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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.

16

Next up, a shortage of Mosaic hops?

Hops drying in Yakima kiln

Another press release, another foreign brewery raiding American hop stocks. First there was Heineken. Now it turns out Guinness Blonde American Lager is being brewed with a combination of Mosaic, Willamette and Mount Hood hops for a “floral, hoppy aroma.”

I have no idea how hoppy it might be, but when a press release goes out of its way to mention aroma it insinuates brewers are using more hops than the global average. That one of the varieties, Mosaic, is a costly propriety hop in rather short supply is almost incidental. Willamette and Mount Hood may not be sexy choices these days, but they are growing on land where farmers could be planting Cascade or Centennial or some other hop that may (or may not) soon be in short supply. Real estate is going to be a short term issue in the American northwest, although maybe not a long term one. We’ll see.

It is also worth reporting that last month in Oregon hop farmers talked about new demand for Willamette and Mount Rainier hops, primarily from A-B InBev, which — like Heineken and Guinness — has no problem paying for an ingredient the company wants.

2

Citra hops were here

Oakham Ales Brewery, Peterborough

Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker has won Champion Beer of Britain. Boak & Bailey offer some thoughts.

Oakham Ales Citra captured the silver. The picture at the top was taken at Oakham’s brewery in Peterborough last year and I wrote about the hop dust then. I don’t have anything to add, nor would I even try to match Ben McFarland’s ode to Citra.

Here’s how McFarland described the beer last October:

In a derelict warehouse somewhere in Peterborough sits the Citra hop, its arms strapped behind its back, its feet shackled to a chair built from pale malt and wheat. Surrounding it, their eyes a maniacal mix of menace and madness, are Oakham’s brewers going to work with hacksaws and hammers in each hand, the Citra squealing gooseberry, greengage and grapefruit. A superb single-hop beer.

Makes figure Boltmaker must be pretty good.

1

Oh, those wild and crazy ‘New Mexican hops’

Elsewhere bloggers are posting for Session #90 today, but I’m not feeling in a fighting mood.

Instead it seems more timely to show you a few photos from Embudo, New Mexico, because the link I posted yesterday on Twitter to a Smithsonian article about neomexicanus hops sure struck a chord with some people. I’m quoted in the story, but you can pass on that part. And take the headline with a grain of salt (“Will it change the way we think of American beer?”).

Sierra and I visited Todd Bates’ farm six years and 49 weeks ago. We called it a field trip (this was before she escaped our clutches for full-time public school). I wasn’t even committed to write “Brewing With Wheat” at the time, and I sure as heck had no idea I’d end up writing a book about hops. It’s more than a little strange to look back at these photos and think that I’d be explaining neomexicanus hops to people. It might have been simpler had Bates (pictured below) found the hops in Arizona or Colorado. That he cultivated neomexicanus in New Mexico is something of a coincidence, but more on that soon. For now, the photos.

Neomexicanus hops

Neomexicanus hops

Newomexicanus hops

Newomexicanus hops

4

2014 hops update

Predicting the beer futureThe Barth-Haas Group has released the 2013-2014 Barth Report, which provides both perspective and new data relative to the recent chatter about hop shortages (you might also read this).

However, so far we don’t really know much more than in February. What’s important is not if the price for some varieties, even one like Cascade, spikes in the spot market after harvest this fall. Most breweries have contracted for hops at much lower prices. What’s important is what happens next. And that crystal ball thing doesn’t always work.

Six years ago we were in the midst of a hop shortage, so farmers in the American Northwest strung about one-third more acres of hops (from 31,000-plus to 41,000-plus acres) than in 2007. A year later they were ripping plants out of the ground. There are about 39,000 acres — including maybe 600 in areas outside of the Northwest — but the mix is much different. In 2008, hops appreciated mostly for high level of alpha acids occupied about two thirds of acres and accounted for three quarters of overall production. Today acreage is just about evenly split and high alpha amounts to 60 percent of production.

