(Matt Topping enjoys the taste of success — and Hawaii — at COVA Brewing Company.)
By Jeff Maisey
It’s a big deal to win an award — gold, silver or bronze — at the World Beer Cup competition. For a brewery to garner consecutive golds for the same entry is nothing short of amazing.
Such good fortune was recently bestowed upon COVA Brewing Company, a small, neighborhood brewery in the East Beach section of Norfolk, when Aloha State of Mind scored its second gold in the Contemporary Gose category.
Aloha State of Mind is a smooth, beautifully brewed sour made with passionfruit and hibiscus. Both the recipe and name were inspired by head brewer Matt Topping’s time in the Aloha state. Topping lived on the Hawaiian island of Maui for nearly three years and worked as a brewer at Maui Brewing Company.
COVA Brewing Company beers are almost exclusively sold at the brewery. They operate a 7-barrel brewhouse with three 7-barrel fermentors and two 15-barrel fermentors.
I sat down with Matt Topping over a couple of Aloha State of Mind beers to discuss COVA Brewing Company’s recent accomplishment.
VEER: Were you able to attend the World Beer Cup Awards ceremony in Nashville and can you reflect on winning gold with Aloha State of Mind in the Contemporary Gose category?
Matt Topping: This was the first time getting to go to one of the major award ceremonies. I was there with my marketing manager from COVA, her husband, and my wife. We were all up on stage to receive the award. That was a really exciting experience.
In the fall we won silver with our POG Gose (passionfruit guava) at Great American Beer Festival (GABF). And now we’ve won back-to-back golds for Aloha State of Mind at the World Beer Cup.
VEER: How did the idea come about to brew a passion fruit gose? Did it start with your success as a brewer at the now defunct Coelacanth Brewery?
Matt Topping: The biggest seller at Coelacanth was the Passionfruit Gose. The last year we were open that was over 75% of our sales. It got good feedback at GABF, but nothing that constituted winning.
I’ve been constantly tweaking, honing-in that recipe.
At COVA, we have the opportunity to be able to make dozens of different types of goses and sours and play around with different types of fruits, spices, herbs and things.
Passionfruit, I think, is an outstanding pairing with a sour beer. It’s already a tart fruit on its own. It’s got beautiful aromatics to it and the flavor comes through nicely.
We’ve done some beers with peach. Peach is great, but it takes a lot of peach for that flavor to come through. A lot of times you have to add apricot to make it taste more like peach.
This (Aloha State of Mind) tastes like passionfruit scooped right out of the fruit.
A little bit of salt keeps it refreshing. Then we added hibiscus.
I got to spend several years in Hawaii as did my wife. We wanted to make something that was as reminiscent of the islands as we could. Passionfruit is a very big thing out there. Hibiscus is on every street all over the place.
If you think of Hawaiian print T-shirts and swim shorts hibiscus flowers are on them.
So between passionfruit and hibiscus it seemed like the perfect pairing for reminiscing about Hawaii.
VEER: When you develop a recipe for a beer, what is the process like for naming the beer and creating the branding for a product?
Matt Topping: Our guidelines are essentially that we want something that fits under four broad categories at all times.
We want a dark brand; right now it’s Coffee Stout. We have a group of sour brands. We have a hoppy beer; mostly it’s Hazy IPAs or West Coast IPAs. And then, light beers. That could be East Beach Blonde. It could be a pilsner, lager, all of that.
Those are the major beer drinking categories. That’s where we start.
This one (Aloha State of Mind) we named as our second flagship, so we’ll be offering it more regularly. East Beach Blonde is one as well.
Of the 12 beers we have on tap now, three of them are first-time brews. A couple are regulars.
We wanted Aloha State of Mind to be reminiscent of Hawaii so the name had to be. One of the things about Hawaii is you’re either living there — and it is a privilege to live there because it’s an amazing place — or you’re vacationing there. No one’s sad there. It’s a happy place.
When you taste this it brings you back to Hawaii and the best vacation of your life. It’s hard not to have a smile.
VEER: Is it important to have flagship beers for those regular customers who hope to have their mainstay choice available, and especially a two-time World Beer Cup gold medal winner?
Matt Topping: I think it can be helpful, but for us we really try to make sure the customers know about the light, dark, hoppy and sour.
Maybe we don’t have the pilsner you really liked, but you can try this Helles that’s not that far off. Even if it’s not the same exact beer you loved…if we ran out of Aloha for a week, we have POG Passionfruit Guava. You’re probably going to like that one too.
VEER: Some wines seem as though they were created specifically for award competitions to gain notoriety. Do you view some beers as best choices for national and international competitions?
Matt Topping: Definitely.
This one — Aloha State of Mind — we were happy with how it sold, tasted, and the customer experience around it.
We were happy with the name, happy with everything to the point that we turned it into one of our flagships. We weren’t necessarily pushing the flagship on it. We first brewed it two years ago. We gave it some time and kept re-releasing it. It was through customer response.
Having it then — less than a month before we made it a full-time brand — win a second consecutive major international award is huge.
If I could have picked one beer to win it would have been this one for sure.