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On beer experts, plus the value of skipping the comments


1- With 600 bottles of beer on the wall, how can a staff keep up? Taste, talk and learn.
2- Why beer experts matter.
3- “Expertise is key, not the ‘experts’ – personifying a body of knowledge just limits it.”
4- Is It Even Possible To Be A Beer Expert?
As I have mentioned in the past, I save stuff to Pocket through the week, then sometime during the weekend pick what to post here, and occasionally try to add an original thought. So the top story hit my radar Tuesday, and it had me thinking about some of the things Jeff Alworth discussed in No. 2 (spotted Wednesday). The Twitter thread initiated by Alan McLeod (No. 3) quickly followed, resulting in interesting exchanges first between Alan and Lars Garshol, then Alan and Jeff (disregard me popping up along the way). Figuring I would get this post out of the way early Saturday turned out to be a mistake, because no sooner did I think I was done than Alan posted No. 4.

Because I need to clear my head for important matters like trivia tonight (Saturday, as I type), I will be brief. In the midst of making a point, Alan kindly writes, “If I want to know as much as I can know about hops, I ask Stan.” If that’s a good idea, it’s because I understand I am not an expert on hops. I am pretty good at identifying expertise, but I try not to over rate it.

Of course, now we are a long way from No. 1 and the opening paragraphs of No. 2 — helping the person sitting in front of 50 beer taps make a good choice. But consider the seemingly simple questions along with the complex. I once had a math teacher who told us, “If you can’t solve the problem, find one you can solve.” And not to be pushy, think about it the context of what Alan has to say in his conclusion, that “This essay is in no way intended to be a sword of Zorro moment, a triumphal flourish in which the topic is summed up so completely you need not think further.” (My italics.) [Via The Washington Post, All About Beer, Twitter, A Good Beer Blog]

How craft beer has set struggling pubs free from the nachos.
Here’s what Pete Brown wrote on Facebook: “Great article about how independent breweries are helping revive pubs, followed by comments from ignorant twats complaining about beards and arguing the toss about the meaning of craft beer…” And I am reminded that I am sad Don’t Read Comments hung it up. [Via The Guardian and Pete Brown]

“December, 1919.”
Oliver Gray announced two projects this week and I’m not sure which is more ridiculously ambitious, or this: “Instead of following the traditional path of writing a whole manuscript, editing it, and sending it off to collect rejections from publishers, I figured I’d do what I (like to) do best, and blog the story. Or serialize it into 52 parts. One chapter a week, every Wednesday, for a year. Around a thousand words per chapter, give or take a plot point or two.” [Via Literature & Libation]

Q&A With Beer Mile World Champion James Nielsen.
Breaking Down the Winning Beer Mile Strategy.
Lots of numbers in the second post, as you’d expect from BeerGraphs, but somehow not this key consideration: “If you’re drinking four beers, right off the bat you have 48 ounces of liquid in your stomach, so you have to be able to contain that. And generally there are between two-and-a-half and three liters of carbon dioxide in each can, so you multiply that by four, and you have approximately 10 liters of carbon dioxide to contend with. If you warm up the beer, the majority of the carbon dioxide will come up to the top, so when you crack it open you get as much of the carbon dioxide out as possible. And on that last lap, you’re trying to burp out as much of that carbon dioxide as you can while you’re running. You’re just so full.” [Via RootsRated and BeerGraphs]

Lagunitas drops lawsuit against Sierra Nevada after Twitter backlash.
The year is off to a great start for any sociologist out there writing a grant to to study Craft Beer (maybe that should be all caps). First the Jim Koch dustup and now the IPA trademark showdown. As much as I loved the headline “Beer lovers torpedo Lagunitas lawsuit against Sierra Nevada” I’m not going to repeat last week’s mega-links and so refer you only to this interview with Tony Magee. Like his book, proof that he is a business genius. [Via Chicago Tribune]


Session #96 announced: the relevance of beer fairs

The SessionThe topic for The Session #96 comes to us from Joan Birraire in Barcelona: “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?” Here are the basics:

I guess it is pretty much clear, but apart from exposing whether the answer is A, B or C (the latter being “it depends”) I expect participants to give us some insight into their local beer panorama to better understand the importance or irrelevance of Festivals in each area. My guess is that it can be quite different depending on the popularity of beer in different countries and cultures.

