Beer history according to John Laffler

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 07.21.14

Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and the beer spectrum. Chris Hall writes, “On some imaginary sliding scale of corporateness and craftness, with Guinness at the corporate end, and a microbrewery that started yesterday at the craft end, Pilsner perhaps sits closer to, say, Sierra Nevada or Brooklyn Brewery.” In the comments section, the discussion is about Guinness and PU, rather than the question I think Alan McLeod would ask: Where do Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery sit on that scale?”

[Via The Beer Diary]

Part of a balanced diet. Inspired in part by a thought from the afformentioned Mr. McLeod, Boak & Bailey suggest components for a healthy beer market: a broad choice of good quality “normal” beers; some cheap-but-drinkable beers for those on a budget; and on the fringes, some weird stuff for special occasions and novelty-seekers. Much discussion follows.

[Via Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog]

“Are these beers not ultimately the wolf in sheep’s clothing?” “Craft versus crafty” — German style.

Via Berlin Craft Beer

What do we really taste when we drink wine? Or drink orange juice, or taste strawberries, or taste peaches, or drink beer? Lots to think about:

Expectations, argued the neuroscientists Lauren Atlas and Tor Wager in a recent review, can influence our experience in two interrelated ways. There is the conscious influence, or those things we are knowingly aware of: I’ve had this wine before and liked or hated it; I’ve been to this vineyard; I love this grape; the color reminds me of a wine I had earlier that was delicious. As our experience grows, so do our expectations. Every time we have a wine, we taste everything we know about it and other related wines. Then there are the unconscious factors: the weather is getting on our nerves, or our dining companion is; we’ve loved or hated this restaurant before; I’m mad at my boss over something he said this morning; the music is too loud, and the room is too cold. These can all affect taste, too, even though they are unrelated to the wine itself.

[Via The New Yorker]

“Genuineness will be the next crisis in craft brewing.” Several quotes from John Laffler (Off Color Brewing) showed up in my Twitter feed last week, including “Everybody else makes IPA, so why would we?” He had a lot to say in a two-part interview [Part I - Part II]. Not wandering down the slippery genuineness/authenticity slope today, and instead musing on just how much fun Laffler had saying sometimes outlandish things that ended up verbatim in print. So much for fact checking.

Witbier, for example, was a near-extinct beer in the 70s until Pierre Celis thought, ‘This beer tastes good, why isn’t anybody else making it?’ and started making Blue Moon. Now Hoegaarden makes how many millions of barrels a year?

[Via The Chicago Reader]

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Friday beer: So this is where all the Cascade hops are going

Heineken Light slim canThe question came up Wednesday if really big breweries were buying up hop varieties previously used mostly by smaller breweries.

First, three very big breweries funded the development of Citra — and each eventually rejected it because it didn’t seem suitable for the beers they brew. That’s why it so many brewers can use the variety today.

Second, Heineken began using Cascade in Heineken Light relatively recently. They may have already been boasted about this in advertising — I’m pretty oblivious — but if not this item today in Shanken News Daily indicates they are now:

Heineken USA has launched a new campaign to support its recently-reformulated Heineken Light label. The effort, which seeks to capitalize on Heineken Light’s ‘Best Tasting Low Calorie Lager’ award from the 2013 World Beer Championships, stars actor Neil Patrick Harris and puts the focus on Heineken Light’s new taste and package.

The label’s update includes the addition of Cascade hops, which give the 99-calorie brew a more IPA-like flavor and finish, as well as the introduction of a taller, slimmer-necked bottle and a new 8.5-ounce ‘slim can’ format. The ‘Best Tasting Light Beer’ campaign is currently running across TV advertising, digital, and other platforms.

About that “slim can.” Heineken first introduced a 12-ounce slim can for Heineken Premium Light in 2007. (That’s the one in the picture here. I’d be curious to see what the smaller one looks like.) At the time the goal was to overcome the “Heineken Hurdle” — a perception among light beer drinkers who previously have tasted Heineken that HPL would be too robust for them.

Now there’s a hint, although the one YouTube commercial I looked at doesn’t mention hops, the beer may have a “more IPA-like” flavor. Apparently not a hurdle, although maybe why they’ve limited the dose size to 8.5 ounces.

