIPA will be available in select locations across the Bay Area, including HenHouse Brewing Company Palace of Barrels at 1333 N. Mcdowell Blvd. in Petaluma, Santa Rosa Brewery Tasting Room at 322 Bellevue Ave. and Fairfax West County Pub at 765 Center Blvd. Cans of Big Chicken will be available in incredibly limited stock at the Santa Rosa and Petaluma locations only.

“[Big Chicken] is a little bit of a love letter to our production staff,” concluded Kelly. “We’re able to do something new with it every day, every year, and we just want to make something that our crew is excited about and wants to develop. I think that shows in our final product, and everyone is stoked on it. We’re going to buy our staff lots of donuts and coffee and go in early on Monday. From start to finish, everybody bought in and was really excited to do this year’s Big Chicken brew—it really is a labor of love.”

For more information and to see other restaurants and bars set to carry Big Chicken DIPA, check out the HenHouse Brewing Company website at henhousebrewing.com.

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