NCPR On Hop Farming In Ferrisburgh, Vermont

My local public radio station, North Country Public Radio, had a great story today as part of it’s series on Faming Under 40 that runs all this week. Today’s installment is called “New Direction for an Old Farm” and described how the next generation on a 210 year family mixed farm is trying out hops:

…last year Joe’s youngest son, Ian, approached him with an idea to grow hops in the lower field. Ian is 26 years old and his friend, Fletcher Bach, 23, had gotten him interested in brewing beer. They wanted to try growing hops – which flavors and preserves beer – instead of buying it. “We started with sixteen plants,” Ian Birkett said. “We were like, these are growing really well here. So we kind of put our heads together, wrote a business plan, and now we are on year two and we have 850 plants.”

The operation is called Square Nail Hops Farm. It has a Facebook page. They are getting in touch with the right advancement programs. They are getting involved with academic research. And they are selling to craft brewers. A great story.

Wired’s Good Summary Of Price Inputs Got Me Thinking

It’s just a short article in Wired but it provides a good summary of where we are with the hop and barley price jumps and gets me thinking about that other elephant in the room – value:

“My jaw hit the floor when I saw the price,” Ansari says. And next year, he’ll have to reformulate his brown ale Bender beer, a blend he described as a “flagship” flavor requiring the “Willamette” hop from the Pacific Northwest. “We were informed by our supplier that next year we can’t get that hop. It’s just gone,” Ansari said. “We’re going to have to make changes. Everybody,” he says, “is crossing their fingers there is going to be good hop crop.”

I haven’t got my copy of the May Beer Advocate magazine yet but I understand this issue has an article on prices (as Andy discussed in March) that takes some bars to task for the degree of price increase they are asking customers to bear. The Alstrom lads have been addressing the question of price and value fairly consistency with their recent articles on the monks of Westvleteren wanting the inflated reselling of their beers to stop as well as their raising of the issue of paying for beer fest beers.

As you know, I’ve been thinking about it, too, but even more so this weekend as I realize how much of the bitterness in those low-priced, thirst-quenching Sam Adams Summer Ales over the BBQ is from those wee grains of paradise – and how I don’t mind at all. The Wired article mentions how 21st Amendment brews a Watermelon Wheat with virtually no hops. It will be interesting to watch how this crisis becomes for some a reason to unreasonably soak and how for others it will be an opportunity to innovate. Do you plan to reward the innovators with your support?

My Deep And Witty Analysis Of The Big Hop Giveaway!

My computer ate it. It was a virtual unified theory of beer blogging, an apology draped in an accusation resting on a question with its feet up on satisfaction. Brilliant. Gone. In sum: I didn’t like their variety packs, the special glass, Utopia, the ’90’s triple bock or their white-like thing; but, once called out, I found liked their value-priced Scotch Ale and premium Imperial pilsner a lot and the ads have grown on me; remember that good business knows it does one good to do good; remember, too, they are a big raft brewer with a range from perhaps some kraphtt, much craft, and some special; I have no idea what percentage of their total hops ordered this giveaway of allotment represents; but in the end it is great to see a breakaway brewery remember that a rising tide raises all boats. Good work, Jim.

The long version was better. An epic.

Big Hop Bombs: Extreme Beer And Your Personal Limits

It’s always a big day when Eric Asimov writes a beer article for The New York Times. Being Canadian, a culture with a deep seam of neediness running through it¹, you glow when you feel like you are noticed just as when the beer nerd’s nerdiness gets the MSM treatment. But in today’s article all was not nice – there was a bit of push back from him and the panel against the extreme hoppiness in beer that have marked a certain sector of the nerd herd:

“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?” Phil likened the appeal of these beers to the macho allure of hot sauces, which almost dare enthusiasts to try the hottest ones.

