Almost every year since the first I Heart Pluto Festival in 2020, Lowell Observatory scientists and staff members have met with brewers at Mother Road Brewing Company for a very important mission: concocting the perfect beer.
From the genesis of the festival, which marks Clyde Tombaugh’s 1930 discovery of the planet (re-designated as a dwarf planet in 2006), the two local institutions have come together for this annual boozy collaboration.
The first year saw the release of Lowell and Mother Road’s Pluto Porter, nitrogenized in reference to Pluto’s 98 percent solid nitrogen surface. Then everything shut down due to COVID-19 and the festival moved online without a signature beer. This year, however, I Heart Pluto and Mother Road are back with the Lowell Lager.
A Mexican-style beer brewed with pilsner and a dab of honey malt, Lowell Lager also contains flaked maize that lends notes of masa, tortilla chips and a slight sweetness. Lemondrop and Cascade hops offer a hint of citrus and spice too. The idea was to make a beverage that Mother Road’s Billy Miller called “easy-drinking.”
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“It came from the desire to create a beer that would reach the widest amount of people possible,” Miller said.
The collaboration between the two local organizations goes far beyond the bubbly malt beverage, however, with beer being just one vessel through which to connect with the community.
“That’s what Lowell tries to do is make astronomy and stargazing reach the widest possible audience, they educate and get as many people as possible interested in it,” Miller said. ”So that was reflected in the flavor of the beer, that easy drinking.”
For Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory historian, the festival is largely about bringing organizations outside of the sciences into the fold in order to connect to the larger community and build interest and connection.
“We are two organizations that are really community-minded,” Schindler said of Lowell and Mother Road, next quoting the brewery’s slogan: “Building community one pint at a time.”
“We do very different things but we have a common desire to be community-oriented and collaborate with one another,” Schindler said.
The I Heart Pluto Festival is slowly building toward the 100th anniversary of the dwarf planet’s discovery, set for 2030. Each festival includes renowned panelists and keynote speakers as well as art displays, interactive activities for kids and adults alike and of course, the signature, limited-edition brew, which the brewery and observatory will continue producing for all foreseeable festivals.
In this way the I Heart Pluto Festival is not only an educational opportunity but a direct nod to the sense of pride surrounding Pluto in Flagstaff.
“Our community is proud of our science heritage and I Heart Pluto involves not just science organizations but restaurants and breweries and businesses,” Schindler said. “It celebrates not just the discovery of Pluto but that Flagstaff is the home of Pluto, every major discovery related to Pluto has ties to Flagstaff.”
From early research of Pluto and its discovery by Tombaugh to the discovery of its largest moon Charon, which was made using pictures from the US Naval Observatory, plus NASA’s New Horizons mission… “All have ties to scientists working here in Flagstaff so the beer every year helps build on that idea of Flagstaff as the home of Pluto,” Schindler said.