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Miracle Brew: Continuing beer education

Miracle Brew by Pete BrownBeer writer Pete Brown was conducting a tasting of IPAs when a woman in the audience raised her hand to ask a question.

“If these beers have got so many hops in, are they still suitable for celiacs?”

He replied that hops don’t contain any glutens.

“Ah, so they’re not barley hops then?”

He offers this story as a footnote in his latest book, Miracle Brew, writing that “ironically, she could only misunderstand beer so dramatically because, compared to most people she was better informed and more engaged.”

Brown is currently visiting the American northeast in support of Miracle Brew and he’ll likely get similar questions. Plenty of beer consumers are playing catch up, keen on learning the basics but also something that goes beyond. Consider a recent story from NPR about “how sour beer is driving a microbial gold rush.” That’s a conversation several steps removed from barstool discussions about if bock is really just beer left over from the bottom of the barrel (a myth, but it lives on).
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We might have been wrong about first wort hopping

If similar stories about hops interest you consider signing up for Hop Queries, my monthly newsletter.

I haven’t been out there alone, suggesting first wort hopping, a process in which brewers add hops to wort as it is being lautered into the brew kettle, results in beer with a “finer” bitterness. Even though we can’t explain why. But the fact is I did write more than a few hundred words about it in For The Love Of Hops, based on evidence that was anecdotal as much as documented.

So it is with a heavy heart I report that recent research at Oregon State University finds “no perceivable sensory difference between the two treatments at a 95% confidence level.” Christina D. Hahn, a student at OSU, and Dr. Thomas Shellhammer, who leads the brewing science education and research programs there, presented the results as a poster at the International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer last month in Corvallis.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. But a bit more about the study, for the record, and then some background. From the introduction:
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Why I’m waiting to write about NEIPA

The SessionThursday was IPA Day. Friday was International Beer Day. It was also the first Friday of the month, so Session Day. You have to pick your spots and this is mine. Gail Ann Williams has told us the topic is Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist and asking and answering “What’s the deal with these beers? We’re going to find out together.”

I think you are going to have to find out without me, at least for now. Right now I have more questions than answers, and feel a bit guilty about that. I want to know just how hazy these beers need to be to provide the aroma and flavor drinkers expect. How stable the appearance will be. The aroma and flavor. Questions I’ve been asking brewers and other hop smart people for most of 2017.

John Duffy’s Session post makes it evident that first of all we need to identify what they should be looking for. Defining a style — wait, don’t run away — means identifying expecations. I’m on my second pass through Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense, which is a fascinating reminder of how much more there is to learn about how our brains turn odor compounds into aroma (and then flavor). The interaction of odor and visual, not to mention sometimes sound “Listen to your beer” – Fred Eckhardt) is astonishingly powerful.

In addition, Friday I talked about hops at Side Project Brewing and those in attendance sampled both bright and hazy beers. To get those beers they had to commit to listening to me ramble on about hops (kind of testing their Lupulin Threshold in a new way). The hazy beers were different, and excellent in their own way. Rather obviously brewers are learning to wring more out of odor compounds in hops and consumers are willing to pay for the experience. There’s more science to be figured out, and then I’ll have plenty to write.

Goldilocks and hop acres – what is just right?

New trellis going in at Perrault Farms in the Yakima Valley
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service last week released its forecast for acres of hops strung for harvest in the American Northwest. Lots of numbers and plenty of fun comparisons that illustrate how much has changed in five years or ten. The number of acres under wire is up, as expected, but maybe not as much as growers, literally from around the world, feared.

The USDA/NASS forecast is only for the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, because until just a few years ago farmers in the rest of the country did not grow enough hops to bother tallying. That’s changed. Totaling up what’s going on elsewhere has been a challenge for Hop Growers of America, simply because there are so many small hop operations (often an acre or less, on an existing farm or literally in a large backyard). But if estimates are correct, farmers outside the Northwest will tend to about 7% of American hop acreage this year.

I’ve droned on here enough about how hard it is for the global hop market to find equilibrium. (And here and here at Beer Advocate.) Based upon inventory available after the 2016 harvest and projected beer production in 2017 it appears farmers could meet demand without planting any additional acre of hops in 2017.

So what does it mean that Northwest farmers planted about 3,300 additional acres in 2017 and growers elsewhere at least 1,000 more? That Citra will suddenly be easier to get and cheaper? Likely “no” on either count. That the next time you read a story about hop shortages inhibiting the growth of a particular brewery you should be skeptical? You bet. That there will be deals to be made for Cascade? Appears so. That farmers counting on higher prices will crash and burn? That’s the real concern. Because if they go out of business, or rip out hops to plant hazelnuts, then a few years down the road brewers will be facing a hop shortage. Yep, that whole equilibrium thing.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I have the right acreage and the right varieties?'” Patrick Smith of Loftus Farms said in April at the Craft Brewers Conference. Vendors from Germany, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Australia, England, and France all made it clear at CBC that what happens in the United States affects them as well — at home and in the states. This all provides an interesting backdrop to the upcoming International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer (early registration ends tomorrow). I’ll be there in information accumulation mode and likely summarize some of what I learn in my Hop Queries newsletter (sign up at the bottom, if you haven’t already).

Meanwhile, to the numbers.

Northwest acreage grew from 50,857 to 54,135. Most of the growth is in Idaho, which boosted acreage from 5,648 to 7,169.

Top 5 varieties 2017
Cascade 7157 acres
Centennial 5534
Citra 5284
Simcoe 4498
Zeus* 3539

Same 5 varieties 2012
Cascade 3226
Centennial 1736
Citra 538
Simcoe 940
CTZ* ~5676

*Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus are genetically identical and often sold as CTZ, but they grown under three different names. In 2017, production of Columbus and Tomahawk shrunk enough they are now simply listed with “other” (so CTZ is understated). The 2012 figure is a estimate because at the time Idaho did not publish figures for individual varieties.

Top 5 varieties 2007*
CTZ 8079
Willamette 6858
Galena 3030
Nugget 2768
Cascade 1303**

* Totals are for Washington only and Oregon because Idaho did not publish figure for individual varieties.
** Oregon did not provide a total for Cascade, which was combined with “other” and likely less than 70 acres.
Note: Washington farmers listed Centennial and Simcoe under “other” in 2007. They reported 253 acres of Centennial in 2008 and 129 of Simcoe.

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The Session #125: SMaSH beer

The Session
Host Mark Linder has announced the top for the 125th gathering of The Session will be simple and singular: SMaSH beers. For those of you who may not not know the term, SMaSH is code for single malt, single hop. I always though they should be call SHSAM, because a) I am inclined to put hops first, b) I might not be a great speller, and c) sounds like magic to me.

Mark offers plenty of options. Even though I’ll be in South Africa July 7, I plan to partcipate, so you should as well.

The announcement also gives me an opportunity to suggest you sign up for Hop Queries, my free monthly hop-focused newsletter. It will ship shortly after Homebrew Con, because I’ll be in both hop talking and hop information collecting mode in Minneapolis later this week.

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