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Hey, Mr. President, heard of American hops?

Washington hops

Please don’t consider this a political post, but I’m wondering why neither of the two recipes for honey beers released over the weekend by the White House includes American hops.

One calls for Kent Golding and Fuggle, the other for whatever provides enough bittering punch and Hallertau (I’m guessing Mittelfrüh, but I wish they’d been specific). Farmers in the Northwest plant a bit of Fuggle and Golding, but those varieties originated in England and that’s where most are grown. Hallertau, of course, is the largest hop growing region in Germany.

(As an aside, the recipe for White House Honey Ale specifies 1.5 ounces each of Golding and Fuggle, but in the step-by-step directions only refers to .5 of Fuggle. Am I overlooking something? I’m prepared for an embarrassing answer.)

These are honey beers, not “hop bombs.” I get it. Made with honey produced by White House bees. And there this link to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to preserve. But where are the jobs related to American beer being created these days? At small breweries. And where do about 80 percent of those hops small American breweries are using come from? American farmers. Am I the only one who sees a nicely balanced partnership?

To give you an idea of the impact of breweries that produce only 6% of the nation’s beers have on hops, a bit of math.

In 2011, American beer production shrank 4.6 million barrels. The companies the Brewers Association defines as “craft” (and referred to as craft throughout the rest of this post) made 1.3 million more barrels. Without them, production might have been down 5.9 million barrels (maybe not quite that, because people might have bought substitutes for “craft” beer). On a worldwide basis, best guess is that brewers use on average about 2 ounces of hops per barrel they brew (the math gets tricky because most brew with hop extracts, so you have to consider how much hops that takes to produce, figure in higher utilization, and so on).

According to a BA survey, American brewers use about one pound per barrel, a number that is going up as drinkers buy still more IPAs (now 18% of craft sold and close to three times more than five years ago). So craft brewers needed at least 1.3 million pounds more hops in 2011. The other brewers needed 750,000 pounds less (to brew 4.5 times more beer). Hop sales went up.

Just to be clear. Somebody at the White House brewing beer: cool. Using malt extract: fine. Honey beer: great idea. Posting a slick video: I watched to the end. Using imported hops: hey, I love them (Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter, Saaz, Hersbrucker, Strisselspalt. I’m a fan. Golding and Fuggle, too).

But where iss the story in American beer today, what ingredient is an important part of that story, and who is growing that ingredient?

Rhetorical questions.

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21 Responses to Hey, Mr. President, heard of American hops?

  1. Ed September 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    Well I quite liked it that he uses Kent Goldings and Fuggles. But then I do work in Kent.

  2. Stan Hieronymus September 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Ed – If you are going to use Kent Golding it should be from Kent – not grown in the U.S.

    But Hallertau whatever for aroma for a honey porter?

  3. JDunleavy September 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Watching and listening to the video, it’s clear to me that these are new brewers. You should be posting your questions to the homebrew shop employee that created the recipe for them.

    I agree the White House chefs should be using an American hop, but in the video they mention letting the beer distill in secondary. That should be an alert that they are new to the hobby, so we can cut them a break…

  4. Stan Hieronymus September 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    J – You realize, I hope, that the headline is mostly tongue in cheek. Although the facts that follow are actual facts.

    Given that the co-chair of the House Small Brewers Caucus is from Oregon (and a homebrewer) maybe we’ll see another recipe added before long ;>)

  5. Mike Kallenberger September 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    While I agree with all the good points made, for me the headline is “White House is brewing beer: cool.” Just think how inconceivable that would have been at any point since…I don’t know, the 1700s? So, yes, let’s hope for progress on all the fronts discussed, but this is still a huge leap forward in my book. And of course, the BA and/or some enterprising craft brewer could take the lead in further educating the White House…

  6. Sanrky September 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    He never touched this beer and he is a “European intellectual” (nobel prize winner) FOWIW… Who gives a shit?

  7. Joel Plutchak September 5, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    I guess we all get something different from the news. My first impression was “Cool, brewing in the White House!” After looking at the recipes, my reaction was “Shouldn’t biscuit malt be mashed with a base grain that has some diastatic power?” 😉

    Now I’m thinking “Next step, mead!”

