Attention hop heads, malt maniacs, and beer lovers of the world: Cody Reif has your dream job. He works as a pilot brewer for New Belgium Brewing (our Colorado-based B Corps buds!) and yes, his life sounds pretty amazing. But wait, it gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective): Cody was the brewer who came up with the recipe behind our new Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale. A workplace filled with beer AND ice cream? OK, you can be envious now.
We got the chance to talk to him recently about brewing, ice cream, exotic fruits, and the pride that comes from creating a delicious beer for a good cause.
How long have you been at New Belgium?
I've been at New Belgium 14 years. The first 10 years I worked in the lab, and then the last four I've been over in the research and development area of the pilot brewery.
I was a microbiology/biochemistry major in college. I got the home-brewing bug pretty bad sometime late my junior year. I knew that I definitely wanted to work at a brewery after that. It became my all-consuming obsession. I was lucky to get an internship at New Belgium, in the lab. Apparently, they liked me enough to keep me around.
What does it mean to be a pilot brewer?
We write recipes. Sometimes we'll get concepts given to us. Sometimes we're asked to create concepts and then develop beers that work with them. With Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, obviously, we did get some guidelines.
Can you talk the process of creating this beer?
We'd gotten a list of maybe six to eight flavors from Ben & Jerry’s, and…I just had this strong feeling that I could get Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough to work.
I researched a bunch of chocolate chip cookie recipes, and I realized that they all have three major ingredients in them: brown sugar, vanilla, and chocolate. None of those are foreign ingredients to a brewer, so it's just a matter of getting them in a beer and letting them shine, and sort of getting out of the way.
Sounds like a tough research assignment! How long did it take you to get it right?
I want to say I was on the forth batch when I got it. It was kind of starting to seem like dark days through the first two batches—I didn't know if I was going to be able to pull it off. That third batch, though, it was like the light came on. It wasn't quite right, I still needed to monkey with a few of the levels, but all of the components that I wanted were at play, so it was just a matter of getting the dials right from there on out.
Were you surprised by anything along the way?
I found that I loved working with vanilla! It seems like it should be boring, but it was quite the opposite. Vanilla has this fantastic associated sweetness that comes with it. Now I'm sneaking it into other beers where it probably doesn't fit. This was a fun exercise for me, to really get nerdy on vanilla.
How does this beer relate to the ice cream that inspired it?
I wanted it to have a complementary feel to the ice cream, so that the two could be enjoyed together, but I definitely wanted someone to be able to appreciate it on its own. I would say that it definitely does have a sweet profile, but I think if you like chocolate and vanilla, then you could drink it anytime. It's a versatile beer. I haven’t paired it with ice cream—yet. But I've talked to people who have, and they’ve said good things so far!
What did you think of the idea of trying to make a beer based on an ice cream flavor? Did that sound crazy to you?
Well, Ben and Jerry's is a company that I feel like is just absolutely revered, especially at like-minded businesses like ours. Ben and Jerry's has always been something that we've strived to be. My wife works at New Belgium, as well—she's a sustainability specialist. She also went to school at the University of Vermont, so she has always loved and appreciated Ben and Jerry's. For all of those reasons, it's just an incredibly fun project to get to work on. To get to think outside the box. That's one of my favorite parts about craft brewing, is that you get to break down those walls and make creative new products.
Have you created any other food-inspired beers? What are some of the weirdest ingredients that you’ve tried to make work?
I would say that the culinary world is probably my most direct source of inspiration for new beers. I've worked with mint a little. That's fun, but it’s a challenge for sure, because if you overdo it, you can get these toothpaste-y aromas. I've been working with some smoked flavors too. Recently I've spent a lot of time working with lychee fruit. We’ve worked with yuzu. And soursop. All kinds of strange spices. We've had every possible spice come through. About once a month, we'll go to local food markets and we'll just pick up any weird thing we can find, and then we bring it all back, chop them up, taste them, and see what we think.
It sounds like you have a lot of freedom to experiment there...
Yeah, it can be a lot of fun, but also really stressful, because with that freedom I've been entrusted to get these right. So far I haven't screwed up anything too terribly bad!
Can you talk about what it meant to work on a project that also supports Protect Our Winters (POW) in their fight against climate change? How did that affect your experience?
That's a big part of the reason I love working at New Belgium, and this is a great example of getting to make a beer that has a greater good associated with it. That definitely makes the beer taste a little better in the end, and makes the pride I get from producing, and seeing it on the shelves, even greater.
See where you can pick up some New Belgium Brewing Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale here*! A portion of the proceeds from this delicious collaboration go to Protect Our Winters, a cutting-edge organization that’s mobilizing the winter sports community to fight climate change. A great beer for a great cause? That’s a win/win in our book!
* Not intended for consumers under 21 years of age. Please drink responsibly.