At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I remember reading somewhere—maybe Foreign Affairs magazine, maybe a Dril tweet, it all blends together now—that the most likely outcome of this cataclysmic event wasn’t the emergence of new trends but the acceleration of existing ones.In the beer scene, at least, that’s exactly what happened. Canned New England-style IPAs were already trending upward, and with so many people steering clear of taprooms, they’ve boomed.
Hazebros, take note: Junco by Sandhills Brewing would be worth finding a mule to buy, but you happily can grab it anytime or enjoy on an inviting new patio as the weather warms up. Junco is the Mission brewery’s flagship, selling double anything else it offers, owner Joe Cizek says. The beer debuted when the Johnson County location opened in March 2019, and I had it for the first time shortly thereafter. It was good. But over the last year, it’s rounded into great. “You have a learning curve with your system,” Cizek says. “We work on our efficiencies with every beer—partly to get the cost down but more to make the beers better. We’re so small, we’re not going to save a ton of money by changing the grains or anything, but we can make them better.”
Junco is still based on a hop bill of Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado, and as they’ve grown, they’re getting better batches. But, Cizek says, “the real improvement has just been the technique.”
Sandhills is now dry-hopping under pressure, which limits oxidization. They’re also doing their first round of fermentation at eighty degrees, significantly warmer than most other beers, which promotes the production of glycerol, giving the beer its soft, luscious mouthfeel. They’ve also tinkered with the pressure they use when carbonating the beer.
It’s all the little stuff, but it adds up to the acceleration of one big trend: Junco now numbers among the city’s handful of elite hazy IPAs.
“It’s a lot of experimentation, and moving Junco forward has been a thing since day one,” Cizek says. “We do that with a lot of our beers and especially the ones you see a lot. With to-go beers, we’ve found the IPA leads the sale. You might sell eight beers and four of them are IPA because that’s what people want to commit to when they’re home. So you want to make it good.”