I like the comparison to saltiness and it reminds me of the idea that the search for the strongest beer, an earlier extreme beer obsession, is as dumb as hunting for the strongest Scotch. One thing I noticed was that the beers chosen that I was familiar with were not the most hop-ridden out there by any stretch. Dogfish Head 90 looks up to their 120, I found Simcoe Double IPA balanced (something I could not say for the brewer’s bigger Eleven) and only Un*earthly broke the now standard 10% alcohol limit that now sort of divides extreme between really strong from insanely strong.

Stan notes at his blog that some in craft beer are not so prudent or concerned with beauty when he shares this update from Avery about their 2008 version of New World Porter:

While some observers may posit that the hop shortage is a good thing, forcing brewers to become more efficient and prudent with their use of hops, we at Avery tend to disagree. Hops are the heart and soul of our beers and we refuse to compromise our recipes or our flavors. Even more, as if to scoff in the face of common sense and basic brewery economics, we decided to increase the hops that were added to this years New World Porter. The 2008 batch is truly a black IPA.

Something tells me that this could well just not be a beer for me. After a few of years of these big brews I am starting to think that I have a natural limit of around 8.5 percent beyond which beers start to have a diminishing return unless there is something else to particularly attract my attention. I also have a limit as to hop acid and that is defined by the need not worry about the state of my tooth enamel…unless, say, there are those arugula hops from Ithaca in there. This is no different than my sour beer studies leading to my limit for acidity being far closer to Kriek De Ranke than to Bruocsella 1990.

Is it wrong to say that you can’t go all the way or at least as far as others go? Old farts call this a sign of maturing. The immature call it the sign of an old fart. To my mind, Asimov’s NYT article leaned towards old fart territory without explicitly saying so. The other end of the pendulum’s swing can be found at this busy forum filled with unimpressed lame-‘cusatory BAers. It’s like everyone is unhappy with everyone else and, frankly, Pete Brown is pretty much fed up with the lot of you.

Yet these things only go so far. Can someone else tell us what to think, to taste? There is nothing more odd than sitting over the same bottle with experienced fans and hearing differing comments, different experiences of pleasure. In many ways, beer has an audience of one and that is you. So what have you learned about yourself? Which path would a brewer have you walk but you won’t follow? Is it and overly Burtoned mineralized brew? Too still, too hopped, too smoked or just too much goddamn yeasty floaties? Or is it the milds, lights and other table beers that bore you or, worse, wear you out from trips to the can? Remember this: we each have to make our old way in this wicked world and there is no better example of that than the love of beer. What thing about beer have you learned not to repeat?

¹Think Sally Field saying “They like me! They really like me!!” and add snow.

Big Hop Bombs: Simcoe Double IPA, Weyerbacher Brewing, PA

Rich fine tan creamy head over deep caramel ale. The smell is orange marmalade with a sort of distinctly garlic-y hot heat. In the mouth eucalyptus and mint hops with orange peel and rich creamy malt closing into heat. A really fine double IPA, balanced – at 9% not overwhelming. A kinder gentler sibling of the same brewer’s Eleven. A fine thing in the shade on the hot day with a stinky blue cheese and a good loaf as children draw with chalk around you.

Planned by the brewer to be a softer gentler version of a big hop bomb. 100% BAer approval noted and well worthy.

Quick Note: Shepherd Neame Goldings, England

We don’t get enough Shepherd Neame around here. Just Bishop’s Finger in the LCBO and I thought I had heard rumours that even its days might be numbered. And just like Spitfire was a seasonal release from the government store in 2004, so too this summer we had their Goldings Summer Hop Ale.

I have to re-adjust just my scale for English pale ale. Having much more access to the heavier hoppier US versions you have to gear back and think of these not as light ales but delicate ones. And delicate this one is indeed. Pure white pin-point foam and lace over amber ale. The aroma is floral and reserved. Not staid, though – more freesia than marigold. In the mouth there is a gush of fresh water, pale ale bread crust graininess, plenty of stone fruit – apple, pear, peach notes – and a nice lemony citric hop bite. A gentler pale but worthy.