  8. todd September 5, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    It sure would make the White House brews more American if they included real American hops, Humulus lupulus var. neomexicanus. 😉

  9. The Professor September 5, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Hmmm, evidently_ you _must “give a shit”, since you took the time to weigh in. 😉

    But seriously,, and internet snark aside, the hop choice maybe something as simple as “that was what the recipes called for”, as probably suggested by the shop that sold them the supplies.. The POTUS’ staff are top notch chefs, but they are also novice brewers. They’ll likely figure out (in either 2 months or 4 years) that recipes (or beer styles, for that matter) aren’t sacred and aren’t carved in stone.
    In any case I definitely think that the idea of the President getting behind some brewing in the Executive Mansion is a very cool thing.
    He definitely gained a couple of points on my Prez-O-Meter.

  10. Stan Hieronymus September 5, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Todd – I’d argue that Humulus lupulus qualify as American.

    I like that Val Peacock characterizes Cascade as a “mutt.” Very melting pot American. Fuggle (English), Serebrianka (Russian), open pollination, so surely American wild.

    I feel like every time I comment I should add, “Yes, it is better the White House is brewing with any hops.” And that I’m not waving a flag here. I have German, New Zealand and Australian hops in my freezer right now (plus American).

  11. Bill September 5, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    But Stan! Surely the big story is that these two beers have more sense of terroir than almost all U.S. beers by virtue of the honey being sourced mere feet away from the brew works?

  12. Stan Hieronymus September 5, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Bill – Not sure we want to go there. White House terroir . . ., OK it does have an interesting ring to it.

  13. Jeff Alworth September 5, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    If the beer really needed that Fuggle earthiness, the WH could have chosen Willamette, which is a descendant. And, given that even the Brits are dipping into the Willamettes to replace Fuggles (on the serious wane), it makes all the more sense.

    It might have been an opportunity to educate people about how to pronounce Willamette, too. (Wuh LAMB it, not WILL a met).

  14. olllllo September 5, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    I initially suspected that it was the White House chefs (who probably had everything to make beer in the kitchen already save a carboy and a capper).

    I also suspect they (being Chefs) were inspired by Alton Brown’s Amber Waves:

    4 gallons plus 1 pint spring water
    1 (7-pound) bag of ice
    1/2 pound crystal grain, milled
    7 pounds light liquid malt extract
    1-ounce Cascade hops
    1 3/4 ounces Kent Goldings hops
    1/2 teaspoon Irish moss
    1 vial British Ale yeast
    3/4 cup Priming sugar, boiled with 1 pint water for 5 minutes

    Just enough tweeking to make it their own.

  15. todd September 5, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Stan, Dr. Henning did the DNA and AFLP on the neomexicanus hops I have. He told me that all hops commercially grown have a European genetic lineage, even those that were bred with neomexicanus. Why do you feel that Humulus lupulus var. lupulus is a North American hop?

  16. Stan Hieronymus September 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Todd – Are you an American? Are you a Native American?

  17. Bill September 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Re: your 2011 production figures — any thought by those who study the numbers about whether, if folks are switching from bland lagers to “craft,” they are buying less beer overall because the beer they now buy is more expensive? So that a huge chunk of the overall decline comes from folks who have made the switch from beer that cost $9 or less for a 12-pack to $9 or more for a six-pack and who therefore buy less beer?

    The gain of 1.3 million craft barrels might mean the loss of, say, 1.7 million (or 1.5 or 2.2 million) barrels of light and premium lager. It strikes me that beer drinkers aren’t necessarily turning to other types of alcohol — they might still be drinking beer, but less of it because of cost concerns.

  18. Alexander D. Mitchell IV September 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    I would make the case that the hops cultivated in America for brewing are very much like the grapes we grow for winemaking–all descendants of transplants from abroad, like we are. My understanding is that the ONLY completely native American “wine grape” is Scuppernong, and Scuppernong wine is, shall we say, an “acquired” taste compared to the varietals imported from abroad.

    Oh, and Mr. President? You Didn’t Brew That. Somebody else helped you.

  19. todd September 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Yes Stan, I’m American with mostly European ancestry. I’m quite a mutt! 🙂

    It’s just that Humulus lupulus var. neomexicanus is a plant that was in North America long before Europeans brought the hops they had cultivated in their own land. European hops evolved in Europe and Humulus lupulus var. neomexicanus evolved in North America. This is why I delineate North American hops from European hops.

    But really, like Ralpho said, “All that matters is if it makes good beer”.
    They do, great beer. 😉

  20. Stan Hieronymus September 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Bill – I don’t have an answer for you, but the large breweries obviously are putting a lot of resources into answering that question. And they definitely see wine and spirits getting the attention of younger drinkers.


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