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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.

Morning in the Hallertau

Morning in the land of hops

The picture gets small fast when you try to capture the expanse of hops. The yards are everywhere. I knew this. We’ve driven through here in December, but it’s quite different when hops are growing.

A more amusing photo would have been me trooping through the test plots at the Hop Research Center at Hüll. I had to wear blue booties, like the ones you see people wearing in hospitals for some antiseptic reason. In this case, they don’t want any foreign critters tracked into the yard. I didn’t even tell them that I’d been in and out of English fields a few days before.

Palate readjustment

Last beer yesterday: Fuller’s Chiswick Ale in the pub on the brewery grounds. Four different hops. Five different hop additions. Just what a 3.5% abv English bitter should be.

First beer today: Augustiner Pilsner after driving through scores of German hop fields sparkling in the late afternoon sun. No stopping for photos on the autobahn, but maybe I can post one or two tomorrow. Augustiner is one of the sponsors of the Hallertau Volkfest that starts Friday. Tuesday they choose a new hop queen. I will report back.

What would you ask a hop queen?

Mona EuringerNo, seriously.

Next week judges stream into Chicago to taste their way through 3,500 or so entrants in the World Beer Cup and soon they will be joined by thousands of brewing industry members for the Craft Brewers Conference.

I expect only the toughest will make it up Saturday morning for “Brewing Belgian White and Wit Beers,” the panel I’ll be moderating. Fortunately there will be many more exciting moments. First up, Wednesday afternoon is a chance to meet the Hallertau hop queen, Mona Euringer. She’ll be in Chicago along with members of the German Hop Growers Association.

She’ll give a brief talk about life on a hop farm and also be around for the trade show Thursday and Friday. Last year the hop growers caught some grief when it was suggested Nicol Frankl, the previous hop queen, was invited along only because she has a pretty face.

Not true. “To be elected hop queen, you have to have grown up and helped work on a hop farm all of your life, you have to know hops, hop farming, and all the machinery involved,” said Eric Toft, brewmaster at Private Landbrauerei Schönram, who doubles as a representative of the hop growers.

I promise to find out just how much she knows. So if you have a question you want asked please leave it as a comment. As long as it’s not rude I’ll ask her.

The hop growers will also be serving a variety of beers. Toft wrote the recipes and Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania made the beers. They will include three different Belgian-style pale ales — each brewed with a single German aroma hop varieties: Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Smaragd, Hersbrucker — a new Bavarian-style pale ale, and a tripel hopped with Saphir.

I promise to ask questions first and drink beers later.

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