The 17 BA reviewers are 12% unhappy. Restless. Some say too watery. Some say not enough hop. Even at 4.7%, I say this is a decent English best bitter and that is something you don’t get your hands on too much anymore in the international drive for big. I like.

 

Big Hop Bombs: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Delaware USA

…perhaps one of the best IPAs in America…
 

We were this close to staying at a hotel between the Dogfish Head Brewery and the beach at Lewes, Delaware…this close…then I bailed on the great southern credit card run and opted for the nearer north-east of New England. I would have learned so much about Dogfish Head – not to mention and Victory Brewing in PA on the way. Ah well, next year in Delaware.

Thanks, however, to the good folks of Galeville a little bit of the Delaware shore makes it upstate. I picked up this four pack of these 9% brews for about 8 bucks US which is a good deal. I don’t need six 9% brews and that savings allows me to pick up another quart of Rogue or maybe a little something from Middle Ages. I have had Dogfish’s Pumkin’ Ale and their Belgian dark strong ale, Raison D’Etre. Both are quality with a bit of querky and expect something of the same and get it. The brewery explains the “minute” the 90 minute IPA in this way:

Our family of Indian Pale Ales includes the 60 Minute I.P.A. and the 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A.. Both feature our unique continuous hopping program, where they receive a single hop addition that lasts over the course of the entire boil (60 and 90 minutes respectively). This breakthrough hopping method makes for a beer that is extremely hoppy without being overly bitter.

The hop effect is very nice, giving great green gobs of hops which bite the back of the throat coat the mouth and fill the nose while maintaining a mellowness which envelops the ale’s hot boozy heat. It would make a heck of a match for hot Cambodian soup or a curry. The effect of the continuous hopping also is a lack of layering or steps in the flavours. There is not so much a noticing of that nutty tone or that raisin in the corner as a continuum of shifting thoughts bouncing off the palate. Under and amongst all the hops and heat is sweet pale malt with maybe cherry/apricot notes as well as perhaps a twong of crystal sultana and definitely a grainy edge in the finish. The body is medium-large without quite the bigness of a Stone.

At the beer advocate an astounding 458 reviews of this can be found and we have learned that 2% of those who post there have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, like this chappie:

Clear rusty tan in color, slim foam. A small hint of hops in the smell but not to much at all. The taste is hoppy but is unfortunatley covered by the terrible alcohol taste , like wise it leaves an after taste of alcohol. IMHO not a great brew, not at all.

So…he gave an Imperial IPA at nine percent 2.2/5 for being hot and boozy. Please stay away from the Belgians, pal. Hands off the Belgians.

One of the greats: hot, hoppy and handsome.

Big Hop Bombs: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Delaware USA

We were this close to staying at a hotel between the Dogfish Head Brewery and the beach at Lewes, Delaware…this close…then I bailed on the great southern credit card run and opted for the nearer north-east of New England. I would have learned so much about Dogfish Head – not to mention and Victory Brewing in PA on the way. Ah well, next year in Delaware.

Thanks, however, to the good folks of Galeville a little bit of the Delaware shore makes it upstate. I picked up this four pack of these 9% brews for about 8 bucks US which is a good deal. I don’t need six 9% brews and that savings allows me to pick up another quart of Rogue or maybe a little something from Middle Ages. I have had Dogfish’s Pumkin’ Ale and their Belgian dark strong ale, Raison D’Etre. Both are quality with a bit of querky and expect something of the same and get it. The brewery explains the “minute” the 90 minute IPA in this way:

Our family of Indian Pale Ales includes the 60 Minute I.P.A. and the 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A.. Both feature our unique continuous hopping program, where they receive a single hop addition that lasts over the course of the entire boil (60 and 90 minutes respectively). This breakthrough hopping method makes for a beer that is extremely hoppy without being overly bitter.

