Beer school brew earns an A+

Photos: Angie Wright

Photos: Angie Wright

Maxline Brewing turns educational experiment into seasonal favorite

By Steve Graham

When you help brew with other amateurs in a class, you might not expect to make top-grade suds. But when Shawn Woodbury made an orange peppercorn saison with his “beer school” students a couple of years ago at the Mayor of Old Town bar in Fort Collins, it was so popular that he brought it back and turned it into a seasonal favorite at Maxline Brewing.

The class focused on recipe formulation — from concept to glass. Woodbury, head brewer at Maxline, worked with his class to discuss ideas for a fall beer and settled on the fruity, spicy saison. 

“Orange and peppercorn go really well together,” Woodbury said. “You have that nice citrusy bite but a little bit of sweetness from the orange, and the peppercorn comes through to really cut that off.”

He also said the peppercorn matches the phenolic compounds from the French saison yeast he uses. 

He incorporated four malt varieties and added cracked black peppercorn and bitter orange peel to the boil, then added a little more of the same spice mix to the fermenter. 

The resulting orange flavor and aroma are definitely noticeable, but the peppercorn bite is subtle.

“A lot of people are surprised they like it, because of the peppercorn,” Woodbury said.   

He admits he was concerned about the peppercorn levels. “Underdoing it is OK, and overdoing it makes it undrinkable,” he said.

Orange Peppercorn Saison Brewery: Maxline Brewing Location: Fort Collins IBU: 30 ABV: 6.5 Percent

Orange Peppercorn Saison
Brewery: Maxline Brewing
Location: Fort Collins
IBU: 30
ABV: 6.5 Percent

After making the saison for his beer class, Woodbury started tinkering with the idea at Maxline.

“We did one batch of it and it did really, really well, then we shelved it for a while,” he said. “It wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. That said, I’m a brewer and nothing’s ever quite where I want it to be.”

After tweaking the recipe a bit, he said he pretty much perfected it this fall.

He wanted the beer to bridge the gap between swim season and ski season.

“We’re not quite over summer yet, but we’re not quite into winter yet,” Woodbury said. “It’s got elements of summer in the idea that there’s citrus in there, but it’s also reminiscent of late fall and spice cakes and things like that.” 

Woodbury has been brewing for almost 10 years, holding a variety of jobs at larger craft breweries including Shipyard in Portland, Maine, Harpoon Brewing in Boston, and Left Hand Brewing in Longmont. “A lot of people will start small and move to big, and I kind of did the opposite,” he said. 

He then applied for the head brewing job at Maxline before the central Fort Collins brewery opened in 2016.

Maxline has grown quickly even though its original space, a former post office, was very small. “Our plan for year one was 250 barrels, and we hit that by month four or five,” Woodbury said.

Maxline is somewhat hidden in the back of a strip mall, next to a CrossFit gym and behind an ARC thrift store. However, it has become a neighborhood draw.

“This part of town is underserved by 
bars and beer and that sort of thing,” Woodbury said.

Maxline is still a small brewery, but the taproom doubled in size last summer. They hope to open a second patio soon, and expect to start canning for the first time by the end of 2018.

Steve Graham is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor who likes taking his two young boys biking, hiking and brewery-hopping in northern Colorado.