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Infusions allow for creativity in the beer world

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — How would you like to try 16 Mile’s Amber Sun Ale with a hint of apples and cinnamon sticks? Or a cold glass of Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton combined with the brewery’s Brooklyn Brine Hop Pickles? Thanks to the art of beer infusion, those adventurous ideas are now possibilities.

At the Pickled Pig Pub in Rehoboth Beach, beer infusions have been offered for the last year and a half, according to Ben Cowell, the restaurant’s beer director. He said they add a new element of creativity and excitement to beer.

“I think right now in the craft beer market, there’s been this rush to try something new,” he said. “Everyone wants something new and exciting, different styles they may not have experienced. This sort of opens this up to a whole new world of flavors and experiences.”

The tool the Pickled Pig Pub uses to do the infusions is known as Randall the Enamel Animal, and it’s a creation of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder and president Sam Calagione.

Calagione said he built the Randall as a way to infuse more hops in its 120 Minute IPA during a contest in 2002. Not only did the beer win the contest, but that’s when his contraption started to become a hit.

Over the years, the Randall has been developed further. It’s now in its third iteration — Randall 3.0 — and Calagione said more than 400 Randalls, which retail at $288, have been sold.

The Randall 3.0 has two chambers. The first is hooked up to a draft and is filled with hops, or whatever you want to infuse the beer with. Once the beer flows through the inlet, it enters the outlet, where it defoams. Then, the final product is dispensed via a faucet.

“The alcohol in the beer acts as a solvent and strips the natural flavors off of the natural oils and essences in compounds in whatever you have in the Randall,” Calagione said. “It releases it right into the beer.”

The brewery also created a smaller device, the Randall Jr., last year, which at $20, can hold 16 ounces of beer at a time and eliminates the need for draft beer and allows for the use of bottled or canned beer.

Calagione said he’s seen his devices around the world, as far as New Zealand and as recently as two weeks ago in Stockholm, exceeding his expectations from the beginning, when he thought he would only be making one.

He said what he likes most about the beer infusions is that it emphasizes the role of certain ingredients in beer production at the consumer level. Allowing the addition of more hops, he said, allows the consumer to make an assumption of what hops contributes to the beer.

Infusing also serve as inspiration for other local breweries. At 16 Mile Brewery, an infusion of its Inlet IPA with mango led to the inspiration behind its upcoming Collaboration Brews for a Cause beer which will be made later this year.

“Quite frankly, it gives us ideas for beers down the line that we want to do,” said 16 Mile tavern manager Rich Gustafson, who is also the brewery’s infuser. “It’s almost like research and development for that particular idea.”

Gustafson has been experimenting with new flavors since he joined 16 Mile in December, which have been well-received. He wanted to show ways to add extra flavors to already flavorful beers, and the process, he said takes seconds.

“Everybody seems to love them,” he said. “One of the reasons I keep doing it every Friday night is because of the great response to it.”

The brewery is in the process of testing a prototype infuser by Ohio-based Beer Tubes, which would allow breweries or restaurants to offer concoctions without using draft.

“In a lot of ways, it’s the next evolution of buying a pitcher and taking it to your table,” he said.