Showing posts with label hops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hops. Show all posts

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Session: The Backbone


This month's iteration of The Session is being hosted by Carla, a.k.a. The Beer Babe, who encourages us to:
talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?
Here in Central Virginia he have a plethora of beer allied industries that seem to have popped up from nowhere with the continued increase in brewery numbers (of the 30 odd breweries within 50 miles of my house, only 6 existed when I moved here in 2009), but I want to focus on one in particular, and forgive me if this is an overly obvious allied industies to look at.

Virginia is at heart an agrarian state, once upon a time it was the Kent of the Colonies, a veritable Eden of Humulus Lupulus, but eventually that industry headed out west. Slowly though hop gardens are again becoming a thing in Virginia, with about 25 acres planted in 2014. Much of the renaissance can be put down to small brewpubs planting a half acre or so of hops in the vicinity of their facility - if you have ever been to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton you'll know exactly what I have in mind.

As I said though, hop growing is, well, um, growing again here in Virginia. The Old Dominion Hops Co-op is a group of 185 farmers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland growing varieties like Cascade, Chinook, Brewers Gold, and Goldings for use by small breweries. Some members of the co-op grow on as little of a third of an acre (that's 1375m2 for the metric folks) while at the bigger end of things there are those with 2.5 acres and multiple varieties.

As I said, Virginia is an agrarian state, despite the urban sprawl of Northern Virginia, and while we don't have the expanses of the Mid West flowing with waves of grain, barley is an important crop in the Commonwealth. In 2014, about 20000 acres were planted with barley, producing somewhere in the region of 72 million pounds of grain. Admittedly much of this production goes to cattle feed, but with the growth of beer has come a growth in local artisan malting companies, such as Wood's Mill Malt House, Big Trouble, and even Copper Fox Distillery, who malt their own grain for their whiskey and sell small amounts on to brewers.

I am sure there are sexier allied industries, the tour givers, the distributors, the conference organisers, the other assorted hangers on, but it is the farmers and maltsters providing the raw ingredients to the teams doing the work for the rock star brewers, who are the unsung heroes of the brewing world. I for one am glad to see these industries coming back to life in Virginia, so that one day we may actually be able to buy a distinctively Virginian local beer.

Monday, August 3, 2015

In Praise of Bitterness

For some reason I seem to have garnered a reputation for not being a hop-head. I am really not sure where this perception has come from, oh that's right, I don't rave on and on about the latest, greatest method for getting hop flavour and aroma into my beer, such as these ridiculous hop tea bags which Arthur highlighted on Stonch's blog today. I am also not an enthusiastic drinker of IPA in general, there are a couple that I like and drink fairly regularly, but most IPAs leave me cold. I guess that means I just don't like hops.

Well, that's just bollocks. Sure I might not cream my undies for beers hopped with Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, et al, but I love a good hoppy beer that uses hops like Goldings, Saaz, or Tettnang. I just don't particularly enjoy the cats piss, grapefruit, and pine resin thing of many an American hop.

One thing though that I do like, regardless of the heritage of the hop, is bitterness. I like a bracing, almost tannic bite that cuts through the sweetness of the malt. Perhaps this is one reason why I love a properly made Czech pilsner as the Saaz delivers a firm, dry bite, or a good Goldings dripping best bitter. Sure there is hop flavour and aroma in mix, but the bitterness is up front and central to the beer, and I love bitter beers.

In recent years several beers that I used to enjoy have been 're-formulated', a word that strikes fear into my heart, and become 'smoother', less bitter, more approachable. Invariably, to my taste, they have became blander, less interesting, and quite frankly disappointing, leaving me longing for a good dose of bitterness to cleanse my palate in preparation for the next mouthful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Many Hops?

There are times when I get the feeling that I come across as being something of an anti-hop crusader. However, I prefer to think of it as being sick of the apparent notion that seems to float around the indie beer drinker world that the more hops there are in a beer, the better. The reality though is that I like beers with a firm hop bite, a nice hop flavour and a pleasing hop aroma, I like the hopping to be a distinct element of the beer, not the sole focus of the beer - and no, IPA is NOT 'all about the hops'.

