NoDa’s Thiol-Boosted IPA ‘Big SLURP’ Wins Big at GABF

Head brewer and founder Chad Henderson talks about how the project fine-tunes thiol utilization for an efficient, high-yield approach to big, juicy IPA.

By Danielle Sommer and Chad Henderson

Oct 18, 2022

SLURP uses ingredients strategically to build in thiol as a part of the balance. It’s not a thiol beer,’ it is a beer that uses thiol as a jumping off point.

We caught up with NoDas Chad Henderson after Big SLURP’s big win at GABF, and he gave us a detailed look at his approach to using thiol-boosting yeast. You may be surprised to learn that SLURP isn’t just one beer, but rather a project started at NoDa to fine-tune the use of thiol expression. SLURP has since evolved into a means to make a more efficient IPA. What Chad and his R&D team have learned is great info for all brewers who are trying to work the new concept of Thiolized yeast into their beer effectively. Check out our interview with Chad below.

You just won bronze in the Experimental IPA category. Congrats! Can you tell us a bit more about SLURP?

SLURP is an acronym that stands for Superior Lupulin Utilization Research Project.’ It is based on isolating and emphasizing thiol production, and it has kind of evolved into how to make the most out of hop expression with the most effective potential yield.

When I was doing the research for how to go about really capturing thiol flavor from Cosmic Punch, it dawned on me that there’s an opportunity to address the biggest cost issues with making IPAs. If you really want to emphasize thiols, you have to go about producing the IPA from a completely different perspective. So I took it as an opportunity. Instead of one event, I turned it into a whole series.

We did a bunch of small batches that have names like Life Finds a Way, or Return of SLURP’s Revenge, one that’s called SLURPs on a Plane—stuff that’s just fun for us to play with. But the acronym holds true for all of them. We’re trying to make the most efficient hop utilization. SLURP uses different ingredients strategically to build and direct the thiol as an integral part of the balance of overall flavor. Big SLURP—and others in the SLURP series — are not thiol beers, they are beers that use thiol as a jumping off point.

And it’s awesome that we won in the experimental IPA category, because that whole category is one of the categories that embodies the whole idea of innovation. It’s a hard category because there’s a lot of different stuff going on in there. Because we had just launched Big SLURP as a year round brand, and we’re getting ready to launch the lil SLURP next year, it was great to get that validation.

I didn’t enter it as a thiol IPA, I put it in as a double hazy IPA and described the fruit flavors going on in it. To have it win on the concept of being a really good experimental IPA as opposed to being a thiol beer shows you the versatility of what thiols as a platform can do.

That was my number one beer I wanted us to win for, and I was not expecting it at all. I had a couple of choice words to say as I jumped out of the chair when they announced it. What’s great, too, is that it was my first year bringing my head of lab, Anthony. He’s worked with me a ton in this whole R&D project with the SLURPs and so to have him be able to come up on stage and get the medal was really cool. It was an awesome experience.

What went into the making of Big SLURP?

Originally, we made a hazy Double IPA with fruit that we called Fusion. And it just wasn’t hitting the market like we wanted it to. My team asked me, can you do the — they didn’t know how to fully express it, but — can you do the SLURP concept on a big, hazy, fruited IPA? And I was like, sure, for sure I can.

I used really high efficiency, high oil content hops heavily — like Salvo from Hop Steiner. Salvo is an alpha-less hop extraction that lets us not have waste so we get 100% of our wort to the fermenter. In Big SLURP we are looking at a 60% reduction of loss compared to the original Fusion. We then just minimally added fruit in it for accents, and used higher efficiency dry hopping and things like that to build nuance on top of the thiol. Big SLURP layers in grapefruit character from thiols and then that little bit of tangerine and orange peel.

When I do a normal SLURP on the pilot system to check out how thiols are being affected when I do this or that or whatever, and I pour it next to Big SLURP, a fully conceptualized finalized product, they taste completely different from each other. One is essentially thiol juice and the other is a super juicy, crazy, double hazy IPA sort of thing. I get so many people who are like how much grapefruit did y’all use in this? We used none, just thiol. And it is just a part of the overall flavor profile. It’s still very hoppy, very citrusy and lots of tangerine stuff going on with it. The thiol emphasizes all that and brings it all up.

