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So I met the hop queen – but what else?

Last Wednesday, just hours after arriving in Chicago for the Craft Brewers Conference, I dutifully posted a photo of Halltertau hop queen Mona Euringer, linked it to via Twitter and Facebook and after that pretty much went back to 1998 or some other CBC in a different technological era. Blog? Tweet? I didn’t even attend the seminars on social media. Sorry.

I did use Google maps on my phone when those of us on the “bus from hell” finally seized control after an obviously clueless bus driver drove around in circles for more than an hour and a half before delivering us to a destination less than 5 miles from the hotel. As an aside, I was on the bus that got lost (not quite an hour extra that time) at the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference. Charles and Rose Ann Finkel were on also on both buses. The takeaway? Never get on the same bus with the Finkels and I at CBC.

This wasn’t exactly planned. I expected to blog and tweet a little more. And it didn’t happen because wi-fi in the host hotel was fleeting and cell reception in the trade show worse yet (both true). Or because there was a rather high level of social activity each evening (obviously true). It’s just that I don’t transition well from information collection mode to dispersal mode. And when I wasn’t at a seminar (like “Proper Storage, Shipping & Handling of Hop Pellets”) there was a conversation awaiting. I particularly like CBC in the even years because of the World Beer Cup competition — judges from 27 countries attended this year.

I’ll be years (yes, really, another book project, details soon) writing about what I learned, so for now here’s one overarching observation from the conference, after the promised report from my conversation with the hop queen and the truth about Bavarian-style pale ale.

Euringer, who turned 23 during the conference, still works on the family farm (hops, corn, and sugar beets — about 38 acres of hops) but also is studying business in school. Her great grandfather was the first in the family to grow hops, but her father has told her that she and her brother, Simon, are free to pursue whatever careers they want.

Since Todd asked . . . Euringer, who began drinking beer when she was 16, likes the fruity flavors hops add to beer. She’s serious. She put in five hours each day at the trade show, often refreshing her glass with one of the five beers showcasing Halltertau hops that Victory Brewing made for the conference. “I can’t drink so much bitter beer,” she said.

I asked her about Schönramer Pils, a 40-plus IBU beer that won gold at European Beer Star Awards last fall. “I like it because of what it tastes like,” she said. “But I can’t drink five bottles of it.”

The day before the conference began she visited New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin with the rest of the Halltertau hops contingent, and particularly enjoyed the new Two Women pale lager.

Since Ron asked . . . The “Bavarian-style pale ale” created for the conference is a beer description, not a new style. A little confusing because for logistical purposes what we tasted was brewed in Pennsylvania, but it is Bavarian, pale and an ale, fermented with Weihenstephan #68, a top-fermenting yeast otherwise used to create weiss beers.

The grist is 100% pale Franconian barley malt, and it was mashed (single-decoction) for a high attenuation. It was hopped with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Hersbrucker, Tradition, Select, and Smaragd in five separate additions. The starting gravity was 16 ºP, the final abv 7.2% and the IBU about 45.

Now the observation, which is not exactly new, given that “microbrews” have been with us a while and these days the CBC seems awfully grown up (most of the sessions I attended focused on making beer, but options included “Craft Brand and SKU Proliferation: Great Opportunity of Great Danger” and “Intellectual Property law: Options and Protections for the Brewing Industry”):

Sales wouldn’t still be growing if somebody didn’t want to drink all these beers. But the beers wouldn’t exist at all if people (we call them brewers) weren’t excited about what they make and how their work is received.

Part One. Beer and food. I’m with Alan when he writes about the “need to ‘pair’ beer with food.” But shortly before the Gala Awards Dinner (for the World Beer Cup) on Saturday I spent a few minutes with Randy Mosher and Sean Paxton, who together created the menu that Sean then executed.

