Podcast Episode 135: For Noah Bissell of Bissell Brothers, Less is Definitely More

Today’s brewing world is baroque in its embrace of excess, but for Bissell Brothers of Portland, Maine, the not-so-secret strategy is a deep desire to perfect their existing beers rather than create a stream of new ones.

Jamie Bogner May 18, 2020


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Conversations about the rise of hazy, New England-style IPAs ought to includes Portland, Maine’s Bissell Brothers Brewery. From the early days of the nascent style, they embraced the possibility of expressive yeast, and they helped to cement the style’s place in the canon of modern craft beer. However, unlike their contemporaries, they’ve shied away from the model of brewing a nonstop stream of new releases, taking a more traditional approach to brewing—constant, nonstop iteration and improvement of the selection of brands they brew.

Cofounder Noah Bissell explains the strategy in a sensible way, with the perpetual dissatisfaction of a committed creator. Why create new beers, when you’re not entirely happy with the ones you make already? Dialing in beers is an ongoing, never-ending process, and the best way to improve those beers is to go all-in.

“I don’t think you could ever even hope to reach that hypothetical nirvana zone for any given idea in beer form, if you don’t really, really commit to it,” Bissell says.

In this episode, Bissell discusses the brewery’s dogged focus on improvement: managing for shifting palates, focusing deeply on the bitterness component in soft and hazy beers, dialing in carbonation to heighten the experience, adjusting whirpool parameters, using new advanced hop aroma products, and more. Along the way, he also tackles subjects including cryo hops versus traditional pellets, their methodical approach to hops blending, how they select hops for the platonic ideal, and favorite new varieties such as Sultana.

Bissell built their hazy house IPA, Substance, from a blend that doesn’t include Citra—a bold choice in today’s beer world. For the brewery, it was both a response to the reality of the hops world when they started, as well as a conscious focus on outlasting short-term beer trends—where “sweet” as a descriptor offers less longevity.

“We’ve never just shot for juice,” Bissell says. “I can completely comprehend why those are about as crowd-pleasing a type of IPA as you could possibly produce. We’ve just never shot for exactly that. We’re playing a long game.”

This episode is brought to you by:

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Old Orchard supplies craft juice blends from the heart of Beer City USA. As the industry blending experts, they supply major national brands and growing breweries alike. They've been the best-kept juicy secret in craft beverage for years, but now the secret's out. Breweries across the board are experiencing a seamless transition to Old Orchard as their new juice supplier. So hop aboard the Old Orchard fruit train; their sample kit starter pack is waiting for you at www.oldorchard.com/brewer.

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This episode is brought to you by Hopsteiner–your premium hop supplier dedicated to delivering quality hops and hop products in every package. Visit Hopsteiner.com for a complete list of offerings or select “shop hops” to start ordering today.

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This episode is brought to you by Brewers Publications, publishers of “Historical Brewing Techniques: The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing” by Lars Marius Garshol. Equal parts history, cultural anthropology, social science, and travelogue, “Historical Brewing Techniques” describes Northern European farmhouse brewing and fermentation methods that are vastly different from modern craft brewing. Order your copy of Historical Brewing Techniques today at BrewersPublications.com.

Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].