Oh, and it turns out they are called “Beer Fairs” in Spain.

The Session #96 meets Feb. 6.


Hops update 01.16.15

The 2015 American hop crop — yes, the one that won’t be harvested until next August and September — is basically sold out.

That does not mean homebrewers or new breweries or operating breweries that didn’t plan ahead won’t be able to buy hops. It means that the hops, including new plantings, that farmers in the Northwest expect to harvest are spoken for. In most cases they are committed to breweries that have contracts, but some remain in the control of brokers.

And it means that brewers, particularly homebrewers, who know they are going to want particular varieties during the course of the year should buy then when a chance arises. Pellets stored at 26° F in nitrogen-flushed oxygen and light barrier bags will retain their aroma and alpha for years.

Pete Mahony, Director of Supply Chain Management and Purchasing at John I. Haas, gave brewers the news, which really shouldn’t have been news to them, Friday during a webinar for Masters Brewers Association of the Americas members. Just a few of the highlights follow, because there’s going to be plenty of hops news to write about in the next week. I’m headed to the American Hop Convention outside of San Diego.

1) Germany has returned to its traditional position as the world’s largest hop producer, in part because yields exceeded expectations. Although American farmers grew hops on about 8 percent more acres production was up only 2.5 percent, 3.5 percent below projections. (It is possible the 2015 crop could come in above projections, which would make more hops available post harvest.)

2) The shift from high alpha varieties to what are called aroma varieties continues. About 1,700 acres of high alpha varieties came out of the ground in 2014, and 4,900 of aroma went in. This matters because . . .

3) The most popular varieties tend to mature in basically the same several days, which puts additional strain on infrastructure under pressure.

4) There are now more farmers outside the Northwest states of Washingtown, Oregon, and Idaho growing hops than there are in those three states. What that means going forward is not at all clear. There are probably more than 100 growers in North Carolina alone, compared to 71 farming entities (those may include multiple farms) in the Northwest. But all of those farmers together don’t produce as many pounds of hops as some Northwest farms harvest in a single day.

5) Farmers in the Northwest will grow hops on an additional 4,000 to 5,000 acres this year, boosting acres to close to 43,000 (with an additional 1,000-plus acres elsewhere).

6) Hop prices are going up. We aren’t talking $30 a pound for Cascade hops, but infrastructure is expensive (an investment of between $20 to $30 million to start a 500-acre hop ranch from scratch).

I wrote about the shifts in production and pressure on infrastructure in two stores of Beer Advocate magazine (in November and the current, January, issue). Sorry, no link, but you can subscribe to the digital version of the magazine.


Because we don’t all like the same flavors

Here’s another new hop to look for: Relax. It’s unusual because it contains 0.25% alpha acids, as in almost none. For sake of comparison, Czech Saaz hops have 3-6%, Cascade 4.5-7%, and German Herkules 12-17%. It was bred in Germany and those who have rubbed and sniffed the cones describe aromas like “green tea, celery, hay, and lemongrass.”

Until recently it belonged to a large tea company, but the company is not particularly happy with the variety and its future is uncertain (it is grown on only about five acres). The Barth-Hass Group recently included it in tasting during Brau Beviale, the massive brewing trade fair last November in Nuremberg, Germany. Here are the basics: the tasting featured six beers, one a control, made at the Reserach Brewery in Saint Johann. They were German lagers made with 100% pilsner malt and bittered with Herkules. A single variety (or blend) was added in the whirlpool and used for dry hopping. The bitterness varied in the final beers.

The favorite was a beer called Appassionato and made with a Barth-Haas blend and the second favorite one called Dolcezzo (meaning “sweetness”) and hopped with Amarillo. They are pictured in the top spider graph. The second graph is for Tranquillo, made with Relax.