Sean’s attention to detail and creativity defy description (hop scented hard boiled eggs in the salad, just amazing). But, as Randy pointed out, the meal stuck to the notion that beer shouldn’t be fussy, and therefore beer meals shouldn’t be either.

Two evenings before Goose Island treated conference attendees to an equally amazing food experience, inviting more than a dozen Chicago chefs to create special dishes that were served with a couple of dozen of Goose Island beers. There were also a dozen variations on Bourbon County Stout served with a dozen chocolate desserts. All in the midst of about 1,000 barrels.

My point would be that this food and beer thing excites brewers, just like Part Two.

Vinnie Cilurzo repairing a barrelPart Two. Beers aged in barrels, sour and otherwise. Attendees filled the chairs, lined up along all the walls and took seats in the aisles for Vinnie Cilurzo’s talk called “Toothpicks, Garlic and Chalk: Three Key Ingredients to Any Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Sour Beer Program.” (In the photo on the right Cilurzo is using those tools to plug a leaking barrel at the Russian River brewpub.)

It seemed like half those in the room raised their hands when he asked if they’d like to attend a pre-conference seminar next year (when CBC in in San Francisco) on barrel-aged sour beers. These beers intrigue brewers. They want to make them, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Again, not exactly new territory, but Friday afternoon I was reminded about the traits shared by people who make beer and people who drink beer when Mike Kallenberger of MillerCoors was talking rather specifically about craft beer drinkers (“What’s important to them when they’re not drinking beer, and why it matters when they are”).

Summarizing Kallenberger is never easy, because he tends to tackle complicated subjects, so I’m going to grab one thread and hope I don’t tangle it. Craft-beer drinkers take risks because they they think they are worth taking, if there’s such a thing as a “responsible rebel” that’s them, and they see themselves as “making their own rules” rather than simply “breaking the rules.”

Because they know they are right.

Didn’t we just describe brewers as well? Recipes-by-focus-group don’t work for them on any level. Not telling them what new, new flavor drinkers will embrace. Certainly what they can’t do, what wouldn’t work, what people wouldn’t drink.

They know better.

Some are wrong. Some will fail. Some will make horrible, unbalanced beer. But I think we can tell the difference.

20 Responses to So I met the hop queen – but what else?

  1. erik April 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    We’ll let it slide that you didn’t come to the social media panel, but only because you were presenting at exactly the same time next door.

    Eager to hear about your next project!

    Cheers!

  2. Stephen Beaumont April 14, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    I’ll tell you something else about craft beer drinkers, Stan, they’re young. It still amazes me that it doesn’t get more play in the industry, but the truth is that based on anecdotal, observational and some statistical information I’ve seen, craft beer is skewing younger and younger all the time.

  3. Mike April 14, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    To paraphrase Steve Ballmer (no, he’s not a brewer): Marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing (unlike him, I’ll stop before it gets REALLY boring).

    I find it somewhat sad that American brewers would rather search for the latest gimmick rather than improve the products they already make. A Bavarian-style pale ale made by a Pennsylvannia brewer. Oh, please.

    Stephen, I don’t think it is a surprise that “craft beer drinkers” are young. Who else knows less about or has less understanding of beer? New-borns?

  4. Pivní Filosof April 14, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    I think many people get the impression that the ONLY thing American brewers make are all these crazy, extreme, rare, gimmicky (whatever you want to call them) beers, when I don’t think that is the truth, they are just the ones that get the most bytes on the internet. I’m sure most of them brew stuff that is aimed for a more “mainstream” drinker.

    It is true that many brewers use those beers as a marketing tool, but it’s also true that they brew them because they want to see what happens…

  5. Pivní Filosof April 14, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    PS: Mike, do you think people really need to know about beer to enjoy it?

  6. Mike April 14, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Pivní, I think it is more a question of commerce – selling and buying. People who don’t know a product well are very likely to make foolish choices. Why, for example, do fast-food companies mostly market to children? Because their knowledge of healthy food and their taste are not well enough formed yet that they are more likely to buy their products than someone who is more mature.

