There’s a great paradox in craft brewing: Amping up flavors is easy, tamping them down is hard. When brewing a hoppy IPA with lots of character, the little guys shine. But when it comes time to make a crisp, clean, bright lager, most craft breweries struggle to match the results of a mechanized macro brewery equipped with centrifuges and Ph.D. biochemists.
So hard seltzers are the ultimate challenge for a craft brewery. They are supposed to be refreshing and taste like bubble water, with just a whisper of flavor.
The first time he had a hard seltzer, Brew Lab brewer Kevin Combs hated it. By his third, he was hooked.
“We thought it was going to be super easy to do, but it turns out it’s really hard to make things flavorless,” Combs says. “The big guys, they’re the natural places to do it. I don’t think there’s any little craft brewery that can make a totally flavorless hard seltzer yet.”
Brew Lab’s new seltzer is called Zambezi Zinger, named for a coaster that once stood at Worlds of Fun and got a second life in South America. The base is made from powdered corn sugar that’s fermented until the yeast has gobbled up all of the residual sugar. On their first attempt at a seltzer, the Brew Lab brewers used distiller’s turbo yeast but were unhappy with the results. On their second attempt, they used champagne yeast instead and added a little citric acid to get a crisp, clean base.
It’s what Brew Lab does next that makes it the perfect drink for a sunny day on the downtown Overland Park brewery’s just-added outdoor patio. Rather than keg up a few flavors, they bought ten different flavors of low-sugar syrups, from blue curacao to cucumber to strawberry. Each bartender is entrusted with mixing up a glass to spec when a customer orders. Tell the bartender what flavors you like and let them mix you up a drink.