Rambling Reviews 5.24.2018: Maiden in the Shade IPA from Ninkasi

Some of the best beers are the hardest to describe. I’d say that applies to Maiden in the Shade IPA, a summer release from Ninkasi Brewing Company  Brewed with no fewer than eight different hops (Summit, Centennial, Simcoe, Columbus, Crystal, Palisade, Amarillo, and Magnum), it has a complex flavor profile I best describe as floral and a bit tropical with no particular flavor dominating. It ends with a light, resiny pine finish. Flaked barely smooths out the body. The hops are front and center, but it’s not this big lupulin assault. I’d hesitate to say it’s an easy drinking IPA, because it’s not that.  It’s just an easier drinking IPA than it has any right to be, given all the massive hop additions. Drinking it on my back patio was just like sipping a glass of hoppy sunshine.

What’s that saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture? That sums up my struggle to adequately describe this beer into words.

Google Trends and Cult Beers….now in The Full Pint

If you were wondering where a recent post where I showed Google searches for cult beers have largely peaked a few years ago, I approached The Full Pint early this week to see if they were interested in running the story. And they were, so they did. I’m pretty enthusiastic about getting a wider audience for the work, especially since it took a while to research and I’ve already gotten so pretty interesting feedback from readers, something I rarely received in my quiet little corner of the internet. You can check it out here:  “Interest in Cult Beers May Have Peaked According to Google Trends”.

Talking with Brewmaster Joe Casey on the Gluten Reduced Beers of Omission Brewing

Some brewers strive to make the next killer IPA or to wow the world with all their culinary creativity.  For Omission Brewing’s Joe Casey, it was about simply giving people a chance to enjoy beer who otherwise couldn’t.

Omission Brewing was founded in 2012 as part of the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) with a portfolio of gluten-reduced beers. Joe Casey, has been acutely aware of gluten-intolerance since 2005 when his wife was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. “Being a Brewmaster and knowing she wasn’t going to drink beer anymore, having something to fit that niche in her life became an interest to me”, explains Casey. “Prior to that, our company CEO at the time had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. So I had both a personal and professional interest to see what we could do in terms of coming up with a beer they could both enjoy.”

Their first attempt started in 2007 using traditional gluten-free fermentables like sorghum, honey, and corn sugar.  “The beer was fine for what it what was, but it didn’t taste like the beer we were used to, the beer we wanted it to taste like,” recalls Casey.  The effort was put on hold until 2010 when Casey became aware of an enzyme called Brewers Clarex™ which breaks down gluten chains when added to the fermentation tank.

Brewers Clarex was released commercially in the mid-2000’s to reduce beer haze. “These haze proteins happened to be the gluten proteins found in barley, wheat and rye,” explains Casey. “As a side effect, they found it was digesting these gluten proteins to the point these beers could be labelled gluten reduced.” This gluten reduction process didn’t have any effect on the flavor, aroma, color or head retention.  After test batches and trials using the enzyme to create gluten reduced beer brewed with barley malt, CBA management green-lighted the project, and Omission Brewing launched in March of 2012, becoming the first large scale commercial brewery of its kind in the United States.

The initial reaction to Omission was immense. All sorts of people fighting gluten intolerance thanked them for allowing them to enjoy beer again. Joe Casey could once again share a beer with his wife.

OM_PALE_12ozBottle_040617_previewOmission’s line-up is rather straightforward and accessible, consisting of a Lager, Pale Ale, IPA, and recently released Ultimate Light, a low calorie, low carbohydrate Golden Ale.  Could Omission brew a high gravity beer like an Imperial Stout, or would that push their gluten removal process too hard?  “We haven’t really tried to push the boundaries on that. In theory, it’s possible,” explains Casey.  “We don’t have any desire to make a gluten removed Wheat Beer for example, that just doesn’t sound right. For us, that’s just pushing the boundaries just a little too far. We got the portfolio we have right now and it’s a very solid craft portfolio and we haven’t seen the need to go outside of that yet.”

I found the Omission beers surprisingly familiar. I expected them to be watery or have off-flavors, but detected none of that in the Pale Ale, Lager, and Ultimate Light brews I sampled. The Pale Ale was well balanced, with an orange citrus note, light sweetness, and tannic bitterness. Definitely a Pale Ale I’d reach for again. Lagers are a test for any brewery and Omission’s has a pleasant bready character with a background floral note.  It rates well among the new breed of lagers out there. As for the Ultimate Light, it’s clear, with a discernible cracker-like malt without any off-flavors and fizzy carbonation.