    Most breweries are in business to sell beer, not to make it enjoyable – it is primarily the brewers who care more about beer and less about money who make the beers we enjoy (I will say, however, that the situation in Europe is somewhat different).

    And no, I do not believe that American brewers only make extreme, unpleasant beers. However, where I live (in Amsterdam), we get very, very few American beers, so I can only judge from the few I have tasted and the lunatic ravings I read on the Internet.

  7. Pivní Filosof April 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    But Mike, still it doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy them….

    Like pretty much all of us, I believe, when I started drinking beer (at a very, very early age) I didn’t know anything about it, basic words like lager, ale, etc, didn’t have any meaning, yet I enjoyed my beers. At first I drank, and liked, the most popular brand in my country, then, thanks to traveling and imports I was able to discover new types of beer, or better versions of the style I was familiar with, which helped me realise that the most popular beer in my country wasn’t all that good. And yet, I still didn’t know much more than before, all I cared about was whether I liked a beer or not, which is, at the end of the day, all we really care about as consumers.

    Granted, many people will buy something because of image, status and what have you, but if they don’t enjoy it, they won’t buy it again.

    Of course having some knowledge about what you buy can help you make a more informed decision, but won’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it more…

  8. todd April 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks for asking Euringer for me Stan!

    She seems like a sweetie,,fruity hops and all.

    What she said is what I’m seeing women choose in a hop,,,thus the last three years of breeding for flavors in that direction,,,Rio style.

    I appreciate all your updates Stan! Thanks.

  9. Ron Pattinson April 15, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    Weihenstephaner wheat beer yeast? Then the “Bavarian-style pale ale” isn’t an Ale at all.

  10. Mike April 15, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Pivní, I think we are having two separate conversations. My part is simply that many breweries choose to use marketing tactics in place of quality to increase their sales. Whether these beers are also enjoyable is an interesting question, but it is also a different conversation.

    How many Bavarian breweries have you heard of that make a pale ale? I don’t know a single one. Is Bavaria known for it’s pale ales? So, why choose that name? What does that name say about how the beer tastes?

    Many American breweries seem to be focused on IPA and imperial stouts. I assume the idea for a Bavarian PA is only a name. The beer, I suspect, is a variation on IPA. Since Bavaria is not known for PAs, people would have no idea what to expect. But, they would be curious to try it. And that is precisely the point: make a name or story that will attract people, some of whom will then buy your beer.

  11. Pivní Filosof April 15, 2010 at 3:16 am #

    I don’t see anything wrong with that, really. A brewery is a company that sells beer and as such will try to sell as much as they can. Making styles up is one way to do it. Yes, I know it is quite silly and sometimes, it can be annoying, and that breweries do exploit the ignorance, pretentiousness and lack of interest in beer culture of most drinkers, but it’s something effective, it sells so a brewery can’t be blamed too much or following that trend.

    With this beer in particular, for example, you might not want to buy it because of your arguments, other people will want to buy it because they are curious, even if they are aware of how little sense “Bavarian Pale Ale” makes, but at the end of the day, it is all about the beer, and if this one in particular is good (i.e. buyers like it) they could call it “Kaiserlich Hell Ale” for all I care, because it’s just that, a fantasy name.

    The issue here, though, is (or at least it seems to be from here) that many American brewers have put themselves in a position where they have to come out every few months with something new and/or “-er” that previous stuff, and their market has come to expect and actually demands that. Sometimes this results in truly great beers, other times the results are not so happy.

    I’ve heard many enthusiasts complain about the lack of variety we have here in CZ, something I’ve done myself, too. But more and more I believe that it is actually better to be able to drink consistently good beer coming in just a handful of varieties than maybe just having a new weird beer every month that may or may not be good.