Having said that, and for fear of completely contradicting myself, there are times when I think beers have, to bastardise the , 'too many hops'. By this I don't mean that a beer is 'too hoppy', whatever the hell 'hoppy' actually means anyway, but rather that some beers have such a melange of hop varieties as to effectively become a mess.

Often, though not always, such beers are in the generic world of 'pale ale' or a 'black india' version of something. When I read a list of 7 or 8 hop varieties, usually, though again not always, the high alpha varieties, I can't help but wonder at times if the beer that results would benefit from fewer hop varieties and more attention being paid to the effects of the remaining hops so they are more distinct and pleasurable when drinking.


In thinking about many of my favourite beers to drink, as opposed to sample, they tend to have a maximum of three hop varieties, though in reality the vast majority use just one or two. Take my current favourite pilsner (sorry Pilsner Urquell, you've been usurped for the time being), Port City's Downright Pilsner, which gets all 43 of its IBUs from that majestic hop, Saaz, or even my favourite IPA being brewed in Virginia today, from St George down in Hampton, with its judicious, and exclusive, use of Fuggles. From further afield, take one of my favourite stouts, Wrasslers XXXX from Ireland's Porterhouse, hopped with Galena, Nugget and East Kent Golding (which reminds me, I should stock up on this beer at some point). With all three beers the hops are noticeable without intruding on the drinking, in a sense you could say that the hops know their place.

Maybe this feeling harks back to something I mentioned in my previous post about balance being an essential part of my definition of 'good' beer. For me it is not just a case of the overall beer being balanced, but that there is balance within the elements of a beer as well, and perhaps it in the hopping that this balance is most important and most easily disrupted.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Humourless Lupulin Loonies

Sometimes, when working at the tasting room, I give tours of the Starr Hill brewery. I try not to waffle on endlessly about the arcane minutiae of brewing, but rather focus on the general process and hope not to lose my audience with trivialities. One thing that I have started to do recently is to go into more detail about the different hop varieties that are used in the brewing world.

This added spiel in my tour came about because I have a bad habit for earwigging (do Americans use that phrase? I honestly don't know, but just in case, it means to listen to other people's conversations). I was sat in Devils Backbone drinking some of the Trukker Ur-Pils and generally chilling out, when I overheard someone claim that "I only like hoppy beers" and then grumble his way through a pint of the pils. His mutterings were mainly related to the perceived lack of hops in said beer and how he wanted an American IPA to get some hops. I have heard similar comments from people drinking an English IPA and restrained myself from smacking them upside the head.

I hate to say it, though say it I shall, I find this kind of attitude remarkably common among the Zythogelicals of this world, and usually what they really mean is "I like my beer to taste of grapefruit". If you follow my Twitter feed, you most likely saw my trick question that I posted, regarding which is more bitter? Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Pilsner Urquell? Given that you are an intelligent and learned reader, you know that the answer is of course,......Pilsner Urquell, beating SNPA by 40 IBUs to 37.

It seems elementary to say it, but different hops produce different aromas and flavours. The lemony, floral grassiness tinged with spiciness that Saaz is known for is no less "hoppy" that the pine resin, grapefruit things going on in Cascade. The same is true of Fuggles and East Kent Goldings and their earthy flavours. It stands to reason that 40IBU of Saaz is different from 40IBU of Cascade or 40IBU of Fuggles, but in terms of bitterness, the beers in question are as bitter as each other, so to say one is not "hoppy" enough is just plain daft in my book.

Perhaps, and I admit this may be cynical, but discussions with various brewery related people and bar staff confirm my thinking, many self confessed "hopheads" are in fact devotees of a single family of hops and as such fail to appreciate the delights of other hop varieties. I can't imagine wanting to limit my beer drinking experience to simply those beers that conform to my concept of "hoppiness". To be honest overloading stouts, porters and weizens with Cascade and co leads to some practically undrinkable beers, but I guess you could just claim it as an innovation and create a new style.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hopped Scotch?

