Your Beery Update For A Mid-February Monday

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While I am not living the snowy hell of the east coast, I am simply sick of winter here on the Great Lakes. It’s not like it’s been a long one either. December and January were pretty soft. But the deep cold has driven me inside and down into the basement. Next to the gas stove. Wrapped in blankets and sipping cold medicines – in which category I include port and stout. Scenes like these from Boak and Bailey now just confuse me. I ask myself: “do they have invisible snow somehow in Cornwall?” I shake my head as soon as the idea comes to me. It goes away. I am reduced to comparing corks to pass the time, to save my sanity. I even asked Facebook a question and then tried to answer it: “can a caged cork be a dud? The one in the middle is from tonight’s under-inspiring Goudenband 2010. It looks like the base did not expand in the neck of the bottle. The cork to the left is from Dupont and to the right St. Bernardus. Never saw this before. The bottle aged standing up so contact with fluid is not the problem. Generates a head and otherwise fine but a dull bottle.” Really? Narrow cork bases? It’s come to this. I could only gather the whisps of energy to write that on a long weekend in a deep freeze somewhere along the way in mid-February. Sad.

=> The more I think about it, the more I think this line of thinking by Stan is the most important thing I have read about good beer for a couple of years. There may well not be enough growth potential in the hops and barley markets to supply very much more good beer. Other crops may simply be more profitable and the farmers may not want to switch. Plus, all the best land is already in production. Plus, who wants to sell to pip squeak craft brewers when you can sell to one big steady customer? Be careful, though. You can get into a lot of data. Just look at those 91 acres of Fuggles in Oregon in 2013? What? None in 2012 and none in 2014. What was that about? I have no idea.

=> Thank God Valentine’s Day is over so we don’t need to pretend that chocolate does not go best with port. [Did I mention I like port?] Hint: buy good cava… cheaper than gueuze. Now that that is settled, we have to listen to the best beer for Shrove Tuesday pancake batter. Answer? None. Make a normal pancake, wouldja?

=> In what other country would a national government announcement of a change to law mean nothing else really changes. Here in Ontario? Won’t make a bit of difference.

=> Interesting. Australia is investigating the big brewers and the wholesale draught beer market. Could there be fiddling going on? Imagine. The question is about the state of competition in the market but similar cases have recently been won there against a pharmaceutical firm and supermarkets.

That’s it. Not the greatest set of thoughts but I blame the season. The stupid evil frozen season. A month from now? With any luck the peas will already be in the ground. For now? Evil sits upon the land.

Incidental 1930s Brewing Letterhead Images

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Now there’s a sexy title for a blog post. A real whooah-ish search engine optimization blog post title. Letterhead Pr0n. I should have paid more attention to the lighting when I was at the archives last week with Jordan in Ottawa. But, still, these are pretty sweet. It is amazing how elaborate the Taylor and Bates letterhead is. Rich old guys in suits drinking beer and having the time of their lives because they own a brewery and a radio station.

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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.