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Published: 2016/07/28

Hoppy Hour Heroes: A Conversation with moe.‘s Vinnie Amico and Saranac’s Fred Matt

Over twenty years into their career, moe.‘s members are now scattered throughout the country, but the Buffalo-bred quintet are an Upstate and Western New York band at heart. So it makes sense that the group partnered with a Utica, NY-based company, the 128-year-old Saranac Brewery to create their own Double IPA, Hoppy Hour Hero (named after the moe. classic “Happy Hour Hero” off 1998’s Tin Cans & Car Tires).

As the brewery explains, the Hoppy Hour Hero, which was released last year, combines “the intensely piney, citrusy, and tropical fruit aroma and flavor of Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, this Double IPA is a liquid jam-session serenading big hop flavor. Packed with pineapple, mango, and passion fruit hop character, this is a big beer with a full body and firm bitterness. An IPA as melodic as the music inspiring its creation.”

This weekend, moe. will return to Utica for shows at the Saranac Brewery on July 29 and 30. (Ryan Montbleau will open for the group on night one while Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will provide support duties on night two).

In advance of the shows, Saranac President Fred Matt, whose family started the brewery generations ago, spoke with moe. drummer Vinnie Amico, who lives nearby outside Saratoga Springs, NY, about their recent brewery collaboration. As they find, their IPA is really the result of two longstanding family organizations.

I’m going to begin, selfishly, with beer. Vinnie, as you know, we brewed a collaborative Hoppy Hour Hero Mosaic IPA with moe. and the reaction from our side has been terrific. Actually, we’ve been brewing it out in Buffalo, at the Flying Byson Brewery, and we’re moving it to Utica so we can get more volume out of it. What’s been the reaction on tour and where you’ve been?

VA: Overwhelming—it’s been amazing. Every place we go people just rave about it. The only downside I hear is that people can’t get it, and it’s probably just because there are certain places where you guys just aren’t sold yet. That’s probably out of both of our hands.

When we were at Summer Camp, I did a beer summit with the guys from Goose Island, Bent River Brewing and Kyle Hollingsworth, who’s the keyboard player for String Cheese. He also brews beer and puts together all these beer summits. I sat in on the beer panel and we were tasting mostly sours and I brought a six pack of Hoppy Hour Hero over. I poured a little for the guys on the panel and they stopped drinking all the other beers. It knocked people right out. It’s been overwhelmingly positive and I drank it a lot. The only issue I had with it is it gets me drunk and I can’t remember anything.

If you remember, we started it out at like 9.4%, and we dropped it down to 7.8%.

VA: Which was a good idea because that first night, there were some big people that are beer drinkers, and they were falling down, so it’s probably for the best. It doesn’t drink like one of the super high-alcohol beers. If I had to guess that’s because the Honey Malt on the front end just smooths the whole thing over. It’s a lot more drinkable than some of those big, 8, 9% beers.

That is true, and we had some good stories from the first one. We went through something like 16 kegs the first night and only like 5 on the second night because everybody was afraid of it. I had one woman tell me that she drank so much, she got home and couldn’t leave her car, so she just slept in her car that night.

VA: I threw my brother a surprise 50th birthday party, and we got a keg of it and I tapped the keg at like 5:30 pm and the party started at 7:00 pm. I had a couple and I don’t remember a bit of the party, so it’s crazy.

For readers who have heard about [Hoppy Hour Hero] but haven’t been able to have it, we’ve been brewing it in very small batches out in Buffalo, and we are going to move it to Utica and we’ll be brewing it here. We’ve been brewing it in 20-barrel batches but have been doing about 60 barrels at a time. So we do three brews and then blend it together. We’re going to take it up to about 250-barrel brews, so we’ll start to expand the distribution. We’re getting a lot of more chain interest and out of premise interest, so we’re going to try and make it a lot more available for both of our customers.

It just won double gold at the Denver International Beer Competition. In the imperial IPA category, it won gold, and then it goes to the next level, and it won gold again. It’s funny, we’ve been around a long time, and you get people that say, “I’ve been there and done that,” but we’re doing some really new, innovative stuff. We always have. I always say that we haven’t been in business 128 years by not giving the consumer what they want, and if you want to nail us for one thing, it’s for being modest and not showing our wares as much as we should. But we are putting out awesome beers and a lot of new stuff and it’s getting a lot of acclaim.

VA: That leads me right into the question that I wanted to ask you: How do you guys go about deciding what to release and how you come about the recipes? Do you guys just sit there and research and develop this stuff? Or do your brewers have ideas in their heads and then they make it happen and then you choose the best? How does that work?

We have a standing Friday afternoon innovative session and we talk about anything from what’s hot in the beer category to what’s hot in foods, in other beverage categories, etc, and we really come up with ideas. It is probably similar to how you guys come up with a song—we come up with ideas, we kick it around collaboratively. Then Scott Grenier, who runs our pilot brewery, goes off and brews. One of the things we do in the innovation meeting every Friday is we also do a fair amount of tasting—both of competitive products and our own, so once we get an idea we like, he goes and puts his expertise together and works on it and brews it. We come back and taste it and generally tweak it somehow, and if we like it at that point, we’ll take it out and put it into some bars and see how it goes, and if it’s well-received, we go from there.

VA: Do you find old recipes from your grandfather and stuff that are still hanging around that you’ll try and see what needs tweaking?

We’re much more into that lately. Legacy IPA is my great grandfather’s 14 IPA recipe, and what’s really cool about that is that they used lighter malts then. So what we found in re-creating it was the lighter malts really let the hops shine through more so than when the hop is a sweeter, heavier malt. The legacy has won a bunch of gold as well.

VA: That’s one of my favorites, actually, that I drink all the time.

I love that IPA, and to me, is exceedingly drinkable, and if you ask me, the only thing that I have a pause with is that it’s 6.5% alcohol, which is lower than the moe., but you can crush them so easily.

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