The hop effect is very nice, giving great green gobs of hops which bite the back of the throat coat the mouth and fill the nose while maintaining a mellowness which envelops the ale’s hot boozy heat. It would make a heck of a match for hot Cambodian soup or a curry. The effect of the continuous hopping also is a lack of layering or steps in the flavours. There is not so much a noticing of that nutty tone or that raisin in the corner as a continuum of shifting thoughts bouncing off the palate. Under and amongst all the hops and heat is sweet pale malt with maybe cherry/apricot notes as well as perhaps a twong of crystal sultana and definitely a grainy edge in the finish. The body is medium-large without quite the bigness of a Stone.

At the beer advocate an astounding 458 reviews of this can be found and we have learned that 2% of those who post there have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, like this chappie:

Clear rusty tan in color, slim foam. A small hint of hops in the smell but not to much at all. The taste is hoppy but is unfortunatley covered by the terrible alcohol taste , like wise it leaves an after taste of alcohol. IMHO not a great brew, not at all.

So…he gave an Imperial IPA at nine percent 2.2/5 for being hot and boozy. Please stay away from the Belgians, pal. Hands off the Belgians.

One of the greats: hot, hoppy and handsome.

New York: Variety 12- Pack, Cooperstown Brewing, Milford

Another big buy from my trip a few weeks ago to the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The case of this happy vista upon cracking the cardboard. Cooperstown Brewing is not actually in Cooperstown but is a proud cornerstone of the Milford, New York business community.

Like the Smuttynose case review posted ten days ago, I will work through the varieties included in this combo pack and give my impression of what the brewery is up to. One preliminary point, however. In this pack there are twelve bottles of six types as opposed to the four types. For me this takes out the “what do you think opportunity” – I don’t mind sharing a third but I think two bottles separated by a couple of days helps me think about whether I like a brew or not. Also, without having had one, drop the “golden ale”. Maybe once I have popped them, I will feel differently but to me that sounds like a pale ale that can’t work itself up to call itself even that. Plus, having sneaked one each of the stout and porter already, I know you could drop the stout. The porter is a real winner but the stout is not. You are trying to win me over with these mixed cases, so my advice is play your best cards.

I will review all six ales – and they are all ales which is a plus from the get go – as I pop ’em.

Golden Ale: I am not sure whether I have to retract what I wrote above, now a few days ago, but I am also not minding this light ale. That is what it really is at 4.3%. The brewery says:”Nine Man” is a golden ale, brewed from English pale and crystal malts, and with torrified wheat. It is bittered with Cascade and Cluster hops and finished with Cascade hops. “Nine Man Ale” was first brewed as a summer seasonal beer in 1996. It was kegged the first season but not bottled until the opening of the baseball season in April 1997.

– Original Gravity 1.045 / Final Gravity 1.012 /4.3% abv.

There is more body in this than a supposedly full-bodied Canadian macro-ale like Labatt 50. The hop selection and timing provides a good edge to the brew without florals or fruity flavour – maybe a wee lemon rind thing. The crystal malt gives it a slight nutty tone as well. Nothing remarkable except that at that moderate alcohol level, it does not come across as any kind of compromise. The beer advocatonians are a little restless with a 19% thumbs down rating. Here is one unhappy soul’s tale:Found this to be a decent, quaffable light ale. It has a pleasant medium gold appearance with a slight head. The aroma has hints of mown grass with some hints of Saaz hops. Tart, slightly fruity flavor. At the end, find it to be a bit clingy and starchy on the aftertaste.That reviewer rated it 2.9 out of 5. What do you want from a light ale?!?! But that is it! It is not called a light ale or even a lite one but a golden one. By not admitting what it is, has Cooperstown lost a market? Perhaps. For now, I say leave three of these in the box…maybe as a summer seasonal.

