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Session #94: Just another cog in the industrial beer complex

The SessionThe topic for The Session #94 today is: “Your role in the beer ‘scene’. What it is.”

Host Adrian Dingle provided this guidance: “So, where do you see yourself? Are you simply a cog in the commercial machine if you work for a brewery, store or distributor? Are you nothing more than an interested consumer? Are you JUST a consumer? Are you a beer evangelist? Are you a wannabe, beer ‘professional’? Are you a beer writer? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Where do you fit, and how do you see your own role in the beer landscape?”

Since he first posted the topic, I’ve been trying to decide if I should call myself a “cog” even though I don’t draw a paycheck from any brewery. By writing about beer I publicize beer. And all publicity is good publicity, right? So there you have it. Enough about me. More interesting is what I get to see and write about. Here’s what I saw this morning:

Davo McWilliams

That’s Davo McWilliams pouring a bunch of hops into a brew kettle at the Anheuser-Busch Research Pilot Brewery in St. Louis, and RBP brewmaster Roderick Read in the background. McWilliams won the right to have his IPA recipe brewed at the pilot brewery when a panel of A-B judges liked it best in a competition last month held in conjunction with the Ballpark Village Brew Fest in downtown St. Louis.

The beer will be served next month in the Budweiser Brew House at Ballpark Village. Right now it’s still wort and, like the story, a work in progress

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Are we there yet? Beer personalized to your own hoppy tastes?

You can read it right here, explanation marks and all: “Engineers have developed a ‘barista-type experience’ for beer drinkers where a barman can adjust a gadget fitted to a beer tap to adjust the ‘hoppiness’ level on demand.”

“Hoppier” works much like Randall the Enamel Animal, which Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery invented more than 10 years ago. Engineers at Cambridge Consultants might be putting a little more emphasis on pressure (“We knew, for example, that pressure is fundamental to extracting flavour in espresso machines – so part of our investigation was to see whether it does anything for beer.”), as the video illustrates.

Randall and a variety of devices other brewers built since (I’ve had Budweiser though a Randall-like filter, on more than one occasion in fact) prove that filtering beer through hop cones will create different aromas and flavors than are in the beer alone. Extracting essential oils may make the beer taste more “hop-like” and fresher or grassier. But it is a might bold to suggest the engineers “have ‘transformed’ the brewing and dry-hopping process, which usually tales two weeks, to enable consumers to change the flavour of beer in seconds.”

There’s more going on in the torpedoes used to make Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, because dry hopping involves more than just extracting flavor from hops. They how, what and why are not perfectly understood. For instance, researchers in Germany just determined that the transfer rate of various compounds varies, which is not exactly a surprise. But it appears that this rate may also vary based on the variety of hop involved. Makes writing formulas difficult. Hop scientists often talk about the importance of synergy — put two compounds or more (hops contain more than 400) and they may create other compounds or the way each is perceived may be changed by the presence of others.

In addition, yeast becomes a key player in dry hopping, because of the biotransformations that occur when yeast and hop hang out together — another area where much more research is needed. Those aren’t going to occur in the seconds it takes beer to pass through the “Hoppier.” Sierra Nevada has studied this is much as any brewery on earth. The brewery uses two different methods to dry hop. One is to attach eight-pound bags of hops, which will be more than four times heavier after absorbing beer, to rings that have been welded to the sides of tanks. Beers will then soak for up to two weeks.

Torpedoes used for dry hopping beer at Sierra Nevada Brewing

The other process uses the torpedoes (thus named because the tanks look like torpedoes turned on their sides), invented because Sierra Nevada was running out of real estate at its original brewery in Chico, Calif. Each one can hold up to 80 pounds of hops. It is purged with CO2, then beer is circulated from the bottom of the cone to the bottom of the torpedo, up through the torpedo and back into the tank. The beer, freshly dosed with hop oils, passes through a tube within a tube (called a periscope) so that it returns higher into the tank. Otherwise, beer in the bottom of the tank may become saturated and won’t retain any more hop oil.

Brewmaster Steve Dresler said results vary dramatically based upon temperature and flow rates. Torpedo Extra IPA circulates for five days, beginning at 68º F (20° C) and finishing cold, extracting all the oils Sierra Nevada wants out of the hops much more quickly than with the passive bag system. However, the parameters are the same with bags. Dry hopping begins at 68º F, and yeast will still be active.

“We don’t get the same floral estery notes in some other beers if we use the torpedo process simply cold without yeast contact time,” Dresler said.

Edward Brunner at Cambridge Consultants may well be right when he says, Hoppier gives brands to stand out in the marketplace and “It’s a way of building on the current trend of personalisation to create new experiences and add value for the consumer.”

But it’s not necessarily a substitute for dry hopping.

*****

PS – Yes, the tagline “Beer brewed by engineers” should send a chill down your back.

Signs of the beer times & European Star winners

Hopsteiner boothSigns of the beer times.

– Boston Beer co-founder Jim Koch delivered the keynote speech today at Brau Beviale in Nuremburg, Germany. It is a massive trade show. I grabbed a photo of the Hopsteiner booth off Twitter to illustrate the point. That’s one booth of hundreds. It looks like an airport bar.

