Liquid Diet: Enlightenment’s Tribute to Ken Kesey

Brewer Ben Howe creates a hop-forward American IPA that pays homage to the spirit of the Merry Pranksters.


Ken Kesey photo via AP, Ben Howe photo via Enlightenment Ales/Facebook

It’s almost like a setup for a bad joke: How do snare a craft beer nerd? With the type of bold, hoppy brews that dominate Untappd and throw beer treasure hunters into a panicked fit.

With creations like his hopped-up Belgian golden ale, Day Trip, and Brut bière de champagne, a labor-intensive Belgian strong ale that utilizes the méthode champenoise tradition, Enlightenment Ales’ Ben Howe is producing some of the best beer anywhere in New England. But without a signature IPA or over-the-top imperial stout, it wasn’t enough. That’s why, starting this week, Howe began brewing his hoppy retort to the newest generation of craft beer drinkers, those weened on nothing but Heady Topper, Troegs’ Nugget Nectar, and Russian River’s coveted Pliny the Elder.

“I could be making beer that I’m really proud of and think is on par with a lot of great breweries around here, but nobody cares because it’s not hoppy,” Howe says. “So, I thought, if I could make a beer even half as good as the ones people are losing their shit over, it’ll bring people in the door. Then I can say, ‘Hey, look at these farmhouse IPAs and brett saisons and these other cool beers that we make.’ We just have to get people in the door, especially because we’re in the middle of nowhere in Everett.”

The third edition in his hop-forward Emancipator Series—which includes Garrison, a session IPA, and Hofmann, a draft-only double pale ale—will be a liquid tribute to author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his psychedelic band of Merry Pranksters. Dubbed Kesey (American Prometheus), the American IPA incorporates fresh Citra, Chinook, Simcoe, and Centennial hops, a soft, neutral caramel malt base, and a Vermont IPA yeast that is rumored to be the same one used by The Alchemist.

“Kesey has this super intense, juicy, bright flavor, without a lot of bitterness,” Howe says. “It’s a flavor profile I’ve been chasing after for years. Every batch that I do, that happens to be something hoppy, I kind of play around with the water chemistry a little bit, and the dry hopping rates. When I did Hofmann a couple of months ago, that was the first time I thought I’d finally figured it out. That’s why I named this beer after Ken Kesey. Albert Hofmann made all the discoveries with LSD, then Kesey kind of stole them and gave them to world. He was a real Prometheus, taking fire from the gods and giving it to everyone—at the risk of sounding too ridiculous.”

Howe will produce one five-barrel batch of Kesey every month for the rest of the year, with a third of the kegs reserved for on-site growler fills. The remaining two-thirds of the production will be parsed out to special on-premise accounts. Howe says he’s reluctant to package any of the current product, but a limited bottle run could be in their future.

“I think there’s this whole new breed of people getting into craft beer, specifically in the last two years, who really only have a palate for one thing: hops. They have no palate for roast, no palate for malt, and no palate for big yeast flavor. What they consider beer is about as narrow as what my dad used to consider beer—just light-flavored, macro lagers. Everything else is just outside the range of what they like. I hope that’s not the case. I love this type of beer, but it’s not the only type of beer I like to drink. So, this is a nice little tool to whet people’s appetites at the bar and bring them into the brewery.”

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