You mentioned thiols being an opportunity to change something fundamental about the approach to IPA. Where do you see the most potential for change or why does it need changing? Where does thiol utilization fit in?

One of the biggest problems with the IPA is just so much upfront cost and hops that go into it, even just on the hot side. You also have so much loss that it makes it almost impossible to make a really financially stable beer. Thiolized yeast gave us a completely new opportunity to rework how we go about IPAs.

Big SLURP is the hoppiest thing that we have that has a loss comparable to that of our Pale Ale. It’s a double hazy IPA, we expect to have massive loss on it, and we’re losing very little.

When we launch Little SLURP next March, basically a combination of all the SLURP R&D stuff that we’ve been doing, I’m expecting literally nothing less than lager loss off of it. Without the latency of the tank time that lagers have, we’re getting absurdly high efficient yields off of those batches.

And it’s all based on the idea of using the thiol isolation concept and not having a lot of hot side hops available, and really trying to be minimalistic on vegetal matter that incorporates into the final beer, all of which makes it super high yielding, and still extremely flavorful. It’s an extremely unique tasting beer that we can continuously put out with real consistency.

One of the biggest problems with the IPA is cost and hops, even just on the hot side; you have so much loss that it makes it almost impossible to make a really financially stable beer. Thiolized yeast gave us a completely new opportunity to rework how we go about IPAs.

The other beautiful thing we’ve seen too is that the thiols don’t break down as fast as a lot of hop oils do and so we were able to actually have a little bit better shelf stability than comparable IPAs would have.

Big SLURP is canned so we can incubate cans from one to three weeks to test them for shelf stability: three weeks is basically the equivalent of five months on a store shelf, one week being basically a week and a half or so. We found that Big SLURP holds up a lot better than what we would normally see from say, the Fusion beer that it replaced.

In the macro model, efficiency usually means limitations for the consumer. But in this case, as is more typical in craft, it’s not only overwhelmingly positive for the consumer in terms of flavor, innovation, new styles and variation on old ones, but you’re saying it’s positive in an operational sense too.

It’s huge. We can make flavors that we never thought we could make, and that completely complement a ton of different styles. We are giving IPA a heavy focus right now just because a lot of thiol flavors really played well with the concept of what we wanted in an IPA, but the potential for what you can do with it includes a bunch of different styles — lagers, saison — in my opinion thiol will be as relevant a term as a hazy is in the next year.

That’s also kind of a part of the play: how are we going to meld the flavors that we get from the thiol with the finished product? The thiol is the foundation, but it’s all a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Thiols are a pretty new concept, and some brewers are still discovering what thiols can add in terms of complexity. How do you pull in thiols and also push them in different directions at NoDa?

Polyfunctional thiols are not just one compound. There are several compounds that contribute and they have different flavor aspects to them. What we ended up doing was using both Cascade and Calypso to give diversity in thiol compounds. But I think the biggest challenge with it, which is a good challenge, is trying to incorporate the thiol-contributed notes with different flavors from other products. Whether that be different combinations of malts or different combinations of hops in the latter part of the process, or different combinations of fruit and things. The thiol, with such a unique flavor spectrum, melds in with all those other sorts of flavors, to express this really unique character overall. One that you really can’t replicate with just hops or just fruit or other ingredients.

It sounds like you feel really in control of how to go after the 3MH or the 4MMP precursor. That’s something that can be intimidating to other brewers just starting out with this stuff. Any tips?

Yeah, we feel really good about utilizing basically a pound to a pound and a half of hops in the mash. But a lot of that came off of the strength of how well Helio Gazer expresses thiols. When we use Star Party, we tend to go a little bit higher up. It just all depends on how much thiol we really want to bring out. Thiol is such a pungent compound.

