One of the requests I’ve received the most during Q&A sessions over the years is to how we go about developing new beers at Baxter. Though theoretically simple, folks are usually surprised at the complexity, and moreover the timeline, of the process. Well, this is as good a time as any to try to explain the process in writing. Why? Because we’re right in the middle of development for a new beer; our long-awaited fourth year-round release: Per Diem All Year Porter.
To me, the process has always reminded me a bit of a Venn diagram. With our production team working hard to absolutely crush recipe formulation and development—the left circle of the diagram—while our marketing minds are diligently focused on the beer’s story, brand and can design; the right circle. Sooner-or-later, hopefully in time for our predetermined launch date, the two circles start to come together and the resulting overlap is a market-ready beer we’re all proud to call our own.
The Left Circle: Concept for the Beer
We’re calling Per Diem an “All Year Porter” because it’s our way of putting a Baxter spin on a classic style. Light in alcohol and body, we decided to brew Per Diem using a really flavorful and fun Belgian yeast strain—which will become our third house yeast; more on that some other time—making it truly quenching throughout the year. The yeast adds more complexity and drinkability to the style; the result being a less-sweet-than-normal porter.
We knew that, with this beer being featured in our variety 12pk, we needed to add a beer to our year ‘round lineup that was a little bit darker on the spectrum than the mostly-pale color of our other beers in the same package. Lastly, we wanted to steer clear of something overly-hoppy, since we’ve already got plenty of hops in the lineup. We opted for porter rather than stout, given its broader audience.
I personally can remember Benny (Ben Low, Dir. of Brewing Operations) brewing beers just like this on his basement homebrew set up when I first met him in 2007; long before Baxter was even a glimmer in my eye, let alone when I suckered him into joining me. So needless to say, it’s something I know he’s wanted to brew commercially for quite some time.
“I’m sure someone, somewhere, has brewed a Belgian-style Porter before, but I don’t know of another commercially-available example. It’s rare to have a chance to do something completely different to an age-old style and something that will still appeal to such a broad audience.”
The other neat thing, in my opinion, that came out of the recipe formulation discussions and testing between Benny, Matty J (our Head Brewer) and Willis (Production Manager) was that more than half of the varieties of malt featured in this recipe are coming from France, including French coffee malt; another first for Baxter.
“Plus, now that we’ll have a house Belgian yeast strain, we’ll be able to use it again in the future for other projects and one-off batches”.
The Right Circle: Story, Branding & Design
For those that may not know, our brewery is located in a pre-Civil War era textile mill in central Maine: The Bates Mill. The mill, which was once the largest employer in the state of Maine and the factory that produced the tents and uniforms of the Grand Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, has seen a great resurgence during the last decade plus, following many years of general dormancy. It also serves as a beautiful and inspiring backdrop to the work we do at Baxter every day. So we were all in agreement that we needed our next year-round beer to pay homage to this great building.
From there, the ideas started to flow. Some of the early conversations for concept and design centered around the mill’s iconic smokestack, which dominates the Lewiston skyline; and either the railroad, which brought thousands of French Canadian migrant workers to the front steps of the mill, or the canal system which once powered the mill itself.
We also started the arduous task of naming the beer. We obviously wanted something relatable. Initially we landed on Mill Street—the address of the brewery and the street that separates half of the Bates buildings from the other—but quickly discovered the Mill St. Brewery in Toronto. So, for obvious reasons, that was out. Without getting too in the weeds with this post, suffice it to say that shortly thereafter our own resident Bearded Beer Guy (BBG), John Bryant, came up with Per Diem Porter. I dug the alliteration, of course, but we all felt that it spoke too to the throngs of laborers that toiled away in the same mill we do today and undoubtedly would have loved a can of Per Diem as a shift beer after work.
Sometimes we have a fully-developed can design first and then pick a name to fit the concept. Other times, the name steers the design process; as was the case with Per Diem. There’s an old image that hangs on the other end of this building of a sea of workers exiting the mill that we knew we could draw inspiration from. Once we sent that image to our amazing designer, Josh Fisher, the rest was history.
As is always the case, once the concept was in Josh’s hands, there were only a few minor tweaks to make, and we had a finished product.
Coming Together in the Middle: The Final Product
Per Diem All Year Porter, the fourth year ‘round Baxter beer, will be released early in the fourth quarter of this year (2016) but a little bit differently than we’ve done in the past. 6-packs of the beer will be available only at our brewery’s tasting room and draft will be extremely limited as well; reserved only for tap takeovers and special occasions. Otherwise, the only place you’ll be able to find Per Diem is as part of our variety 12pks. You know, kinda like a Pokémon. You’re welcome. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the remaining steps of the process as they develop. Cheers.