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2014 hops update

Predicting the beer futureThe Barth-Haas Group has released the 2013-2014 Barth Report, which provides both perspective and new data relative to the recent chatter about hop shortages (you might also read this).

However, so far we don’t really know much more than in February. What’s important is not if the price for some varieties, even one like Cascade, spikes in the spot market after harvest this fall. Most breweries have contracted for hops at much lower prices. What’s important is what happens next. And that crystal ball thing doesn’t always work.

Six years ago we were in the midst of a hop shortage, so farmers in the American Northwest strung about one-third more acres of hops (from 31,000-plus to 41,000-plus acres) than in 2007. A year later they were ripping plants out of the ground. There are about 39,000 acres — including maybe 600 in areas outside of the Northwest — but the mix is much different. In 2008, hops appreciated mostly for high level of alpha acids occupied about two thirds of acres and accounted for three quarters of overall production. Today acreage is just about evenly split and high alpha amounts to 60 percent of production.

In 2007, farmers harvested about 1,500 areas of Cascade and little more than 200 acres of Centennial. This year they’ve planted almost 6,700 acres of Cascade and 3,400 acres of Centennial. Simcoe production was minuscule in 2007, Citra didn’t have a name and Mosaic was still in test plots (Citra was officially released in 2008 and Mosaic in 2012). Growers planted 1,840 acres of Simcoe this year, 1,720 of Citra and 670 of Mosaic.

Look at those numbers again. There are about as many acres of Citra under wire this summer as there were Cascade and Centennial just seven years ago. Good luck looking too far into the future.

So back to the Barth Report, and a few big picture observations:

- Crop year 2012 finally marked the end of the structural supply surplus of hops and alpha acid in the hop market; in other words, supply and demand are becoming increasingly evenly balanced, although demand for certain varieties may exceed supply.

- Planting of aroma/flavor varieties is on the increase worldwide, more than compensating for the clearance of bitter/high alpha varieties.

- The manner in which the hop market develops depends on developments within the brewing industry. If the trend towards more heavily hopped beers continues, this could lead to competition in the procurement market.

And some interesting points made by Stephen Barth, one of the managing partners, at a press conference in Nuremberg (although Barth Haas is an international group its home and roots are German), where the reports was released:

- Craft beer is good for beer; it is changing consumers’ awareness of beer as a product category. Beer is now perceived differently, no longer only as “cold, yellow and wet.” And, above all: beer is no longer defined solely in terms of price.

- More and more people now know more and more about beer. Whether they actually drink more beer is doubtful, however. The statistics on per-capita beer consumption in Germany paint a different picture.

- But when it comes to drinking craft beers, it is not the quantity that counts. I would like to repeat the words from a tasting of beer specialties that I quoted at the presentation of the last Barth Report. The beer sommelier at the tasting said: “You shouldn’t drink our beers when you’re thirsty. Our beers should be drunk in small quantities on special occasions.”

The second Barth report came out in 1878 and the online archives go back to 1909, so pretty much endless reading for a hop geek. I could bore you for hours with tidbits from this report alone. For instance, even though two years ago in Spain we came across plenty of beers aggressively hopped with aroma varieties from the US and New Zealand the farmers there grow basically no aroma hops. About half an acre of Perle, not exactly an IPA hop, and nothing else.

One area the information could be stronger is the US. It reports the number of growers decreasing, which overlooks what is happening outside the Northwest. For the first time, the Hop Growers of America has compiled an expanded version of USDA 2014 Hop Acreage Strung for Harvest report (the 2014 numbers above come from that), which includes an estimated 880 acres for 14 additional states.

(Credit must also go to Grand Rapids homebrewer Nick Rodammer, who did a lot of the heavy lifting in contacting farmers across the country for an outstanding presentation — “Farm to Glass: Brewing with Local Ingredients” — at the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference. HGA leaned on him for much of its non-Northwest data).