One thing I have yet to do actually, which a lot of people are doing, is incorporate Phantasm. Every time we mash hop we use Cosmic Punch, or Helio Gazer, which is more intense, or Lunar Crush and, I mean, we trialed Lunar Crush and Helio Gazer before they were even named, and we were getting a ton of thiol. Once you have one of these yeast strains that is able to produce and emphasize the thiol character, if you just give it a fighting chance it’s gonna do it. I have yet to do one where I didn’t mash hop but I’m fairly confident if we did a normal mash bill, that the thiol precursor from the grain would probably give enough thiols to pick it up in the beer as well.

But, especially considering that our main focus going forward is doing a juicy hazy IPA concept, Helio Gazer just expresses so well that a pound per barrel, a pound and a half barrel of mash hops with hops that are particularly prone to having a lot of stored thiol in them, like Cascade or Saaz or Calypso, will express through very heavily no matter what else we do. It’s going to be more than evident.

Maybe the biggest challenge right now is just knowing more about which hops are high in those stored thiol precursors, which is just one of those things — it’s all so new, you just have to wait for the market to get the information out basically.

We are giving IPA a heavy focus right now just because a lot of thiol flavors really played well with the concept of what we wanted in an IPA, but the potential for what you can do with it includes a bunch of different styles — lagers, saison — in my opinion thiol will be as relevant a term as a hazy is in the next year.

Do you try different hops to experiment? Do you ever just try out what you have around and see what comes out?

If we get told that a certain hop has high enough thiol precursor we try it out and we do different combinations. We’ve done two parts Cascade, one part Calypso, or maybe three parts Calypso, one part Saaz, different sorts of blends to pull different thiol expression out of them.

Each time I’ve done a SLURP pilot batch, I think, how is the thiol going to be affected if we do this or that to it? A different combination, different ratio, different pitch rate, etc. So far we haven’t had a single batch that doesn’t come out very thiol forward.

Are you finding a variation in thiol expression with the proportional blends of hops?

Yeah, it definitely comes out differently. You get way more tropical notes when mash hopping with some blends. You get way more grapefruit forward notes with others. You get way more of the guava hit if you lean heavier with Calypso. And then there’s also how we dry hop and/or finish it at the tank.

That’s also kind of a part of the play: how are we going to meld the flavors that we get from the thiol with the finished product? Because again, the thiol is the foundation, but it’s all kind of a piece of a bigger puzzle and the things that we’re trying to do with it. Most of the thiol production that we are noting and getting data on while it’s fermenting, before we dry hop — like day one, when we ferment on Helio Gazer especially — it’s pretty much screaming right out of the tank.

How little do we need to dry hop this or what product can we use in a dry hop, because in the dry hop we’re finding the thiol wants to sort of go back into the physical matter — so I try to do as minimal of a dry hop as I can. A lot of times with the dry hopping I do it honestly for like haze retention.

And so we’re trying to play around with what’s going to be the best bang for the buck to match up with this flavor and complement it and take it to another level of interesting or nuance.

Thanks for sharing so much about your thought process and so much insight from your experimentation. We really appreciate your generosity sharing these things that are so cool to hear about.

I’m fully open with this stuff. Honestly, I’m very proud of how the project has come together. I spent a year and some months of R&D before we released Big SLURP—to have a very good shelf stability, a centrifugal hazy that doesn’t have sediment and all that sort of stuff in it. Thiols have invigorated the whole R&D side of everything for us as well. The excitement that Omega Yeast showed is reflected from my personal perspective on it as well. I love the potential of what this stuff can do. And it’s not just the thiol, we’ve been doing stuff with the Bananza and Sundew and trying a whole bunch of different stuff that you guys are putting out. We have a genuine interest in seeing where the yeast part of this industry can go. You know, this is one of those things where it’s like, we want to be part of the ride. There’s a ton of potential and what y’all are doing, and if I can manifest that into potential for what we can be doing, I’m going to jump on it.

Chad noda cheers

All images courtesy of NoDa brewing

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