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Stop and smell the hops

Hop Harvest, Elk Mountain Farm, Bonner's Ferry, Idaho

It poured rain Sunday in parts of Moxee, Washington. It was rainy and cold yesterday about 60 kilometers north of Munich. There’s a chance of thunderstorms today in upstate New York.

Hop harvest has begun in the northern hemisphere and my Twitter feed is full of weather information important to hop farmers. Friday I hope to swing by Hoosier Hop Farms, taking a slightly circuitous route to Hop Head Farms in Michigan, and might even squeeze in one more hop stop along the way. Everybody has their own idea of a perfect Labor Day weekend.

I snapped the photo at the top at Elk Mountain Farm in northern Idaho. I’ll be writing about that trip Friday, since Boak & Bailey have asked for “meatier reading material” (in this case, they’ll have to settle for hoppier). Josh Noel has already filed a report for the Chicago Tribune (and taken better photos), and Michael Kiser posted a video at Good Beer Hunting.


‘Craft’ trees in a beer forest


Widmer Brothers Rejection Ale

Of Pints and Prices. Oliver Gray examines the dollars and cents in the price of a pint of beer. The numbers will vary, and I don’t see packaging and marketing costs in there, but he assembles a perfect graphic reminder that there’s more to making a beer than the ingredients. And practically speaking, look at the cost of hops in a pint: 6 cents. There’s been some saber rattling of late, suggesting that higher hop prices will drive up the cost of beer. Even if they doubled, and they won’t, that doesn’t add much to production cost, does it?
[via Literature & Libation]

Kentucky hops farmers are tapping into the craft beer market. Speaking of hops . . . I don’t mean to come off as a curmudgeon when discussing efforts to revive hop growing outside the Northwest (yes, even Kentucky farmers once grew hops; “five or six bales” in 1873). I’m more optimistic about the future of local hops than I was a couple of years ago. But the fact is that farmers closer to the equator (like in Kentucky and North Carolina) have additional disadvantages — hops may grow there but the yields will be lower. One reason I’m more optimistic is meeting farmers who understand what they are up against and have adjusted accordingly. I’m not impressed to read about a farmer who has planted an acre of hops and there is a suggestion he could be harvesting 6,000 pounds before long. That would be a world record, by a lot.
[Via Lexington Herald-Leader]

The world on your sofa. Home drinking.
[Via Boak Bailey's Beer Blog]

Mexican microbreweries confront beer giants. Confront might seem like a strong word, but consider this: “It took three and a half years but last year they ruled that Modelo and Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma could no longer exclude craft beers from bars and restaurants.”
[Via Aljazerra]

Does ‘craft’ really matter? The comments following what DRAFT beer editor Chris Staten has to say about Widmer Brothers Rejection Ale (the label at the top, via and this screed, “DRAFT magazine does craft beer huge disservice with “Does ‘craft’ really matter,” illustrate how emotional some people still get about “craft versus crafty.” I’m in the midst of researching a related story for a print article, and left to wonder if what in the interest of brevity we’ll call “craft beer” has grown large enough that in some instances we’re talking about “beer trees in a craft forest,” or if it is still small enough that “craft trees in a beer forest” is more appropriate.


What makes a beer American?

United States Brewing Company, Chicago

Well, she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’
That there was a little more to life somewhere else

                - From American Girl by Tom Petty

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right

                - From American Tune by Paul Simon

A couple of days ago, Stephen Beaumont spotted a few kids on his lawn and wandered outside, holding a goblet hand blown in Belgium. He chased those rascals off, yelling: “It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style. It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style. It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style.” He then proceeded to quote something he wrote on Facebook.

After my personal déjà vu moment passed (on Sunday I sent this text message to a homebrewer, “You mean an American beer fermented with a Belgian-sourced yeast.”) I got to thinking about how much sense it would be to replace Belgian and Belgium in this sentence:

“Belgian beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Belgium. Period.”

German beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Germany. Period.
American beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in America. Period.
Kansas City beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Kansas City. Period.

That does not leave me feeling satisfied. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that Mr. Beaumont was wrong. I would have chased those rowdy kids off my lawn, too. But I’m left thinking there’s more to what makes a beer Belgian or Polish or Floridian than if it qualifies for a passport by birthright.

Certainly what it means to be an American beer these days.


‘It’s at the centre of everything’


Anglers Rest pub sign

The villagers who bought their beloved local pub to save it from closure. Reading this story might make you feel as good as you will all week, no matter how great your week is. (No, really, I hope you have a wonderful week.)

