A Colorado brewery created by pilots orchestrated a hops-gathering hop with the freshest possible finish.
A Van’s RV–10 was the key to delivering the critical ingredient on time, and took off with with a batch already beginning to brew, the whole exercise a team effort dreamed up to coincide with the annual hop harvest. Miles away, a field of fresh hop flowers was within easy reach of a runway. Time was of the essence when the pilot set out to snag the harvest, then fly back to the brewery and immediately toss the aromatic bounty into the already boiling wort for a carefully timed batch of craft beer.
That’s what FlyteCo Brewing in Denver did recently, with the help of some friends. The result, a collaboration saison beer named Hop Is My Co-Pilot, will be released on Sept. 13.
FlyteCo Brewing is about six months old. “Things have been going well so far,” said Eric Serani, president. “The aviation theme has really caught on.”
The idea for the beer was born when friends who run Bruz Beers, another artisanal brewery in Denver, were camping near Paonia, Colorado, about 200 miles south-southwest of Denver. They buy hops from High Wire Hops in Paonia. (The primary ingredients in beer are water; malted grain, usually barley; hops; and yeast. Hops added early in the brewing process create bitterness; hops added later add aroma.) “They started texting that there’s a runway, and all these hops growing right here,” Serani recalled. “The idea was to create the freshest fresh-hop beer we could make. It all came together really quick.”
The RV–10 was finished in 2006. “My father and I built it in our garage when I was in high school,” explained Serani, a private pilot with an instrument rating. It’s based at Erie Municipal Airport in Erie, Colorado, but before the hop run he repositioned the four-seater to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Denver because it’s closer to the brewery. The flight to North Fork Valley Airport was about 1.5 hours each way at 12,000 feet.
Slingsby, the brewmaster, holds a private pilot certificate with a seaplane rating. His family in South Dakota owns a Cessna 185 that spends each summer on amphibious floats. He sacrificed his shot to fly the hops-hop so the beer would be ready when the hops arrived. “You always want to be flying if you can,” he laughed. “But it was great to be here brewing and just have fresh ingredients show up.”
“We’ll let him get next year’s batch,” Serani replied. “The beer was the important part.” The RV–10’s cabin smelled great on the flight home, he said, thanks to several large bags of fresh Chinook hops. “I’m kind of sad [the hop aroma] didn’t stick around longer.”
The hops didn’t languish when they arrived at the brewery. “We bagged them and threw them straight in the brewkettle,” Slingsby said. “It was pretty surreal.” They brewed 13 barrels, or about 400 gallons. “We used 30 pounds of fresh hops, toward the end of the boil,” for the aroma it would provide to the finished beer—which, incidentally, featured all-Colorado ingredients. “All the grain came from Proximity Malt in Colorado. And we had an in-house yeast strain,” he explained.
Slingsby and Serani have been brewing together for 10 years, and the decision to employ an aviation theme for the brewery was natural, Serani said. “The passion, excitement, and collaboration translate well between both of these industries.” They chose an architect who also is a pilot when designing the brewery, to ensure an authentic aviation atmosphere. “Once people get in the door, they are wowed by our décor and our service, and Jason’s been nailing the beers.
“The goal of our brand is to inspire and promote aviation,” Serani continued, adding that 10 percent of profits go to support youth organizations and scholarships. “It’s more than just fun and our brand. We want to put our money where our mouth is.”
The brewery is making another collaboration beer that will help military veterans train to become commercial pilots, Slingsby said.
FlyteCo recently brewed a fresh-hop version of its KAPA IPA. Serani said he knows which customers are pilots because they’ll order “Centennial IPA”—KAPA is the identifier for Denver’s Centennial Airport. The beer’s name makes more sense when you know that it’s brewed with a style of hop named Centennial.
And Slingsby is monitoring Hop Is My Co-Pilot. “This one’s coming along really nicely,” he said. “The hop combination goes really well with the Belgian yeast. I think it’s going to really pop once it’s cold and carbonated.” The limited-release beer will be tapped Sept. 13 at both the FlyteCo Brewing and Bruz Beers taprooms in Denver.