BKS Artisan Ales brought home a prestigious silver medal at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition for its Clouds Double IPA. Brewer and co-owner Brian Rooney shares insight on how he produced the award-winning beer.

While the brewery opened in the Brookside neighborhood in 2017, this year is the first that owners Brian and Mary Rooney (pictured above) decided to enter a beer in the GABF competition. Clouds won in the “Juicy or Hazy Imperial IPA” beer-style category, one of 97 categories at the competition. This category was newly created to formally recognize hazy New England styles of beer being produced.

BKS Artisan Ales describes Clouds Double IPA as “a New England-style Double IPA that has a golden, hazy appearance with notes of citrus, grapefruit zest, mango and subtle pine sap.” Brewer Brian Rooney began developing the recipe long before opening the taproom and brewery.

The idea to make a New England-style DIPA originated during my home brewing days, and actually before I ever considered brewing professionally and opening a brewery,” Rooney says. “A friend of mine traveled to Vermont around 2013 and brought back cans of some well-known versions of New England DIPAs from the area. I remember being blown away by the aroma and flavor of the hops and intrigued about why the beer looked hazy, and if that had anything to do with the hop character.”

The Rooneys took a vacation to the Northeast in 2014, and made beer exploration part of their trip agenda. “I remember being on the flight home writing down ideas about how to make these types of beers and that was basically the start of it all,” Rooney says. “Around 2016 I had a trialed and tested recipe for Clouds. That was right about the time we were getting ready to launch BKS. That said, Clouds has undergone some tweaks and mods over the years. We’ve been in a groove with it since about mid-2019.”

Image courtesy of BKS Artisan Ales.

BKS Artisan Ales posted some backstory about the research and development of Clouds. Trial-and-error batches helped refine their ideas of what they wanted in a juicy, hazy New England-style imperial IPA. The brewery used Citra, El Dorado and Mosaic hops, accentuated by dry-hopping with Simcoe, El Dorado and Mosaic, to arrive at the beer’s juicy notes with a hint of pine sap. Testing led them to determine the preferred mix of pale malts. They bolstered the grain bill with oats and wheat to add silkiness to the mouthfeel and produce a haziness characteristic of the style.

Water is one of the four key ingredients in beer often overshadowed by hops, malt, and yeast selection. Yet water is a critical foundation that impacts how a beer’s flavors (or off-flavors) taste. BKS Artisan Ales also devoted time to determine the desired water profile for Clouds. 

“Water is the most important piece of our ingredients in making beer. We tweak the water profile for every beer style,” Rooney says. “There’s definitely proprietary ways we use water in our brewing process, but we are always focused on the minerality content and pH of the water, and how that creates downstream benefits for the final product. We have some beers where filtered Kansas City water is perfect for the style. With other styles, we need to apply a lot more effort to get what we want with the water.”

Breweries nationwide are producing hazy IPAs regularly to meet demand in the taproom and for packaged product. But not all hazy IPAs are in the same class. Rooney’s meticulous, even obsessive, approach with testing and recipe development led to creating a distinctive beer that represents his work ethic as a brewer. 

“That’s 100% the character and work ethic of everything we do at BKS. I’d say that’s our approach with every style of beer,” Rooney says. “We don’t brew a beer that we’re not obsessive about. Nobody ever likes to talk about failures, but that’s where the obsessive behavior comes from. Having something not work out perfectly and then learning from it and constantly refining to a point of perfection. Happiness is in the pursuit, even though the pursuit of perfection can be a bumpy road. Clouds is one of the beers that we area really pleased with.”

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Pete DulinPete Dulin is the founder and editor of kcaletrail.com. His most recent book is Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries Across Central Kansas and Missouri. Pete’s other books include Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland (The History Press, American Palate series), KC Ale Trail (out of print), and Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City’s Best Chefs and Cooks.