“It’s much more than a pub, it’s the hub of our village,” says John Soady, who is one of the Anglers Rest’s new board of directors.

“It’s at the centre of everything, for families with young children right up to older people in their 80s. It’s an informal atmosphere where people meet and talk rather than just being nameless faces.”

[Via the Mirror]

Why the Micropub Association should be furious with Camra. Perhaps more about the British pub than you think you need to know, but there’s a reason the post has drawn 30 comments (maybe more by now).
[Via Martyn Cornell's Zythophile]

Craft beer: Tastes great, fewer taxes. About those tax deals cities, counties and states across the country are handing out to either get, or stay, in the brewing game … are they really such a great idea?
[Via Politico]

Meet the Tuppers, D.C.’s Original Beer Geeks. This story is part of the Washington City Paper’s Beer Issue. I pointed to another storty one Twitter last week, the monstrously long, “What Matters More: The Quest for New Beer, or the Beer?” Worth your time, but you need to set aside a little. An interesting pair, the second about the endless search for “whales” and the first about the search for something else.
[Via Washington City Paper]

How Much is Too Much? This must be the topic on everybody’s lips, because it keeps coming up. I understand that it’s inside baseball and it has been talked to death, but this commentary from Harry Schuhmacher includes original thinking.
[Via Beer Business Daily]


Pabst IPA: Welcome to 2014

Ballantine IPAOK, officially, we’re talking about the return of Ballatine India Pale Ale. But Pabst owns the brand and here’s a key quote from Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs: “We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA.” So I think there’s merit in the headline.

In any event, very good news, given that now perhaps more people will give this underappreciated India Pale Ale style a try.

News so big it warranted a story in USA TODAY with this headline: “Going hipster, Pabst resurrecting Ballantine IPA.”

Enough silliness. Ballantine India Pale Ale has an important place in American brewing history. Mitch Steele provides the details in IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. A press release announcing the revival indicates the new version will be 7.2% alcohol and contain 70 IBU. That’s pretty close to what it was right after Prohibition (7.2%, 60 IBU) and unlike what it was by the 1970s (6.7%, 45 IBU, less as the decade went on).

Also in the press release, Beuhs says: “I began this project with a simple question: How would Peter Ballantine make his beer today? There wasn’t a ‘secret formula’ in anyone’s basement we could copy, so I conducted extensive research looking for any and all mentions of Ballantine India Pale Ale, from the ale’s processing parameters, aroma and color, alcohol and bitterness specifications. Many brewers and craft beer drinkers would be impressed that the Ballantine India Pale Ale of the 1950s and ’60s would rival any craft IPA brewed today.”

He brewed more than two dozen five-gallon test batches at home.

“Unlike recreating a lost brew from long ago, I had the advantage of actually being able to speak with people who drank Ballantine back in the day,” he said for the press release. “Their feedback was crucial to ensuring that the hoppy, complex flavor that was revered for over a hundred years was front and center in my recipe.”

The new version is made with eight different hop varieties, although it isn’t clear what they are. After Prohibition the brewers distilled the oils from Bullion hops at the brewery and added them to storage tanks, its aroma making it as unique among American beers as its alcoholic strength and bitterness. Later, they ran Bullion, Brewer’s Gold or American Yakima through a hammer mill before dry hopping, grinding them to “a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust.”

Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Ballantine IPA in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer: “Like a half-forgotten celebrity, thought by some admirers to have retired and by other to be dead, Ballantine’s has been living in quiet obscurity in Rhode island. Now, it is making something of a comeback.” He notes that brewers added Yakima and Brewer’s Gold hops in the kettle. “IPA’s colour is a rich copper in the British tradition, its head thick and rocky, its nose and palate intensely aromatic, and its body firm and full.”

Although Pabst later made a beer it called Ballantine IPA, the version served at the Great American Beer Festival in the mid-1990s did not resemble the one Jackson described. The 2014 Ballantine India Pale Ale surely will taste more like it did in 1955 than in 1995, but the IPA field is a little more crowded now. And if it really is to taste “genuine” how prominent should the citrus-pine-fruity-maybe-pungent aromas and flavors that pretty much define American IPA be? Those were not desirable back then.

Farmers didn’t begin growing the Cascade hop, the first to come out of an American hop breeding program, until 1972. Centennial was released in 1990 (although available earlier — that’s a blog post in itself), Chinook in 1985, Simcoe in 2000, Citra in 2008, El Dorado in 2011, Mosaic in 2012, Lemondrop in 2014, Equinox in 2014 — notice a trend? Ballantine IPA is stepping out of a time machine into an entirely different hop world.


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