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Session #99: Making mild local

The SessionSession #99 host Allstair Reese has asked us to write about localizing mild ale on the first day of American Mild Month. His question: “How would you localise mild? What would an Irish, Belgian, Czech, or Australian Mild look like? Is anyone in your country making such a beer? For homebrewers, have you dabbled in cross-cultural beer making when it comes to mild?”

The latest working title for my book in progress is “Brewing Local” (there will eventually more words attached) and the focus is on American ingredients, so this should be a task I can wrap my head around. But I can’t.

Yes, you can point to examples of American brewers starting from some classic style and turning it into something distinctively American, that sometimes that retains the name of the original style and sometimes becomes something altogether new. Maybe that will happen with mild — American Mild Month seems full of potential (just look at the list of participating breweries) — and I’ll think, “Oh, yeah, that should have been obvious.”

But there’s also the possibility that a beer can remain just like, allowing for the fact that nothing is just like, the original and still become local. I wish I could point to a mild as an example, but I’m going to use a German weissbier instead. Urban Chestnut Brewing here in St. Louis brews an outstanding version — it just landed near the top of one of those silly online lists. You might even say it tastes just like one you’d drink in Germany, that it rouses a pleasant memory. I can’t disagree, but for me it tastes, and smells, of St. Louis. It’s a Sunday afternoon at UCB’s Midtown biergarten or the first beer I have on a hot July night at Busch Stadium, before I begin the long march up to the cheap seats.

Local beer becomes local when it is part of the local fabric.

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Building a better hop pellet?

The BBC Pure Hop Pellet is not exactly new. Boston Beer Company has been using this custom pellet for several years, since developing it in collaboration with the Barth Haas Group.

But that eight hop varieties will be available to other breweries in this form after the 2015 harvest is new.

Not long after Eric Beck of Boston Beer and Christina Schönberger of Barth Haas completed a presentation titled “The Evolution of a New Hop Pellet Type for More Efficient Dry Hopping” during the Craft Brewers Conference two weeks ago Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker stopped at the Barth Haas group to say hello to Schönberger. I asked him if he’d be interested in using such pellets in his brewery.

“Sure.”

I consider than an endorsement.

Backing up, because you probably haven’t memorized “For the Love of Hops” (the custom process creating the pellets used in Samuel Adams beers is discussed on page 226). Hops are first milled in a hammer mill, preferably under refrigeration to reduce losses of alpha acids and essential oils. Hop powder is accumulated in a mixing vessel and then pelletized. These may be Type 90 pellets or Type 45.

T90s once contained 90 percent of the nonresinous components found in hop cones, thus the name, although today product losses are generally less and the percentage is actually higher. They are the most common sold. The composition of oils and alpha within the pellets is similar to cones but not necessarily identical.

T45, or lupulin-enriched, pellets, are manufactured from enriched hop powder. Processors mill the hops at about -20° F (-30º C), which reduces the stickiness of the resin, and separate the lupulin from unwanted fibrous vegetative matter. Although the name implies the hops are enriched to twice the level of T90s, the level may be restricted by the amount of lupulin in the original hop. Normally, processors customize the level, producing, for example, a T33 or a T72 pellet that would still be referred to as a T45 pellet.

BBC Pure Hop Pellets are produced on the T45 line, but with more like 90 percent of hop matter. (More like, because T90s really contain close to 95 percent, and BBC a bit less than that). The percentage is important to Boston Beer. David Grinnell, vice president of brewing, explained that when the brewery was looking for an alternative to T90s they could have decided to use Type 45 pellets. They reduce the space needed for storage and deliver more lupulin more efficiently. “Concentrated lupulin is not unattractive, but it’s not the whole hop. We’re committed to the whole hop,” he said. “Somewhere in your brain you know (that) will have value.”

Or as Beck said during the presentation, “We believe … (it) reminds you that you are drinking beer.”

BBC Pure Hop Pellet vs regular pellet

This graph shows the difference in sensory impact that Boston Beer found when using Mittelfrüh in Boston Lager (“Pure Hop” process is on the top). Of course, this will vary based on variety and type of beer being brewed. However, it should be apparent brewers can either choose to use fewer hops for the same impact or get more impact with the same amount of hops.

Barth Haas has facilities to make T45s in Germany and in Yakima, Wash. (For the record, so does Hopsteiner.) Haas will initially produce Mittelfröh, Hersbrucker and Saaz Pure Hop Pellets in Germany. For now, it will make Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Equinox, and Mosaic Pure Hop Pellets in Yakima. “We want to make sure we can serve the market,” said Alex Barth, president of John I. Haas, Barth’s U.S. company.

That means you aren’t going to see them everywhere. Haas serves mostly regional-size breweries directly, with channel partners selling to smaller ones (and the homebrew market). Larger breweries are the ones that will find the most use for the dry hop friendly pellet — they are the ones still sorting out more efficient ways to dry hop large amount of beer without clogging their filters and wrecking centrifuges. “It will take some time to filter through the market,” Barth said.