In 2007, farmers harvested about 1,500 areas of Cascade and little more than 200 acres of Centennial. This year they’ve planted almost 6,700 acres of Cascade and 3,400 acres of Centennial. Simcoe production was minuscule in 2007, Citra didn’t have a name and Mosaic was still in test plots (Citra was officially released in 2008 and Mosaic in 2012). Growers planted 1,840 acres of Simcoe this year, 1,720 of Citra and 670 of Mosaic.

Look at those numbers again. There are about as many acres of Citra under wire this summer as there were Cascade and Centennial just seven years ago. Good luck looking too far into the future.

So back to the Barth Report, and a few big picture observations:

- Crop year 2012 finally marked the end of the structural supply surplus of hops and alpha acid in the hop market; in other words, supply and demand are becoming increasingly evenly balanced, although demand for certain varieties may exceed supply.

- Planting of aroma/flavor varieties is on the increase worldwide, more than compensating for the clearance of bitter/high alpha varieties.

- The manner in which the hop market develops depends on developments within the brewing industry. If the trend towards more heavily hopped beers continues, this could lead to competition in the procurement market.

And some interesting points made by Stephen Barth, one of the managing partners, at a press conference in Nuremberg (although Barth Haas is an international group its home and roots are German), where the reports was released:

- Craft beer is good for beer; it is changing consumers’ awareness of beer as a product category. Beer is now perceived differently, no longer only as “cold, yellow and wet.” And, above all: beer is no longer defined solely in terms of price.

- More and more people now know more and more about beer. Whether they actually drink more beer is doubtful, however. The statistics on per-capita beer consumption in Germany paint a different picture.

- But when it comes to drinking craft beers, it is not the quantity that counts. I would like to repeat the words from a tasting of beer specialties that I quoted at the presentation of the last Barth Report. The beer sommelier at the tasting said: “You shouldn’t drink our beers when you’re thirsty. Our beers should be drunk in small quantities on special occasions.”

The second Barth report came out in 1878 and the online archives go back to 1909, so pretty much endless reading for a hop geek. I could bore you for hours with tidbits from this report alone. For instance, even though two years ago in Spain we came across plenty of beers aggressively hopped with aroma varieties from the US and New Zealand the farmers there grow basically no aroma hops. About half an acre of Perle, not exactly an IPA hop, and nothing else.

One area the information could be stronger is the US. It reports the number of growers decreasing, which overlooks what is happening outside the Northwest. For the first time, the Hop Growers of America has compiled an expanded version of USDA 2014 Hop Acreage Strung for Harvest report (the 2014 numbers above come from that), which includes an estimated 880 acres for 14 additional states.

(Credit must also go to Grand Rapids homebrewer Nick Rodammer, who did a lot of the heavy lifting in contacting farmers across the country for an outstanding presentation — “Farm to Glass: Brewing with Local Ingredients” — at the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference. HGA leaned on him for much of its non-Northwest data).

Farmers in three states — Michigan, New York and Wisconsin — account for almost two thirds of acres. It will take some time to see what programs like the North Carolina Hops Project amount to. Earlier this year Jeanine Davis at North Carolina State University said perhaps 100 farmers in North Carolina are growing hops, but none of them very much. “We’re going to start losing some,” she said. “It’s going to be a labor of love.” HGA estimates they’ll harvest 30 acres in 2014, and their plants don’t generally come close to yielding what farmers in the Northwest get.

Here’s a bit of math. Washington farmers can generally expect Centennial to yield about 1,500 pounds of hops per acre. A survey by the Brewers Association has found American craft brewers use about a pound and a half per barrel. So in this case, it would take about an acre of hops to brew 1,000 barrels. Production at Lagunitas grew 160,000 barrels in 2013 (that’s before the new brewery come online in Chicago). In addition, best guess is that Lagunitas uses more than 1.5 pounds of hops per barrel. Anyway, at a minimum, Lagunitas — a fast-growing, hop-oriented brewery, but still a single brewery — used an additional 160 acres of hops in 2013.

Somebody has to grow those hops, then harvest and process them. A lot of infrastructure, a lot of investment.

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