For the first time in two years, Upland Brewing Company is bringing a new year-round beer to faithful fans – and hopefully new ones – in Indiana. “Free Time” Vienna-style lager is being produced in 12-ounce cans which is a first for the brewery. I was intrigued by this recent announcement so I went to Upland’s production facility in Bloomington, where I met with lead brewer, Patrick Lynch, and marketing director, Amber Davis.
Starting at the beginning of the year, all of the Upland teams were encouraged to explore something unique and different. Work began together on a new recipe creation, a marketing and sales strategy and then building a brand for the beer.
Patrick Lynch said that the brew team was “challenged” to come up with a new beer from scratch that could fit several components. He said they wanted a beer that was “sessionable, less than five percent (ABV), more malty than hoppy, something you could stash in your fridge, always have on hand.”
Several beers went through their 10 gallon Sabco pilot brewing system until three beers were scaled up for larger brews. The beers were poured at the retail locations and went through a very disciplined process in order to see which beer best represented them. Patrick said, “It was determined the Vienna lager was the great fit to attach the name to and put into the cans.” The beer and the name, he said, organically came together.
It had been a couple of years since Upland introduced a new beer to their lineup, so the brewers welcomed the creative freedom. Patrick said, “In the brewhouse, we’re always encouraged to work on recipes and try things out that we’ve never done before. We’ve always kind of prided ourselves on having a very diverse lineup.”
Customers are familiar with Upland’s Wheat Ale, Dragonfly IPA, Bad Elmer’s porter and Champagne Velvet pilsner, not to mention their nationally acclaimed sour program, so an amber lager at 4.7% ABV perfectly complimented the lineup. Patrick said, “Sessionable lagers are a great fit for our portfolio”, but because lager beers take longer to ferment, there are some challenges in production. He continued, “We’ve committed ourselves to making lagers; it’s not always easy for craft breweries to condition beer and have the capacity to do that. We have dedicated conditioning tanks in our cellars so we are setup to do lagers, which other craft breweries don’t always have the capacity for.” Simply, space equals time, and time equals money.
For Free Time, Upland proudly uses locally sourced, 100% Vienna malt from Sugar Creek Malt Company (Lebanon, In.) for its base malt. Said Patrick, “We’ve worked closely with them ever since they opened and any chance we get, we’ve tried to use a percentage of their beer [malt].”
To support the wonderful bready flavors from the malt, small amounts of Nugget, Mt. Hood and Vanguard bittering hops are used, with Vanguard additions later in the boil. A perfect balance was found for this style-appropriate beer.
Naturally unassuming, lagers may not have the sex appeal like the first-hopped, wet-hopped, dry-hopped, minute-by-minute-hopped IPA’s of today, but there is no denying their historical significance or recent resurgence. There also is serious brewing expertise in creating a quality lager because any potential flaws cannot be hidden.
Long before prohibition spelled the end to many American breweries, lagers enjoyed a healthy life as beer’s first pinup model. Brought over by German brewers in the mid-1800’s, lagers were enormously popular only to later fall victim to dilution.
What happened? Beyond prohibition and then World War II, breweries began using adjuncts like corn or rice, which is less expensive to brew than all grain. Producing a less quality product, this was much like cutting your coffee with more water.
It’s taken some time but beer lovers across the country are rediscovering lagers that are actually brewed the way they were intended, while finding what they might have been missing all along. Simply put, lagers are back, baby.
In rolling the beer out to its statewide markets, Amber Davis said, “We have a pretty good fan base here in Indiana, obviously. I think it’s a great tie-in especially since we’re using local malt. We want to keep our drinkers enjoying something new all the time so it’s really tapping into our existing fan base to some degree. Giving them another option maybe.”
Not only reaching their regular fans, but finding new ones was important. “Really, we wanted to try to reach those who maybe aren’t as familiar with Upland”, Amber said. “Maybe it’s a new option that they haven’t seen before from us. So that was one of the goals, really to expand even beyond our current fan base and see who we could reach out to from there. It’s not fussy, it doesn’t try too hard. It just tastes like beer!”
Upland is definitely stretching its boundaries with a new beer, a new 12 oz. can and unique packaging. Like continuously reaching into the bread basket at your favorite restaurant, you’ll want to delve into the smart, new 15-pack of Free Time, time and again. After only two weeks of being released, Amber assured me that Free Time is doing quite well.
In producing this latest gem, Upland simultaneously is creating a mood…a feeling. Whatever you like do in your spare time, Upland wants to remind you that it is meant to be enjoyed, and whether it’s hiking, tailgating, hanging out at the pool or just plain hanging out, Free Time is there to help deliver a good time.
And who doesn’t want more free time in their life?