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Russian River Brewing funk, then & now

OCTOBER 2006

Russian River, funky carboys (2006)

APRIL 2015 (Photo via The Verge)

Russian River Brewing, funky kegs

“Spoiled rotten: how breweries are trying to spot bad beer through DNA” is about a testing kit called the BrewPal that is designed to quickly identify specific types of Pediococcus and Lactobacillus bacteria that can quickly destroy a batch of beer. The story is full of science, but explained in a way that even I can understand.

One of the photos with the story, of a worker dosing beers with Russian River Brewing’s blend of funk that turns beers like Temptation and Supplication into what they are, made me think of the one at the top. It was taken at the Russian River brewpub in Santa Rosa in 2006, before the production brewery was built. Russian River co-founder Vinnie Cilurzo stashed his carboys full of funk in a corner of the tiny barrel room at the brewpub.

Notice the boombox on the left. Cilurzo said his father used to play Frank Sinatra in the winery where he, Vinnie, literally grew up. The son continued the music tradition, but his funk travels to the beat of a different drum.

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Do tenets of capitalism make craft beer wars inevitable?

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 04.27.15

Why craft brewing is about to go to war with itself.
Does the modern American beer industry (and the culture attached to it) represent the leading edge of a new capitalism?
So it turns out Thrillist is not all click bait and listicles. Dave Infante dots his i’s and crosses his t’s in a relentless march to this conclusion: “In the end, the industry’s individuality and cohesion just doesn’t matter as much to many (I’d argue most) consumers as it does to some brewers. And as that becomes more apparent, more brewers — heavily armed with increased production and aggressive marketing bought with the help of outside cash — will make a play for the shelves and taps that are right in front of the mainstream consumer.” Hence war.

Craft Beer Productions vs. Capacity

I’ll throw in this chart from The 2015 State of the Industry presentation at the Craft Brewers Conference just to be provocative. Unused capacity is not good for pricing, and there seems to be more each year. However, that 12.4 million barrel difference between capacity and production in 2014 needs to be considered in context. Production was 64 percent of capacity in 2012 and two years later production exceeded 2012 capacity. In 2014, capacity was once again 64 percent of production. In addition, there is little doubt that 2015 production will exceed 2013 capacity.

That doesn’t invalidate Infante’s conclusion, but it does mean one potential concern isn’t, for now. So back to the question in hand, if his prediction is accurate how deep do the price cuts reach? Is the battle limited to the breweries Alan McLeod calls big craft? Infante mentions what he calls the noncombatants, those that stay small. If that includes all the microbreweries (producing less than 15,000 barrels) and brewpubs operating at the end of 2014, we’re talking 3,218 of the 3,418 breweries the Brewers Association defines as craft, or 94 percent. Now, some of those will grow past 15,000 barrels in 2015 and many others have similar aspirations, but you sense a larger number will feel the fall out if the pricing gloves come off.

But is it inevitable? That’s why the second link. Last January, Maureen Ogle wrote about the beer-related book she’d write if she were writing one (she is not). In that one she’d ask, “Does the modern American beer industry (and the culture attached to it) represent the leading edge of a new capitalism?” and “Is modern American brewing a new kind of ‘industry’? Or is it more of the same and that sameness will become apparent once the first two generations of modern brewers retire and/or sell their operations?” [Via Thrillist and Maureen Ogle]

Have we reached peak geek?
A short post from Ed Wray, related specifically to the UK and geeks as a source of funding for brewery expansion. However, Ray Bailey reminds us via a comment that non-geeks, even non-beer drinkers, see the growth in sales of what is generally referred to as craft beer presenting an investment opportunity. That’s because non-geeks are drinking these beers. A virtuous cycle or a game musical chairs? [Via Ed’s Beer Site]

Some CBC 2015 thoughts, questions, and takeaways.
As Jon Abernathy points out, sustainability was one of the themes the Craft Brewers Conference, and much of the post-conference discussion has focused on the “can growth be sustained?” aspect. Jon folds in the environmental component. [Via The Brew Site]

Dead or Alive: Are single-hopped beers still interesting?
Yes. Next question. [Via Chris Hall]

Types of UK Brewery.
Consider it a learning excercise. I’d like to see something analogous attempted on this side of the Atlantic, as long as it doesn’t result in a diagram printed on T-shirts. [Via Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

The Accidental Death of the Wine Writer.
“Rather than being the spur to further discourse, wine writing has become a quasi-professional end in itself, and thus is rarely adventurous, controversial, intellectually provocative or emotionally engaging.” Is beer writing any different? [Via Les Caves De Pyrene]

Tricking Women Into Drinking Beer : Lies Men Tell.
5 Reasons Why The Beer Wench Is Bad For Beer.
Dueling lists. [Via Thrillist and Northdown Taproom]

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