Editor’s Note: The second quotation was trimmed down, at the request of the speaker, to better emphasize the conciseness of his specific tasks at the business.
It might be a small, five barrel brewery on the outskirts of Tampa, but Corporate Ladder Brewing Company is quickly making a name for itself, most notably for its dessert-inspired beers. Whether it’s a fruit-forward kettle sour or a behemoth imperial stout, Corporate Ladder continues to crank out these next-level beers and the brewery’s latest creation might just be one of its largest yet.
Dubbed Barrel-Aged Banoconut Pie, this monstrous 13% ABV imperial stout features banana, toasted coconut and cinnamon for a sweet, yet somewhat boozy profile. It’s based on a recipe Corporate Ladder co-owners Blake Kleppe and James Herrholz brewed in the past, though deciding to store it in Willett Rye barrels for 14 months has added a whole new dimension to it. Fruit-centric stouts aren’t exactly a trendy style right now– and that’s because brewing one can prove to be tricky.
“Brewing fruited stouts is tough,” Herrholz admits. “Stouts are inherently a little more acidic with the roasted malts and so you are kind of adding to that and that doesn’t necessarily play very well. Something like cherry or raspberry, that has a pretty large amount of acidity innately to it, is going to add a little to that. Banana doesn’t really have a ton of acidity and that’s something to keep in mind when we’re picking ingredients – and banana is a pretty easy one that melds well with those flavors.”
Herrholz, a homebrewer since 2016, spent time as a cellarman at nearby Arkane Brewing Company in Largo before joining Corporate Ladder, after Kleppe founded it back in 2018. Wanting to start his own brewery while winning local brewing competitions, Herrholz struggled to get funding but soon found the perfect fit at Corporate Ladder, just as Kleppe’s founding partner was looking to get out and the brewery was in need of someone to help fill that role. Kleppe let Herrholz run wild with his ideas, leading to the creation of beers other local spots in the region weren’t really making.
“We work as a team, Blake and I,” says Herrholz. “I’m brewing every beer on the beer brew deck and overseeing every single beer and that’s just because I like to have my hand in everything – that’s important to me. I also do all of the labels and all of the social media, so I’m busy with that a lot as well.”
With his fingerprints all over the brewing process, Herrholz continues to experiment with his company’s beer, alongside Kleppe, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed both locally and across the nation. In 2019, Corporate Ladder won two silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival, for Dessert Station: Cherry Almond Cookie in the Field Beer category and **Contains Chocolate** in the Chocolate Beer category. Winning two of the beer industry’s signature awards so quickly is quite a feat and reaffirmed that Corporate Ladder was building something special, especially for the Tampa Bay community.
“It was really cool – and the first time I personally ever entered into GABF or any international competition at a professional level. We won two medals, right off the bat. It was my first year there and both were my beers, so it was a really cool, this is all coming-together sort of thing.”
But Herrholz doesn’t want to look back to those medals, instead focusing on the next beer, which is Barrel-Aged Banoconut Pie – and a lot went into that specific effort.
With nothing added in the boil or the whirlpool on the hops side, a majority of the treatments for Banoconnut Pie were secondary, in the bright tank. Hoping to accentuate the rye barrel flavor, Herrholz added a multitude of specialty malts and a hefty amount of C40, C60, Carafa 3 and Chocolate malt, with a pretty decent amount of flakes for protein. He followed it with Munich 1 and Munich 2 malt for a gritty toasted note as well – and the rest was simply pale ale base malt. The hops, Herrholz admits, are somewhat irrelevant to this beer, thanks to the malt, but this batch features Nugget hops – basically, whatever high alpha acid, bitter hop is currently at the brewery.
Hopping specifically for barrel, Herrholz was focused on balance. A real sweet beer like this one calls for a little more bitterness on the back-end. The hope is that it fades over time in the barrel, which will also push the overall alcohol content of the beer a little higher in the end.
“We basically design these beers for barrel first and then, once we taste them, we kind of move in a direction,” says Herrholz. “We’re not trying to do anything pre-barrel, just because we think a lot of that stuff is going to fade – of course, there are breweries who add adjuncts directly to the barrel and let that sit over time as well. That’s something we haven’t played around with yet but something we’re considering. But this one, it just screamed like it wanted that silk mouthfeel from the toasted coconut and this treatment we liked enough to want to bring it to barrel-aged.”
To get the highlighted flavor of the coconut and banana, Herrholz throws in generous amounts of banana puree and toasted coconut during the brewing process, which Corporate Ladder gets pre-toasted.
Herrholz was hopeful the end result would be that the barrel mixes well with the banana and toasted coconut, giving it a little more mouthfeel while making it seem a little bigger. The barrels were purchased from a barrel broker, though Herrholz is careful about his barrel selecting, looking for something that hasn’t been sitting around for long. He also prefers something that has some sort of spirit in it, like actual liquid, but many distilleries use vacuums to suck all of it out. But no matter the brewing process and the barrels, he doesn’t really know until it’s ready for bottling what the flavor profile will be in the end.
Barrel-Aged Banoconut Pie will be released in early February in 500 mL bottles, perfect to drink alone or share with friends – and don’t worry if the name is difficult to pronounce.
“We were trying to figure out the name of this beer, we made it kind of on a whim,” remembers Herrholz. “We didn’t have a name picked out yet and we do a lot of dessert-inspired beers, which are very easily named – based on the dessert – but this one doesn’t have a name as far as we know, so Blake [Kleppe] came up with Banoconut Pie. It’s not a real word, obviously, or a real dessert – it’s 100% made up.”