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Hops: Now you see them, now you don’t

No, this post is not about the impending, or not impending, hop shortage. One of the reasons I went to Michigan over the Labor Day weekend was to see the three-level drying system at Hop Head Farms in action. As far as I know it is the only German-style one being used in the United States.

Not every farm in Germany employs this system (some have belt dryers, more common in the Czech Republic), but it works well on smaller farms. The average farm size in Germany is about 34 acres, compared to more than 500 acres in the American Northwest, and considerably more in the Yakima Valley. (Roy Farms and Wyckoff Farms each grow hops on more than 3,500 acres, each producing more hops than all but four countries.) The first two levels of the kiln have louvered floors, so hops drop from one level to the next. Fresh hops are loaded onto the top tier (shown in the video) each time that dry hops are removed from the bottom tier (a drawer that pulls out).

German hop kiln
Illustration courtesy of The German Hop Research Center Hüll

The drying system at Hop Head can process about 80 to 100 acres a harvest season (Jeff and Bonnie Steinman have 30 acres on their property and will dry about another 30 acres of hops for other farmers, so it will be another season before Jeff can be certain about the capacity). Kilns are much different in the Northwest, where farmers may process 100 acres in a day. They are basically giant sheds with multiple sections, called floors.

Yakima Valley hop kiln

Hops are spread 8 to 14 inches deep in the German system, 24 to 36 inches deep in the U.S. Heated air, forced through the bed from the bottom, dries the hops. Tom Nielsen of Sierra Nevada Brewing writes about kilning in the September issue of Beer Advocate and the new attention on preserving the quality and quantity of essential oils for brewers, and ultimately beer drinkers. Bitch all you want about the IPA-ing of America, but this emphasis is improving the quality of hops used in all beers.


How do I ‘adopt’ a row of hops?

Top photo from Oregon, bottom one from England (via Twitter). Goschie Farms is a prominent hop grower in the Willamette Valley, supporting its community in a variety of ways. As noted just yesterday, British hop acreage has long been shrinking. It will take the support of the British brewing community to change that.

Goschie Farms 'Adopt-A-Road'


Session #91 wrapped up, #92 announced

The SessionTwenty-four beer bloggers from 6 different countries and 3 different continents participated in The Session #91: My First Belgian. Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak has the roundup.

And host Jeremy Short has announced the theme for The Session #92: “I Made This.” “The idea of this session is how making something changes your relationship with it,” he explains. “For example, when I first started homebrewing I wasn’t a big fan of lagers. After learning to brew I realized how complex and particular lagers were and I came to love them because of that.” This theme is particularly homebrewer friendly, although Short doesn’t want to make it exclusive. Here are a few of his suggestions.

For the homebrewer:

– How did homebrewing change your view of beer? Do you like beers now that you didn’t before? Do you taste beer differently? Does homebrewing turn you into a pretentious asshole?

For the I only homebrewed once crowd:

– What was the experience like? Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Did you think about beer differently afterwards.

For the I have never homebrewed crowd:

– Maybe you had an experience at a brewery you would like to share? Maybe your toured a brewery and learned and experienced the making of beer that impacted the way you think of beer? Or maybe you’ve brewed in a professional setting?

For the I hate homebrewing crowd:

– Why? Why do you hate us so?

Session #92 is schedule for Oct. 3.


Goats & bock revisited; Drain pours: why?


Bock BierThe origin of Bockbier. Ron Pattinson digs up an alternative story about how “bock” got its name, and it involves “a goat, a sick child and drunken servant.”
[Via Shut Up About Barclay Perkins]

Question of the day. Roger Baylor owns a brewery and a pub, so the question he raises by drawing an anology between the beer and music businesses affects him directly. But I’ve noticed that everybody else also seems to enjoy discussing the “how many is too many breweries” question, about local versus faraway, about big verus small, and therefore the difference between Alan McLeod calls “Big Craft” and everybody else. Baylor’s questions make it a little more interesting.