Pride of Milford: Strong Ale. The brewery says 7.7% which is about 2.2% higher than I would have guessed from the mouthfeel. It is rich but not Belgian fruity, more restrained like a low-end barley wine. The excellent Lew Bryson in his excellent, nay, seminal New York Breweries (1st ed. 2003 Stackpole Books) calls it at page 166:…a big beer that showcases the beautiful character of the Yorkshire [Ringwood] yeast. It’s malty, cookie-sweet and touched by fruity esters and Ringwood nuttiness that I love…I would agree with everything but the “cookie-sweet” unless we are talking ginger snap or milk lunch. I think this is actually moderately rich and dry – think amontillado or oloroso rather than fino if we were taking sherry which we are not but I thought I would say it anyway. The brewery says:

“Pride of Milford” is a very special ale with a tapestry of complex flavors and aromas. It is brewed with five malts and fermented with the Ringwood yeast at a higher temperature which gives this beer a uniqueness all its own. “Pride” has a distinctive reddish copper color. It is strong and rich beer. When “Pride” was first brewed in December 1999, many thought the flavor and aromas of this beer had fruit overtones. No fruit or adjunct flavoring is added to this beer. The unique flavor comes from our special brewing process.

It is not particularly pungent and has a soft mouthfeel, which would make it quite sneaky if one faced an afternoon at a cottage in winter with a fridgefull. Which raises the question of why this would be included in a case in July. I say include three of these in the case in winter replaced by the Golden Ale in the summer. I think beerish advocates would agree.

Strike Out Stout: The head fizzed like a Coke as it was poured and dissolved away within ten seconds. A nice flavour with chocolate and dry darker malts but subdued, a lighter bodied stout. An oxymoron. Fades in the mouth leaving a cocoa-chalky feel then just a little sour tang. The brewery is kinder to itself:

“Strike Out” is brewed with 6 malts including a balanced portion of chocolate and crystal malts. It is also brewed with 5% flaked oats for a velvet-like mouth feel. English pale, Munich and black malt, plus roasted barley round out the malt bill. Considerably lower in alcohol than both Benchwarmer Porter and Old Slugger Pale Ale, “Strike Out” is a well-rounded stout, opaque black in color with a roasted palate.

        People looking for a stout will be disappointed, especially with the 4.6% but also the crystal malt, quite off style, even for an oatmeal stout. Consider these

two great oatmeal stouts

         easily accessible to someone in the east end of Lake Ontario region. Both have richness. Strike Out does not. It should be reformulated with some body added or it should be called a dark ale, a lesser style. The yeast is a bit sour, too. Not really on for the style. I think I have made a stout like this and not been that proud of it.

One unhappy beer advocate

       captures my thoughts:

Almost black. Big Huge fizzy brown head. Good retention. Head forms craters as it dissintegrates. This beer appears to be very charged up by its appearance. Coffee bean, soap and leather are present on the nose. There’s something wrong with this beer. (Actually, many things.) Mouthfeel is way too carbonated. I get so damn much gas in every gulp that a burp is always the aftermath. The taste is astringent. Husky. Tannin like. Soapy. Stale. No stout qualities to speak of. I haven’t dumped a beer in months, but I just don’t feel like burping 20 times by the time I finish this one.

      So ditch this beer, Cooperstown. I think I am going to like the porter better from the recollection of the first. Leave this one out of the variety case to make some room of the seasonal.

Old Slugger Pale Ale: If there are two words that are bad in beer they are “Mt.” and “Hood”. Some call them spicy. Others, like me, rough and dirty, like a little bit of bark in every sip. I didn’t know what was so odd about this brew until I saw those two words – then I knew. Al Korzonas in his text Homebrewing – Vol. 1 (Sheaf & Vine, 1997) writes:

Another recently released American-grown cousin of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh. It is spicy (cinnamon), resiny and slightly sweet. It is recommended for any German or American lager. It is quite close to the Hallettaur Mittlefrüh in character, perhaps a little spicier. I recommend against using this hop for beers in which you want dominant bitterness – in a recent experiment I found its bitterness to be slightly abrasive when used in a recipe where the bitterness strongly dominated the malt.

