A labor of love, our Czech dark pilsner is back – and it has evolved.
Upon its release last year, Opal Skulls quickly cemented its place as a core beer at Wye Hill. The product of continuous growth over time and a practice of patience, we eagerly welcome back this crisp, complex Czech dark pilsner.
GOOD THINGS COME…
A true passion project, beginning as a homebrew in the garage of brewer Nick Weber many years ago, Opal Skulls has evolved into a fully formed malt maverick. A caramelly, drinkable dream that blurs the lines between the lightness of a traditional lager and the chocolatey flavors of darker styles.
Made with 100% malt, it was double decocted and lagered for 16 weeks. Decoction is a very traditional and incredibly difficult German brewing process. Although the process is notoriously daunting in the brewing world, Nick began experimenting with decoction as a homebrewer.
“I spent a significant amount of my time as a homebrewer exploring challenging processes. My attitude going into studying beer was that in order to break the rules, you need to learn them first,” Nick said. “I got a bit derailed once I started studying traditional and obscure methods of beer production, because I found the challenge very rewarding.”
Decoction develops malt depth, flavor and clarity in a beer. In the process, you remove part of the mash, boil it, then return it to the main mash. Although it is tedious, it amplifies the rich, toastiness of the malts.
Batch sizes for homebrews are typically about five gallons. The batches produced in the Wye Hill brewery are…well…much larger. According to Nick, decoction on a small scale is fairly easy. With industrial equipment, the process actually becomes more difficult. But, our brewing team agrees that the result is worth toil.
“With a decocted beer, you can almost taste the heart,” said brewer Owen Harrison.
CZECHS & BALANCES
On his journey, Nick has developed a great appreciation for traditional European style– particularly Czech lagers, which veer away from the typical rigidity of the German lagering process. A brewery in Prague called U Fleků has served as a special inspiration for him. For over 500 years, they have been perfecting versions of their dark lager, with each brewer making additions and adjustments continually. The shared goal– making a lager that is “greater than the sum of its parts.”
Opal Skulls was born out of the same philosophy. Nick continues to apply what he has learned to new systems and ingredients. And although the brewing process is increasingly intentional with every iteration, there are aspects that remain intuitive and collaborative.
“In a brewery, you release the beer that you make iteratively,” said Greg Winget, Director of Brewing Operations. “Sometimes you want the batches to be seamless, but really, you want to grow. Like a band remastering or re-releasing an album– you want to see some sort of development in a positive direction.”
Nick, echoing Greg’s sentiment, said, “Because we all have different palates and perspectives, the conditioning process is very collaborative and allows for a lot of introspection with regards to the decisions we made for that batch and how they’re manifesting in the final product. Even though this beer is ‘my baby,’ not one of us would make any decision about the beer without everyone else on board – that’s true for pretty much everything we make.”
While this synergy produced a version that is exceptional in its velvety drinkability, Opal Skulls is ever-evolving. And, we can only hope that this is merely the beginning of this dreamy decoction journey.