Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynthe are curious. When the brains behind Danish brewery To Øl wondered just how wheaty an IPA can get, or just how hoppy a wheat ale can be, they came up Mr. White, a double India wheat ale. When they considered the unlikely relationship between chilies and licorice, they would up with Liquorice Confidential, a stout with ancho, guajillo, chipotle, and licorice. And when they pondered just what freeze-dried beer might taste like, they wound up with craft-beer powder.
For these self-described men of science, creating powdered beer was about the process of experimentation as much as it was the end result. And the process led to four instant beers: a stout with coffee, an IPA with tropical fruit, a relatively dry pilsner, and a hoppy saison. So what happens if you just add water? Well, you’ll wind up with beer-flavored water. Currently, their freeze-drying process takes all alcohol and carbonation out of the beer, so you’d need to add sparkling water as well as your own alcohol, but Tobias and Tore don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
We recently talked with Tobias about the creation and future of instant beer, as well as the company’s other experiments and upcoming projects.
MUNCHIES: Where did the inspiration to make powdered beer come from?
Tobias Emil Jensen: I was a student in food science, so there’s load of other freeze-dried products—raspberries, coffee, soups, stocks, anything you can think of—and I knew a guy from university that was working for this freeze-drying company, so why not try to freeze-dry beer? This guy, he’s a great, funny guy. He also tried to freeze-dry a shark, because why not try to freeze-dry a shark?
Any other plans for it?
It would be fun that bakers can incorporate beer into bread, or chefs working in kitchens can incorporate beer flavors. I think there are some interesting aspects of how to use it, not just as a beverage, but the powder itself.
So the point of this product is basically to be able to have a beer while hiking or take a beer on a plane, but if you have to bring your own alcohol and sparkling water, doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?
You could say that. That’s why we’re actually working on a way to make powdered carbonation, so you don’t need sparkling water. It’s actually doable. It’s just not very stable, so if it is exposed to air and humidity it loses the carbonation. Then you have the alcohol issue, but I think it’s more fun that you can experiment. This project is about experimenting. In my stout I can add bourbon, or rum, or cognac, and like we do in the (MUNCHIES Craftwerk) video, we think it’s fun to add mezcal to the IPA. I think it’s fun to try to pair spirits with different kinds of beer.
So should we all just be mixing our IPAs with mezcal at home?
I think it would be nice, a smoky mezcal paired with some fruity, hop-forward, piney (beer). I think pine and smoke pair well together. But it’s up to you. You can try to add schnapps or try to add whatever you think of.
Can you walk us through the scientific process of making freeze-dried beer?
You take a batch of beer, you freeze this down to about minus 70, minus 80 centigrade (-94 to -112 fahrenheit). Then you put it in a chamber where there is a very, very low vacuum so in that state ice can turn directly into vapor instead of turning into a liquid. If you did boil it, it’s like distilling, and then you basically break down all the flavor molecules in beer, but since this is happening at frozen temperatures, you’re able to have a powder that retains all the flavors of the original product. The only thing you lose is the alcohol and water. And if we had a very scientific setup, we would be able to do a sort of freeze-dried distillation so we could try to recover the alcohol, and that could hopefully and eventually be combined to the final product.
So you’re going to try to do that?
Um, it’s difficult. You basically need to build a brand new machine, because the freeze-drying machines have never worked with alcoholic beverages, so it’s going to take some time. To do that takes a lot more expertise and trials, like that company that made powdered alcohol (Palcohol). The problem with this as well is that the process of freeze-drying is so expensive, that no matter how we twist and turn it, the product is going to be so expensive that I never think we will never be able to sell anything. At the moment, we like to keep it as a fun project, but it’s probably not going to get any commercial status any time soon.
If you were to release it right now how much would it cost for a beer?
We haven’t thought about it exactly, but it’s sure as hell going to be an expensive process.
So what do you say to people who have called this a gimmick?
This is not a gimmick. We are a company that likes to show people what we are working with. We are just showing that we are playing around with funny stuff.
Do you think being in Copenhagen, where there are so many innovative restaurants that like to play around with ingredients, has anything to do with your love for experimentation?
I do really believe that we have an experimental approach to a lot of things in Denmark. If you look back just five or six years we didn’t have any cooking tradition. We were never a country you would think of as having any nice food. We were just making pork roast and boiled potatoes, and that was it. The only beer you could mention was Carlsburg. So in that way, why not be creative? The starting point was so low, it could only get better.
Any new projects coming up you’re excited about?
We do have a beer coming out that is a Campari-inspired beer where we didn’t want to use hops for bittering, but (instead) sourcing some herbs and grapefruit peel to give the bitterness. People always think there’s hops in beer. There is a bit of hops, but I think it was fun to substitute the bitterness (of hops) with something else.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.