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MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 06.29.15

Does It Matter Where Your Beer Is Brewed?
This is one of several stories that followed the announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev has struck a deal to compensate the drinkers who thought they were getting German-brewed Becks when the beer was in fact brewed in St. Louis. It illustrates how business-oriented people think about beer. The way I view it: One of the attractive things about (well brewed) beer from a smallish, local brewery making unfiltered, unpasteurized beer is that it becomes something else when it leaves home, something else not as good. Put another way, to understand the power of local taste the beer where it’s not local. [Via the Wall Street Journal]

Lagunitas to build 3rd brewery in Azusa, CA.
Last week Lagunitas founder Tony Magee announced on Twitter (he is @LaguntiasT) plans to open a third brewery, this one in southern California. On Thursday he added details and context with this post at BeerAdfocate.com. Among (many) other things he writes: “Some serious-minded beer lovers and some brewers have a legitimate idea that growing in a modest way is the ‘correct’ way. But that is pious thinking if it excludes other approaches to salvation. Small is great and big, if done thoughtfully and without compromise, is beautiful too.” He obviously leans toward big, very big. I’ve cited a quote from Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing more than once, but here you go again. “Brewing is a compromise. You have to take into account so many factors,” he said, in this case talking about the actual brewing process. “It’s an interaction. You need to see any beer you create as a holistic thing.” But to move beyond the brewhouse and to elaborate on the previous musing, brewery owners decide how big they want their brewery to grow and at some point “without compromise” becomes, let’s say, challenging. [Via Beer Advocate]

In Pursuit of Impartiality.
I don’t agree with everything here — as noted above, I don’t think “drink local” is a crock — but credit to Alistair for giving Budweiser an unbiased tasting. Extra credit for not claiming it tastes of corn. [Via Fuggled]

Bavarian Beer Trail Cycle: Gears and beers.
“It’s a ride on which I’ll need to pace myself, not so much on the bike, but in the breweries.” [Via Stuff]

The Story Behind That Photograph.
Part confession and part plea: There are stock photos out there I swear I’ve been looking at for 30 years. I might have gone too far down the rabbit hole. But please publishers, if it appeared in Michael Jackson’s “World Beer Guide” don’t use it. Now to the point, a lovely story. [Via Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

A visit to Orval brewery.
Ed Wray visits Brasserie Orval, takes lots of photos and collects plenty of information. Much has changed since I wrote “Brew Like A Monk.” That shouldn’t be a shock — one of the points I make over and over is that change if constant, if not dramatic, even at Trappist breweries. It might be the use of a different barley variety or a tweak in the process. At Orval, for instance, they changed the way they add Brettanomyces not long after I wrote BLAM, dosing Brett inline at bottling rather than during the secondary fermentation. These days Orval is dry hopped with French Strisselspalt rather than Styrian Goldings (what I saw when I visited). This must be pretty exciting for French hop farmers, because Strisselspalt acreage has shrunk considerably since Anheuser-Busch began dialing back what it bought in 2008. [Via Ed’s Beer Site]

Duluth blasts St. Paul for billboard’s beer boast.
Who can’t love talking trash in Minnesota? One more reason for me to look forward to visiting Duluth next month for All Pints North. [Via Pioneer Press]

Southern Brewing Co. Takes Local to the Next Level.
Ingredient of the week: beets (in a Kölsch). [Via flagpole, h/T @austinlouisray]

Coriander, soap and science
My friend Yvan De Baets has been known to describe beers brewed with too much coriander (cilantro) as “coriander soup.” This video indicates that maybe he should be saying “coriander soap.”

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Hopstate NY: 2015, not 1879

Imagine Iowa without corn, or Illinois without soybeans.

That’s what it would have been like in the 1870s to think of New York without hops. By 1879 New York grew 80 percent of American hops. Four years later, The Western Brewer provided an industry overview: “It will be seen that in 1850 hops were raised in 33 States and Territories; in 1860, in 37; in 1870 in 36; in 1880 but 18. … It remains to be seen whether California, Oregon, and Washington Territory will increase their production; or, in a few years, drop off as so many others have done. It is probable that New York will always remain the banner hop state.”

Instead, within 10 years the Pacific Coast produced more hops than New York, and by the time Prohibition began New York farmers grew less than 4 percent of the national crop. This happened for multiple reasons: lower yields in New York than on he West Coast, hop disease issues, higher labor costs, and small inefficient operations.

Hop Growers of America estimates New York farmers strung 250 acres of hops in 2015, two-thirds more than in 2014. That’s considerably less than the 39,072 acres in 1879, when 10,000 New York farmers harvested 21.6 million pounds, but the pace of expansion has picked up. The first commercial field to operate since 1954 was planted in 1999, but 11 years later farmers harvested only 15 acres.

“We have a real mix of people,” said Steve Miller, hired by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2011 as the state’s first hop specialist. “There are only a couple of growers who’ve had hops in for more than 10 years in the state. The vast majority of growers have only had them in for a year or two.”