Ultimate Light was just released in response to changing consumer trends that occurred since 2012.  As Casey explains “When the brand first launched, we were really heavily targeted towards people that had medical necessities to avoid gluten and that’s still the foundation of the brand. But over time we’ve found there’s a large number of people who drink Omission just because they’ve decided to reduce gluten in their diet for reasons of choice. And that’s a much bigger market and there’s advantages to tap into that. It made sense to have a beer to fit into that healthy life-style category as well.”

While Omission chases food trends to grow their business, they continue their commitment to people with medical issues with gluten a website  where customers can download the test results from the batch of beer they’re drinking entering a code printed on the bottle. As Casey puts it, “Transparency is very important to us”. As May is Celiac Awareness month, let’s take a moment to realize simple pleasure like beer was out of reach for people with gluten intolerance. For many with that condition, that’s no longer the case thanks to breweries like Omission.

(I purchased Omission Pale Ale and Lager at local grocery stores for review.  Omission Brewing supplied samples of Ultimate Light. Joe Casey photo was taken by Sasquatch Agency. Product shot and Joe Casey photo used by permission of Omission Brewing Co.)



An Irregular PR at the Gr8ter Race

This morning I ran the Gr8ter Race, an eight mile race that starts in downtown Los Gatos, heads west on Highway 9 through residential neighborhoods to downtown Saratoga, which then doubles back to finish in downtown Los Gatos. The race was part of The Great Race, which starts in Saratoga and finishes in Los Gatos along the same course. The Gr8ter race is just The Great Race doubled.

Well, the good news I set my all time 8 mile PR. Never mind I’ve ever run an 8 mile race before. I finished in 53:18 which is about 6:39 per mile pace, not bad for a race full of rolling, nagging hills. None of the hills are particularly tough but it’s one of those courses where you’re always going either up or down. Considering I ran around 6:30 pace for five miles eight weeks ago on a much flatter course at the 408k, I’ll call this an improvement.

I would give you the blow by blow of the race, except I barely remember what happened out on the course just a few hours ago. Only about 100 people ran it, so the field thinned out pretty quickly.  After the first couple miles, I was pretty much by myself. Then I tired towards the end and with about 1 1/2 miles to go, a couple people caught me. I finished in the top ten, so I thought I might win the 50-59 age group, but it turns about a couple guys over 50 beat me. It’s great that old farts like us dominated the race, but then where were the young guys?

There a some races where you do well, creating that satisfying sense of accomplishment and excitement. Then there are bad races which you simultaneously try to learn from and forget at the same time. Then, there are others like the Gr8ter Race where you do OK and move on.

So the Gr8ter Race is over and done. On to the Across the Bay 12k held in San Francscio in six weeks.

finish gr8ter race

Rambling Reviews 4.19.2018: Figueroa Mountain’s Davey Brown, Santa Maria’s Julicious, and Firestone Walker’s Union Jane

davey brownOnce again, it’s time for another edition of Rambling Reviews. This time, the focus is on brews from California’s Central Coast.

Starting with Davey Brown for Figueroa Mountain Brewing, which is, as the name alludes to, a Brown Ale. When was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow”? Now when was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow” that wasn’t tricked up with all sorts of additions like cacao nibs or Kona coffee? It’s just a “regular” Brown, but with all sorts of layers of flavor. There’s noticeable coffee flavors, some nuttiness, caramel, and light smokey character.  Maybe Figueroa slipped some sort of spices or additions into this without admitting it on the bottle or their website, but it just has a few extra dimensions beyond the usual Brown Ale. Really impressive effort.

santa Maria juliciousNext up is Julicious IPA from Santa Maria Brewing.  Santa Maria calls this a New England Style IPA, but it didn’t look that cloudy to me and it’s fortified with pineapple juice. I picked up a bomber bottle of this last week on vacation on the Central Coast, which means it spent an afternoon in the warm trunk of my car all the way, a great way to tamp down those hop flavors. Despite these less than ideal storage conditions, this brew still retained plenty of fresh fruit flavors of pineapple and grapefruit, with sticky resin held up with some solid malt heft.

Last week’s vacation included a stop at Firestone Walker’s Tap Room in Paso Robles where they were pouring Union Jane IPA, a riff on their popular Union Jack.  Union Jane is a collaboration fundraiser with the Pink Boots Society, using a blend of Palisade, Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra Hops from YCH Hops  specifically for Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day. This one has plenty of bright mango and citrus flavors yielding to a lightly piney finish. Unfortunately, it’s only seems to be available at the Firestone Walker tap room. We can only hope Firestone Walker realizes what it has on its hands and releases it for wider distribution.

fireston walker Union jane
Firestone Walker’s Union Jane

(Figueroa Mountain Brewing sent me a bottle of Davey Brown for review.)

