Hoppin’ Overboard: the Story Behind Circle Brewing’s Pale Ale

Breweries often take great pride in naming their beers. Some pay homage to an old pet, a historical figure, a particular ingredient in the beer that makes it so lip-smackin’ good. Some simply state the style of the beer. Some get christened as part of a series. And others, like Circle Brewing Co.’s Hop Overboard Pale Ale, tell a story.

This particular tale almost sounds like the sort of stunt you’d see in an action/comedy flick featuring Will Ferrell, pirates and a lot of booze. Instead, the bizarre disappearance of Circle’s brewing tanks off the deck of a cargo ship destined for the Port of Houston is completely true (and also, sadly, Will Ferrell-free).

SAM_3244Last fall, Ben Sabel and Jud Mulherin, the brewery founders, had big plans to launch Circle’s bottling line but they couldn’t get started without the addition of three new tanks, 90-barrel systems that would allow them to greatly speed up the process of brewing. Where were these tanks? Good question.

The tanks were set to spend a few days at sea before arriving in a shipping container at Houston’s large port. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. A letter from the shipping company showed up in their place.

“We got this nondescript form letter in the mail,” Sabel said. “It was like, ‘Yeah, your shipping container fell overboard, but we have no idea how. You’ll probably need to contact your insurance company.’ Oh, OK.”

There was speculation that the shipping container carrying the three large tanks had fallen off the side of the ship in a tropical storm, but no one other than Sabel and Mulherin particularly cared to investigate how, exactly, the container had toppled overboard.

“The tanks were in a gigantic 40 foot container,” Sabel said with a smile and a shake of his head. “I’m not sure how a ship up and loses something that big, but they did.” (According to this article, it happens about 10,000 times a year. Get it together, cargo ships.)

Although the supplier was able to send the Circle guys replacement tanks in half the time it would have taken to get new ones, they lost something else, too: a few crucial months they could’ve used to start the bottling line.

But good news – Circle isn’t adrift like those ill-fated, long-sunken tanks. The first beer produced from the new tanks, the ones that didn’t plunge into the cold, dark sea depths, was a pale ale that debuted in January as part of the brewery’s second anniversary celebration. In a nod to the journey it took to get the beer made, Sabel and Mulherin agreed to a friend’s suggestion to name the pale ale Hop Overboard. It’s been a hit so far, and they hope to make it a mainstay someday.

As for the bottling line, that’ll be a reality soon as well. All Sabel and Mulherin are waiting on to get the Envy and the Blur on shelves by (fingers crossed) September is the shipment of bottles. Assuming these don’t fly out the back of a truck and shatter all over I-35, or something, the bottles should be at the brewery in North Austin by mid-August. (OK, I’m knocking on wood right now for you guys. I didn’t jinx things, I swear.)

In the meantime, Circle is taking over the taps at Craft Pride. Head over to the Rainey Street bar on Saturday starting at 5 p.m. and enjoy Envy, an easy-drinking amber, in pretty much any way you could want it – on nitro, with citra hops and dry hopped with Amarillo hops. That’s also your chance to try some Hop Overboard now knowing the story behind its name.


1 Comment on Hoppin’ Overboard: the Story Behind Circle Brewing’s Pale Ale

  1. Although the lost cargo is rather unfortunate, that’s a pretty intriguing back story for a beer to have!

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