Last year, Miller estimated there are now about 75 farmers there with two to five acres of hops, and most have the potential to expand. Yields on farms with mature plants have topped 1,500 pounds per acre. In 1879 the average was 554. “It’s based on people becoming growers, not hobbyists,” Miller said. “People who have knowledge and equipment and barns.”

The state of New York supports this revival in a variety of ways, including funding Miller’s research. So has Brewery Ommegang outside of Cooperstown. From the time Ommegang opened in 1996 its press releases mentioned it is located in the former center of U.S. hop growing. This always seemed a bit curious, because at the time nobody in New York was growing hops and you wouldn’t describe any of Ommegang’s beers as hop focused. Although the brewery recently released its first IPA and brews a range of hop forward pale ales, hops still aren’t what you think of first when somebody says Ommegang.

Ommegang posted the photo above last month, showing the small hop yard at the brewery. It is growing test varieties for the Cornell Extension program and will trial them in beers. The brewery also bought one and a half tons of New York hops last year. A good portion of those went into Hopstate NY, a pale ale released only in New York state a couple of weeks ago. It is brewed with Cascade, Nugget and Chinook hops, so it is brimming with citrus aroma and flavor, its resin character lingering beyond the finish.

No melon or blueberry or other exotic New New World aromas or flavors, but something different than New York hops offered in 1879.

A bit of disclosure: We don’t live in New York. I was able to taste the beer because the brewery sent me some. I certainly would buy it if I lived in New York. I won’t claim that at first sip, or third for fourth, that I thought, “Oh, this tastes of New York” (or the rolling hills around Coopertown, of which I am quite fond). But I could see it becoming a familar taste. One of place.

Last month when I was in California I had a lengthy — rambling, you might say — conversation with Brian Hunt at Monnlight Brewing about what makes a beer relevant. I’m going to be a while sorting that out, but I’m pretty sure than Hopstate NY is an example of relevant.

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Hops 2015 update: The bigger picture

If you haven’t memorized the details within the June Hop Acreage Report you might want to read that first, but now we have the world Hop Market and Crop Development Report from the Barth-Haas Group, the world’s largest hop broker.

So here’s what’s new since last week:

– “Worldwide hop acreage surpasses 50.000 ha (123,500 acres) for the first time since 2010; continued shift towards aroma/flavour in the US and more varietal changes in Germany. Favourable growing conditions in Europe to date; some concern about unusually high temperatures in the Yakima Valley in early June coupled with rolling water rationing in some locations.”

In fact, mandatory water rationing in the Wapato Irrigation District means a good chunk of hops receive water for 10 days, then don’t for 5. A friend sent me this photo of plants after three days without water at 90 degrees (Fahrenheit). Write your own caption. I like, “Beer is an agricultural product.”

Yakima Valley hops, 3 days without water

More from the report: “Overall, at this stage, the crop appears to be average. The unusually hot days and warm nights have moved the plants well ahead of a normal schedule. Some growers have been struggling to maintain sufficient labor force to complete certain tasks on time and there are some concerns about water availability in junior water districts, which have curtailed deliveries at a time when temperatures have spiked. The excessive heat has increased spider mite populations. Control measures are being applied. Some powdery mildew is showing at this time. Fungicide applications are being applied for control.”

– As promised, German growers have planted more of the three new varieties with “New World” aroma character that so many brewers (and presumably drinkers) want. Mandarina Bavaria acreage is up 109%, Hallertau Blanc 127%, Huell Melon 82%. Of course, it will be 2017 before rhizomes planted this year produce a full crop.

This news is a drag: “The structural change among German hop growers continues: 21 operations ceased after the 2014 harvest leaving 1.171 active hop farms for 2015. The average farm size has increased to 15,2 ha (up from 8,5 ha in 2000).”

– “The Czech Republic reports a modest increase of 3.5% to a total of 4.617 ha. Slovenia increases by 110 ha, mainly in the Celeia variety, to reach 1.406 ha. Poland also expands acreage by some 100 ha to 1.510 ha. China reduces hop acreage by 255 ha and drops to 2.400 ha.”

– The market outlook: “2015 is fully contracted out in both the fine aroma and flavour categories. The availability of spot quantities will depend on the outcome of the crop. The market is considerably softer in standard aroma varieties (mainly Perle and Hallertau Tradition) as well as high alpha hops where supply and demand are more or less in balance.”

And: “The 2015 spot market is set to be a challenging one again for the industry.”

In which case you could be reading a lot soon about soaring hop prices. Those won’t affect brewers who have contracts, so short term are not an excuse for big time increases in hop prices. Long term, some sorting out to do.

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The Session #100 topic announced

The SessionJack Perdue has announced the topic for The Session #101 will be Bottles, Caps and Other Beer Detritus.

Here is the premise: “While the number and quality of our beer choices has certainly improved over the recent decade, have you paid any attention to the rest of the package. Those things we normally glance over and throw away when we have poured and finished our beer. These are sometimes works of art in themselves. Bottle caps, labels, six-pack holders, even the curvature of the bottle. For this month’s The Session theme, I’m asking contributors to share their thoughts on these things, the tangential items to our obsession.”

For some people they are not the tangential items but the obsession itself.

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