      Not good news for a pale ale – that fairly malty, fairly bitter style.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious brew – ringwood yeast and its sour, woodsy thing; three very different hops, Mt. Hood as well as twiggy Fuggles and citrusy Cascade; as well as four barley malts including two types of crystal. For all that work there is an absence of finesse, the balance that makes all that flavour pull together. What would help? There is butterscotch but it is sitting there in a gap that needs to be filled up with biscuit. Again with the body…Cooperstown is just making them too light for the amount of flavour they want you to take in. Like the stout, it leaves you with an impression that it is thinner than it ought to be. Also like the stout, the head disappeared fast. The beer advocates give at a fairly low average for a micro.

Back Yard India Pale Ale: The head sustains longer than the stout or the pale ale. This is a good sign. The first taste is of vegetative rather than herbal hops. Clover sweet. There is a rough malt grain edge but is works in this one. This beer would go well with rich earthy flavours like ox-tail soup, parsley potato soup or roast squash. You know what I saying. I know you do. Maybe it is just that the ringwood challenge has been met with this one. A full three ales in the variety pack year round.

Interestingly, the unhappy beer advocates are talking about gushing bottles, cloudy ale and high burposity. These comments all go to problems at the brewery. My bottle was nothing like this, fairly still and balanced. So be prepared for bottle variation. The brewery says something very interesting:

English pale barley malt is predominant in this beer with just a small amount of crystal malt. It is well bittered with Cluster and Cascade hops and finished with a mix of local hop and larger amounts of Fuggle hop.The southeast zone of the leather-stocking region in New York (west of the Syracuse-Binghampton corridor south-west of Albany) was a hop growing area before the west was truly won and a local hop is a good hop if it is a heritage variety as this claim might be taken to imply. All in all, I am very happy with this beer. No Flower Power IPA from Ithaca but a worthy if less brassy neighbour. Redemption in the case.

Benchwarmer Porter: Comfort beer and, again like the IPA, a worthy placement in the case. The head is rocky and tan. The mouthfeel is full and full of mocha and fresh picked unsweetened black current. A beer fit for the Ringwood, but porter usually is. I used to make Ringwood pumpkin porter in my homebrewing days…but less about me, more about the brew. The brewery says:More than 4% chocolate malt, which is the most similar to the brown malts of the early 1700’s, gives “Benchwarmer” its dry coffee-like finish. It is fermented with the Ringwood yeast which is an excellent yeast for the brewing of porters.I am buying it but are the beer advocates? 43 reviews all all positive. One says:

Big foamy head and very dark color, but not opaque. Lots of hops for a porter, and they work well in drying out a slightly chewy mouthfeel, as well as imparting nice hints of herbs and dry leaves. Very tasty underlying flavors of espresso, dry molasses and earth. The finish is dry, with the coffee/espresso flavors lingering with a touch of alcohol. Really complex on tap.

Many reviewers taste some smoke which I did not get at all. Oh, well. Such is life. Very decent porter.

So all in all this is an ok variety pack but I now know what I will buy in a six and what I will not. Some concern for production quality but when they do well they do well. Nothing life changing but they are thinking and they are achieving – two things I have to remember to get around to from time to time Work on the stout and the pale ale, mix up the case to go with four styles not six and you are going to be ok.

Three Winter Ales

These are three great candidates for the best have-one-bottle beer.

Nothing for the faint hearted, though: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout ($3.10 for 500 ml at 5.2%) from London, UK; Victory Storm King Imperial Stout ($2.40 for 355 ml at 9.1%) from Pennsylvania; and Anchor Liberty Ale ($3.55 for 650 ml at 6.2%) from San Francisco and all at the LCBO these days.

Each one is big in its own way – Liberty is massively hopped, Youngs has chocolate malt as well as real chocolate and the Victory is like licking the coffee grinds out of the percolator. Maybe you have to brew to like beers this big but I have so I do. Snazzy labels, too.