  12. Mike April 15, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    I agree with many of the points you make. I think,however, it is a shame that companies would rather take advantage of the ignorance of their customers rather than try to educate them. Why make up Belgian quadruple when you could just as easily call it a barleywine? This is, as you correctly said, because brewers feel they have to constantly come up with something new.

    I don’t think this comes naturally from the customer. I suspect that at some point the brewers put the idea in customers heads and now they are stuck with it.

    But, my main point (make better beer instead of concentrating on gimmicks) still stands.

  13. Pivní Filosof April 15, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    After musing about this and the other post I must say I don’t quite agree with Stan on the marketing issue.

    Although there are many brewers who have fun creating new beers, once the brewery becomes big enough and the livelihoods of other people depend on its success I think those beers tend to respond to the market. In other words, they brew and commercialise them because they are quite certain there is a market for them, otherwise, I think they would end up being just experimental batches that end up being drunk by the brewers themselves and their friends. And, in a way, that could be applied to the names, why name it “Strong Pale Lager”, when I can use something new like “Imperial Pilsner”? In the eyes of many, it will be a different beer…

  14. Stan Hieronymus April 15, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    From Max:

    “I believe that it is actually better to be able to drink consistently good beer coming in just a handful of varieties than maybe just having a new weird beer every month that may or may not be good.”

    Totally agreed. But seasonals are the No. 1 selling “style” in the States, so obviously brewers feel required to come up with something new and the brewers enjoy experimenting. These are a small part of sales.

    But let’s not turn each of them into “styles.” The Brewers Association guidelines now include 140 styles. This includes both light and dark “American Belgo.” Maybe brewers need to get better at any old American Belgo (whatever that might be) since the judges refused to award a gold at the World Beer Cup.

    Brewers are welcome to call a beer “Imperial Pilsner” but we don’t need to give it a separate style category.

    To the credit of Boston Beer (and although it has sold an Imperial Pilsner) I think this year’s Longshot homebrew competition will not be based on styles. Pretty cool. I will confirm that before I put it in print larger than these comments.

  15. Pivní Filosof April 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    “seasonals are the No. 1 selling “style” in the States”

    And that is simply why I can’t blame brewers for making or marketing them. Come to think of it, it would be stupid not to! We can froth at the mouth all we want, but we aren’t being paid by these breweries, so, it’s their business.

    A competition not based on styles… That is something I could be interested in… Please, do keep us informed.

    PS: I did write a critique on Imperial Pilsner, but still, the only Imperial Pilsner I’ve drunk, Mikkeller’s, was pretty good and my opinion of it was in no way affected by the silliness of the style…:)

  16. todd April 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Imagine a hop competition where all beers are to be the same/similiar style,,,just change up the hops ,,,,and how they get used.

  17. Pivní Filosof April 16, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    … or to give a bunch of brewers exactly the same ingredients, in the same quantities and see what they can do with them… That could be really interesting!

    Any takers? I want to be a judge in that competition!!!

  18. Martyn Cornell April 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    I’m with PF on that. “Here’s your grain, here’s your hops, here’s your yeast, you have six weeks, off you go …” – that would sort the brewers from the dilettantes.

  19. Stan Hieronymus April 17, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    The Sam Adams contest will be for beers that don’t fit into any current category. I’ll post details soon. Along with a bit of opinion, but my up-front thought is that this is proof you don’t have to create a new style category every time you brew a beer that is somehow different.

    Max – many brewing communities (meaning sometimes a state guild, sometimes homebrewers and sometimes a combination) have made “identicales.” That’s where they all brew the same recipe, often getting the ingredients from the exact same source. The key differences are their water (we certainly get large variations within just a few miles in our parts) and systems. Then they all get together and compare, often in a festival setting, though not a competition.

  20. Pivní Filosof April 18, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    AHA! So it turns out I didn’t discover anything new…. Just like many a brewer 🙂

    I will see if I can get something like that organised here…. perhaps allowing brewers to use whatever yeast they like…

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