Farmers in three states — Michigan, New York and Wisconsin — account for almost two thirds of acres. It will take some time to see what programs like the North Carolina Hops Project amount to. Earlier this year Jeanine Davis at North Carolina State University said perhaps 100 farmers in North Carolina are growing hops, but none of them very much. “We’re going to start losing some,” she said. “It’s going to be a labor of love.” HGA estimates they’ll harvest 30 acres in 2014, and their plants don’t generally come close to yielding what farmers in the Northwest get.

Here’s a bit of math. Washington farmers can generally expect Centennial to yield about 1,500 pounds of hops per acre. A survey by the Brewers Association has found American craft brewers use about a pound and a half per barrel. So in this case, it would take about an acre of hops to brew 1,000 barrels. Production at Lagunitas grew 160,000 barrels in 2013 (that’s before the new brewery come online in Chicago). In addition, best guess is that Lagunitas uses more than 1.5 pounds of hops per barrel. Anyway, at a minimum, Lagunitas — a fast-growing, hop-oriented brewery, but still a single brewery — used an additional 160 acres of hops in 2013.

Somebody has to grow those hops, then harvest and process them. A lot of infrastructure, a lot of investment.

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‘What beer is all about’

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 07.14.14

The Jim Koch magic eat-yeast-and-don’t-get-drunk trick revisited. NPR’s The Salt invests a lot of time and more than 1,000 words before concluding, “we didn’t learn the ultimate trick to drinking without getting drunk, but we did enjoy monitoring our experience of intoxication.” Including the “sweet spot” for getting buzzed. (0.04 BAC if you are too lazy to read that far.)

[Via NPR]

“All in all, the BJCP system rewards conformity and ‘cloning’ while punishing creativity.” OK, that’s a little bit provocative, but Boak and Bailey put it in boldface midway through their post “On Judging” – so give it a read and see what you think.

[Via Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog]

Saison. Saison. Saison. In a rather strange post at Slate, Pete Mortensen offers major beer producers suggestions what they should be brewing, including “tart saisons.” Jeff Alworth is not impressed with Mortensen’s thinking, but “here’s the thing: he may very well have a point.” And although the headline reads, “Why We Should Take Beer Styles Less Seriously” Derek Dellinger is really talking about saison(s). I’m a sucker for any posts that concludes, “…. Okay, maybe all I’m really saying here is, if I ever have kids, I want them to grow up having very strong opinions about the microbial content of saisons.”

[Via Slate, Beervana, and Bear Flavored Ales]

Why bars charge what they do for beer. Which is different than why you are willing (or not) to pay the markup.

[Via serious eats]

Mexican Logger: Simply What Beer Is All About. My favorite post of the week, and the thought I want to leave you with.

I’ve had Double Black IPA’s aged in oak barrels, beers with two adjunct ingredients for every color in the rainbow, IPA’s steeped in hops in a french-press, sours that are fermented with 100% Brett yeasts, pumpkin beers that bring in money for local non-profits, beers aged in rum barrels, beers made with ingredients from local hikes, I’ve had beers that are taken and aged five different ways, beers that were a collaboration between over ten Colorado breweries, and I’ve had some of the tastiest cask beers ever (I never did get to try those mushroom beers though). The beer that stands out above them all is Ska Brewing’s Mexian Logger. To put it plainly, it’s the only one that made me realize that sometimes in my effort to try everything that is new and special, I miss out on the great beers that I can drink repeatedly, all night long while hanging out with my pals. This beer reminded me that sometimes beer is simply about drinking with friends, relaxing, and enjoying the end of a long day.

[Via Focus on the Beer]

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The Session #90: The gloves come off

The SessionJake at Hipster Brewfus has posted marching orders for The Session #90: Beer Fight Club. Because? For one thing, he writes, “a lot of the topics on The Session lately have been pretty unimaginative, uninspired, and uninteresting.”

Although this matter comes up from time to time in the beer blogosphere, there’s also “my growing frustration with the general acceptance that all craft beer is good beer, and that any hint of negativity will do damage to our burgeoning scene.”

So the premise:

Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.

You picking up what I’m putting down?

It’s time put down whatever praise you were about to dole out, and serve up a nice can of ass whupping.

Should be an interesting challenge.

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