Why would anyone pour a perfectly good craft beer down the drain? Interesting to contemplate, but the real reason I am pointing to this is one sentence: “There are sober children in China, after all!”
[Via Tampa Bay Times]

The history of Albany as seen through beer-colored lenses. Instead of linking to a post by Craig Gravina, as happens in this space sometimes, here’s an article about him — and indirectly Alan McLeod, co-author of “Upper Hudson Valley Beer.”
[Via All Over Albany]

40 Under 40: America’s Tastemakers 2014. Wine Enthusianst presents this as a slide show (translation: pain in the butt). I’ll save you the time and tell your the three people they picked with direct beer connections: Meg Gill of Golden Road Brewing; Pat Fahey of Ray Daniels’ Cicerone Certification Program; and Travis Benoit, who co-founded CrowdBrewed, a money-raising web site for brewers that apparently is having more impact than I realized.
[Via Wine Enthusiast]

How Culture Shapes Our Senses. “Words to describe the beer you are tasting” — posted more than six years ago — is the most visited pages in the archives here. That may be because “When ordinary people are presented with the smell of ordinary substances (coffee, peanut butter, chocolate), they correctly identify about half of them.” Identifying and then naming them may be even harder. But it seems these things can be learned, because “sensory perception is as much about the cultural training of attention as it is about biological capacity.”
[Via New York Times]

Britain’s hops are bouncing back. I’m rooting for British hop farmers. Ali Capper is doing a great job of promoting English hops, and there’s considerable behind the scenes work going on to provide varieties that English brewers (and drinkers) will appreciate. But we’ll see what the 2014 harvest numbers tell us about “bouncing back.” Hop acreage in 2013 was 32 percent lower than 10 years before, falling to the lowest level since the >eighteenth century.
[Via Protz on Beer]

Reaping What You Sow — Anheuser-Busch and Goose Island Bring a Hop Farm Back to Life. More from the trip I wrote about earlier, with photos you want to turn into a calendar. Intriguing idea about how Goose Island might be changing its parent company.
[Via Good Beer Hunting]


The Session #91: A monastery moment

Courtyard at Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren

The Session Oops. The “Session #91: My First Belgian” snuck up on me, and I must finish a presentation on “Brewing Belgian IPA” and be on the road to Kansas City. So for the third time in the seven-plus years of The Session I’m going to repeat a story from “Brew Like a Monk.” It was the first time I thought about abbey beers in the way I do now. The story is from Achel, and the photo from Westvleteren. For newer material, check the links Session host Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak is accumulating.

Inside the brewery café at the monastery of the Saint Benedictus Abbey of Achel, only a single food server and one monk putting items on his cafeteria tray remained when Marc Beirens opened the door and stepped into a chilly December evening.

Beirens, a businessman who has been visiting monasteries since he was a child, took a few strides into a terrace area that was once the abbey’s courtyard. As the sky above turned from dark blue to black, he nodded back toward the brewery, located in a space that once housed the monastery dairy, then to a new gallery and gift shop to his right. Those buildings held pigs and more cattle, before it became obvious agriculture would not sustain the community.

“You should have seen this all a few years ago,” he said, his voice bouncing lightly about an otherwise silent courtyard.


During the next few hours Beirens and Brother Benedict, the monk in charge of marketing when I visited in December of 2004 gave me a complete tour of the monastery and its small brewery. Always a good host, Brother Benedict insisted I try the beers.

Staring with Extra, a substantial 9.5% beauty served from a 750ml bottle. He didn’t drink himself, talking a little business with Beirens, answering my questions about the monastery, and excusing himself after his cell phone rang. He returned a little later. “This is the same bottle?” he asked, knowing the answer was yes. “You don’t like the beer.” He laughed mightily.

He ordered we have another, then headed off again. Both Beirens and I ordered the Achel 5, a blonde beer of 5.3% abv, and compared it to the 5% abv Westmalle Extra. When Brother Benedict returned, he looked at our blonde beers, working on a scowl. He took a sip of one. “Water,” he said, once again laughing.


Beirens appreciates the importance of commerce to the monasteries, and that the six Trappist breweries are part of a larger family. He distributes a range of monastic products — beer is the best selling, but they include cookies, soap, vegetables, wine, and other goods — throughout Belgium and France. His father did the same. “I’ve been visiting monasteries since I was this high,” he said earlier, holding his hand below his waist. That’s why he understands something else about monasteries.

It was dark now, and the courtyard empty.

“I love the silence,” Beirens said. “I used to have a friend who was a monk. He’s gone now.”

We walked along in silence.

“When he was 80 or so, I’d still call him. If I had a problem I could go see him. He didn’t have to say anything and I’d feel better.

“All it took was silence.”


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