Beer brewed with Amarillo hop

Beer brewed with Relax hop

The beer brewed and dry hopped with Relax (Tranquillo) ranked No. 4. But in the conclusion, Barth-Haas notes, “This beer showed a very different flavour profile compared to the others. The relatively high standard deviation shows that it polarised the tasters and was either ranked rather good (1 to 3) or rather bad (4 to 6). Male tasters preferred the Relax beer more than female tasters.”

When the Society for Hop Research in Germany made four new varieties available to farmers less than four years ago a similar tasting characterized Hallertau Blanc much the same &#151 as polarizing. That may be one reason the farmers were hesitant to plant it. Now demand among US brewers exceeds supply.1

Gone are the days when a new hop variety need to appeal to the largest possible audience, because, well, you know the rest.


1 Obviously, these are still very new varieties. In 2014, 150 of the 1,192 German hop growers cultivated at least one of the three “flavor hops” released in 2012. Another 50 likely will this year. They harvested 100 metric tons (a metric tons is about 2,200 pounds) of Mandaria Bavaria, compared to 19 in 2013, 50 tons of Hüll Melon (7 in 2013), 40 of Hallertau Blanc (5), and 100 of Polaris (29). They expect Mandarina acreage will double in 2015 and that Hüll Melon and Hallertau Blanc will increase by about 60 percent.


I finally found a ‘best beer’ list I can endorse


Wasted: How the craft-beer movement abandoned Jim Koch (and his beloved Sam Adams).
Sam Adams and Why We Need To Stop Listening to Hipsters.
What’s the difference between craft beer snobs and Kopparberg drinkers?
BREAKING NEWS: Jim Koch talks shit on emerging breweries, gets the Heisman by a Hobo Lord.
The drift from the Pangaea of craft beer.
Andy Crouch’s profile of Jim Koch proved quite a way to start the year, didn’t it? His four thousand words were followed by maybe hundreds of thousands more. In blogs. On Twitter and Facebook. On discussions boards. So four of the more interesting followups are listed here. I have nothing to add. You are welcome.

The ghosts of brewing past, present and future.
Don’t know how many of all those words you waded through, but it might be time to rest your eyes with these lovely old photos. Extra credit for the succinct prose. [Via SC Times]

The Definitive ‘Best Beer of 2014′ List. Really. Kind of.
The Internet is a very good place when you can ask a question you are too lazy to answer yourself and somebody else is willing to do the work — apparently Bryan Roth enjoys this number crunching. I know this is not consistent with my feud with lists, but consistency is overrated. [Via This is Why I’m Drunk]

Is winemaking an art or science?
Terroir has so far eluded science. But that may be about to change. And many places will be avidly watching this science. As climate change plays havoc with existing wine growing regions, new contenders to the wine industry – such as China – will stand to gain from demystifying the secrets of fine wine.” I love firm answers about why the [fill in the blank – grapes, hops, barley] grown here don’t taste like the [fill in the blank] grown there, but I’ve become comfortable with the idea that there is also something about place that is not so easily explained. [Via COSMOS]

This Beer Algorithm Will Select Your Next Glass.
I wrote this story, but even if I hadn’t I would have linked to it anyway. It’s going to be a battle for these guys to keep their database up to date with all the beers that are out there — in fact, they surely won’t. But their approach is what interests me. Analyzing beers using a liquid chromatography mass spectrometer eliminates a giant wild card — that people perceive odor compounds differently. That’s why you might suggest I’ll like such-and-such beer because of a orange marmalade aroma you smell, only to see me turn up my nose when all I smell is cat piss. [Via All About Beer]

How much are words worth?
Following up on The Session #95 (beer books) and the Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture conference almost a year ago in Kentucky with a reality check about the writing business. Here’s a numbing examination of what magazines pay for the words within them: “The total market for long form journalism in major magazines in America is approximately $3.6 million. To put it another way: the collective body of writers earned less than Butch Jones, a relatively unknown college football coach, earned in a single year.” [Via Scott Carney, h/T]

* Note: Scott Carney has followed up on that post with one called “Crowdsourcing Journalism Rates” and puts this database online.


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