Yesterday my brewing ingredients for the International Homebrew Project arrived from those lovely people at Northern Brewer, and now I fear my fridge is starting to resemble a hop store. In the fridge, awaiting the wondrous transformation into beer are packs of Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial and Saaz. 

For my scaled down version of the American Pale Ale for the IHP I will only be using about half of the Amarillo, Cascade and Centennial, though obviously none of the Saaz. Now, the sensible thing to do would be make a second batch of the American Pale Ale recipe, I should really think of a name for it - I have been referring to it of late as CAC, which is definitely not good in so many languages. Sensible has never been my strong point though.

What to do though? Stout with Centennial, Amarillo and Cascade? Or perhaps a porter would be better, just to test a theory I have that the so-called "Black IPA" is really nothing more than an over-hopped porter. I could, of course, up the malt content and make an IPA, or really give the malt a boost and make a hoppy Wee Heavy (calling it Wee Hoppy, naturally).

Decisions, decisions.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hoppity Hoppity Hop

That was fairly emphatic wasn't it? Of the 14 votes cast, American Pale Ale got 50% of the vote, with 4 for IPA and 3 for English Pale Ale.

According to Ray Daniels' "Designing Great Beers" (a very useful resource which I recommend to every home brewer, whether all grain or otherwise), American Pale Ales have the following characteristics:

  • OG: 1.044 - 1.056
  • IBU: 20 - 40
  • Hop Flavour and Aroma: medium to high
  • Colour (SRM): 4 - 12
  • Apparent Extract: 70 - 80%
  • ABV: 4.5 - 5.5%
  • Esters: low
  • Diacetyl: low OK
Admittedly Daniels' takes this data from the American Homebrewers Association.

Before deciding what specialty grains will be used to augment the base malt, or malt extract, depending on your choice of all grain or extract with grains, we will decide on which hops will be going into the brew. In some ways I was glad that APA won the poll because we get to play with some high alpha acid hops like Chinook, not to mention hops like Amarillo and Cascade with their signature grapefruit aromas.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hopping Mead!

If you have been following this blog from the beginning, then firstly I salute you, and secondly you will know that I have attempted to make mead, which turned out to be rank beyond description - think rough as guts it was that bad.

Since then however, I have learnt to brew reasonably well and so my thoughts at the weekend turned to trying my hand once more at mead, when of course fermentation space allows.

Being the tinkerer I am however, I don't want to make just a plain mead, purely with honey, water and yeast - I want to mess about! When thinking about other things to throw into the mead, my first thought was to use hops - especially given their purpose in beer as a bittering agent to balance out the sweetness of the malt. Using hops in mead is nothing new, having once been an ingredient in braggot, although today it is brewed with honey and malt rather than honey and hops (if I am wrong about that, forgive me - but from cursory searches on Google that seems to be the case).

The questions in my mind then lead me to thinking about boil times, would I have to do a 60 minute boil so as to utilise the various compounds in hops that do their thing at different times in the boil, not to mention the most important question of all, which hops to use?

I can imagine the American C-hops working very well in a braggot, and of as a devotee of the Fuggle hop I would be keen to try that out as well. However, I think to begin with I will use one of my favourite hops on the planet for my concoction, Amarillo! Imagine the grapefruity flavours cutting through the smoothness of the honey!

Have any other homebrewers reading this tried making a hopped mead? If so, what was good, what was bad, what hops did you use? So many questions!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Question for the Brewers

Saturday is pencilled in as my first brewing day, the beer being made will be 16 litres of an "imperial smoked mild" - not a big batch I know, and a slightly odd style.

But this is my question, is dry hopping with Saaz hop pellets a good idea or not?

Friday, April 25, 2008

A shameless plug

In Mrs Velkyal and I's quest for making random alcoholic drinks, we came across the following people.

Not only are they prepared to ship to the Czech Republic, but also they have been wonderfully helpful.

Thank you very much!

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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