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Phantasm may sound like a retro magic act. But it’s actually one of the newest ingredients in the beer world—a powder made from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grape skins that works to amplify the fruity flavors of hazy IPAs, making for an even juicier sip.
“The reason that we use it is because the grape powder contains precursor molecules to fermentation byproducts that produce fruit flavors that are tropical,” says Brandon Capps, co-owner and head brewer of New Image Brewing, which opened in Arvada in 2016 and debuted a second location in Wheat Ridge this past March. “They’re derived from a sulfur compound, but they have sort of the flavor and aroma of very, very ripe tropical fruit.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the style, hops are the green, cone-shaped flowers that are derived from the Humulus lupulus plant. Inside each flower are yellow pods called lupulin that are responsible for the bitter yet fruity taste IPAs are known for. When he initially started brewing in 2009, Capps wasn’t a fan of IPAs and their signature flavors and didn’t make them often as a home brewer. But that changed after he got his first professional brewing job—which inspired him to make an IPA that was appealing to his palate.
“The biggest thing I didn’t like about IPAs at the time was that the old-school, West Coast IPA was a dominating profile,” says Capps. “They’re very bitter, very intense, and I just wanted to make something that was softer, balanced, and more cohesive.”
As a result, Capps started making East Coast (aka hazy or juicy IPAs), which use specific yeast strains and/or dry hopping to yield a smoother texture, cloudier appearance, and lower bitterness profile. After years of playing around with different yeast profiles in an attempt to create juicier, tropical flavors—which led to the birth of some of New Image’s cult-favorite hazy sippers such as the One More Time and their Double Double series—Capps came across Phantasm in early 2021.
Because the product is relatively new, craft brewers like New Image are playing around with how and when to use the powdered product in the beer-brewing process. The purpose of Phantasm isn’t as much about extracting the flavor of the grape as it is about unlocking its thiols—the compounds responsible for intense fruit flavors and aromas. In order to best capitalize on the ingredient’s juicy potential, Capps adds Phantasm at the beginning of the IPA’s fermentation process.
For Capps, Phantasm is helping him brew an IPA that he has been working toward for years. “There’s really a through line of a goal I’ve had my entire career to make an IPA that’s extremely expressive and soft and tastes like overripe fruit, and this ingredient and methodology emerged,” Capps says. “It’s the closest I’ve been able to come to producing something that really nails what I envisioned back in 2012.”
New Image released the first beer in its Phantasm-based series in summer 2021 with its Hella Phantastic brew. This year they added to the series with a beer by the name of Phanny Pack. Although Hella Phantastic was a limited-time offering, Phanny Pack is New Image’s newest year-round IPA—the first in six years.
“We did six iterations of [Phanny Pack] over the course of about seven or eight months, where we were changing small parameters and dialing in the process,” Capp says. “We just [recently] made that a core beer, so it’s taken about a year of research and development.”
Consumer feedback to the Phantasm beers has been generally good, Capps says, but there are some folks whose palates haven’t yet warmed up to the taste. “We saw the exact same thing with hazy IPAs,” Capps says. “The early adopters were like, “Yes, this is dope, I’m so stoked.’ And the general populace was like, ‘Eww, we don’t like it, it doesn’t taste like an IPA.’ Eventually, a whole bunch of people change their minds.”
Despite some being on the fence about Phantasm as it makes its way to more craft breweries, Capps is able to flex his creative muscles through the brewing process by staying on top of the trend.
“It definitely takes dedication to see something like this through,” Capps says, “but that’s our intention and plan is to see this product and this category through to its fullest potential and to be ahead of the curve. We like being ahead of the curve.”
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