Koch’s statement that “the Reinheitsgebot has served its purpose as a public health measure and it’s almost becoming like artistic censorship” is likely to be retweeted the most often.

But I was struck by something he said at near the end. “Hops will begin to be customized, even for an individual brewer and their needs,” he said. I would not be surprised to see breweries paying breeders and farmers to own the rights to particular varieties, but don’t expect many breweries to own their own — at least not ones you want added to your beer.

– The European Beer Star award winners were later announced at Brau. The competition is not as big at the World Beer Cup, but the quality of entries and the judging panel is damn near the equal. American breweries won plenty of medals, but although Firestone Walker captured four of them its India Pale Ale, Union Jack, finished second after winning the previous two years. Birra del Borgo, an Italian brewery (that should be obvious), won gold with Re Ale Extra.

– From the Triangle Business Journal: “Farm Boy Farms of Pittsboro – a local provider of barley, wheat and malt for craft beer – is doubling in size, which means more local ingredients could work their way into local craft beer.” Hops are sexy, so get most the attention, but local grains (which can then be malted; as you can see the writer might have a small problem with that concept) are just as important in making local beer. And managing them at the local level just as challenging.

– That the Cicerone Certification Program is giving an exam in San Antonio, Texas, next February merits a story in MySA.

All that stuff about beer quality? It starts on the farm

Roy Farms hop package label (Cascade)

A few years ago, Summit Brewing founder Mark Stutrud made a serious commitment to using locally grown barley (and a specific variety, Moravian 37) in Summit Pilsner. Listen to him talk in the video and you’ll think, yep, this is somebody who understands the importance of local.

So it is interesting to see him take a wait-and-see attitude toward using local hops.

“We’re keeping track of what’s going on in Minnesota, but a lot of folks who are starting hop farms in Minnesota don’t think of how they’re going to measure the quality of their harvest. Are they going to have a kiln? Will they pelletize or are they just going to grow the vines and say, ‘Come on over and pick them up?'”

The best the Hop Growers of America can figure Minnesota farmers planted about 20 acres of hops in 2014. But these are questions that need to be asked from the outset and often aren’t.

“I get these calls every day (from would be hop growers),” Sean McGree, hops manager at Brewers Supply Group, said the other day. “All they are worried about is getting their trellises in and hop going. They don’t realize that 60 percent of the quality that brewers see comes after the hops are picked.”

I’m more optimistic that farmers trying to revive hop growing in regions outside the American Northwest might succeed than I was three years ago, which is not to say I have any interest in investing in a hop farm. Picking and drying remains the next big challenge for many of them. But as Hop Head Farms in Michigan has shown it can be done.

The image at the top gives you an idea of one of the standards they will be expected to meet. There’s a lot more to know about what’s inside the package than the percentage of alpha acids, which many new farmers can’t even provide. Roy Farms goes beyond most, for instance including the picking and pelletizing dates as well as the crop year, but the other number to look at is the lot. Roy tracks each lot literally from the time the plants are trained to string in the spring until they are picked, processed and packaged. Ever wonder what pesticides might have been used on the hops in the glass of “wet hop” beer you had the other day at your local brewpub? Perhaps you should. (You’ll also notice that Roy Farms is as Salmon-Safe certified grower.)

This isn’t exactly related, but in doing some research for another article I was re-reading part of “Hop Culture in the United States” (1883). In it there is a report of the Chamber of Commerce for Middle Franconia in 1879:

“American Hops (we have to admit this, though unwillingly) are greatly preferred in England to ours, and have decidedly taken precedence of us in that market. Taking the excellent qualities of our produce into consideration, such a result would be quite inexplicable, if it were not that the system of German commerce, unfortunately, has itself to blame, in part for this defeat. American Hops, no matter whether of better or inferior quality, almost always appear in foreign markets in their original state, whereas, with us, parties are not ashamed to make up for exportation, hops of all countries and all qualities, mixed together, often marked with best brands on the outside of the bales, but containing the poorest kind of goods.”

Next there is this account:

“A brewer in England, a short time ago, bought a bale of hops in Nuremberg, and thought he got the genuine Bavarian article. But when he opened the bale, a slip of paper with the name of a hop-growers in Eastern Prussia on it, was found. The hops had been sold in Allenstein, Eastern Prussia, and from there found their way to Nuremberg. Being of good quality, the Englishman sent the grower, in Prussian, an order for more hops. A still more striking instance of such dealings happened in Wurtemberg, Prussia. A brewer, of that place, was prejudiced against the hops of his own country. He refused to buy hops in the Allenstein market. He wanted the genuine article from Southern Germany. He bought all he needed at Furth. But what did he find one day in a bale of Bavarian hops? A business card with the name of his next neighbor, a hop grower, whose hops he had declined to buy at any price. Unwittingly, he had taken them many a time at a fair premium, when they were sent by some Bavarian hop dealer.”

Kind of funny, but not really.

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