Scenes from Camino Brewing, San Jose’s Newest Brewery

A warm spring afternoon last Saturday was an ideal time for my wife and I to ride our bikes down to Camino Brewing, the latest brewery to open in San Jose.  Camino Brewing is the fifth brewery to open in the industrial neighborhood just south of downtown San Jose. It sits in an old warehouse. I found it rather refreshing sampling a few beers in a space that was truly industrial, rather than made to look industrial.

As for the beer, it’s a great new addition to the four existing breweries in this growing San Jose beer destination. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Camino is that the brew a few hazy, New England style IPAs I actually liked. It probably helped that the beers were light on the haze. The name “Fruit Cup Imperial IPA” unfortunately evokes those artificial tasting canned fruit cups I ate as a kid, but the brew tasted for better than that with it’s burst of tropical and stone fruit. You just can’t go wrong with any of Camino’s IPAs, which is pretty impressive for a brewery taproom that opened up just a week ago.

Camino serves their beer in 4 ounce sample sizes, half pours, and full pints so you can try as little or as much as you want.  Other highlights include a complex, nutty Brown Ale and a Belgian Quad aged for a few months in wine barrels. The red wine dominated the flavor profile of the Belgian Quad, but that really worked in this arresting combination of sweet malt, light sourness, and strong red wine flavors. Easily my favorite beer of the afternoon. For those looking for something on the lighter side, I recommend their Schwarzbier, a clean brew with plenty of deep roasted flavors.

I’ll definitely be back.

IMG-5355IMG-5354IMG-5362IMG-5361IMG-5364 (1)

Fun with Google Trends: The Popularity of Hazy / New England IPAs is nothing like Black IPAs

It’s easy for people like me to get addicted to Google Trends. It’s a website devoted to the frequency of search terms people “Googling” to find information online and the geographical locations of these search. It turns out to be a pretty handy way to find out what things are popular and where, and test out some of the conventional beer wisdom.

For example, some people claim the cloudy, unfiltered “Hazy” or “New England style” IPA is just a fleeting beer fad like the Black IPA was back in the day. Could Google Trends provide some insight into the validity of those claims? I thought I’d give it a try.  If I enter “Black IPA” into Google Trends, it will report the frequency over time and the geographical locations of a statistical significant sample of searches with “Black IPA” in it.

Anyone who’s asked Google “Where can a find a Black IPA?”, or “Black IPA home brew recipe” will be reflected in the Google Trends under “black ipa”.  (Google Trends aren’t case sensitive.) Of course, searches like “Where can I find black market IPA” will also be included in the frequency count, so the data isn’t perfect.  While there are certainly limitations to using this data, plenty of social scientists and market analysts have come up with all sorts of interesting, and at times counter-intuitive conclusions using Google Trends.  (A great read for those interested in that is Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.)

I’m started using Google Trends to investigate the following question:  Are Hazy/New England IPA’s just a flash in the pan style like Black IPAs?  But in the process, I discovered something interesting about where in the United States names like “Black IPA”, “Hazy IPA” and “New England IPA” are actually used.

Let’s start by comparing search terms for “black ipa” wiith  “hazy ipa”, “new england ipa”, “ne ipa”, and “neipa”.  (Other plausibly related search terms like “cloudy IPA” or “juicy IPA” yield significantly less searches, but I’m just going to simplify things and leave those search terms out of the analysis.) Below is a plot of the frequency of each search term from April 8, 2006-April 8th, 2018. (You can view the plot in Google Trends yourself at this link.) I limited the search geography to the United States.

NE IPA Graph1

Searches for “Black IPA”, the yellow line, emerge from the noise starting in early 2010, and hit their first peak in February 2011.  They continue to grow gradually, hitting their overall peak in April 2014, and then start a slow decline afterwards. Searches for “black ipa” actually show rather surprising durability for the style, contradicting claims that Black IPAs were a short lived fad. Even by early 2017, there were far more searches for “black ipa” than the Hazy/New England variants. By contrast, the Hazy/New England search terms don’t emerge from the noise until late 2016, but then really take off, especially searches for “hazy ipa” and “new england ipa”.  OK, no big surprise here.  Interest in Black IPAs has existed for almost ten years, while interest in Hazy/New England IPAs has skyrocketed in just the past few months.

But start looking at where across the country these searches have been conducted and  things start to get interesting. For example, according to Google Trends, Black IPA’s are almost an exclusively California thing.

black IPA Ca Thang
Google searches for Black IPA predominately originate in California

Note, the map above doesn’t mean there haven’t been any searches for “Black IPA” outside of California. It’s just that these searches are overwhelming made inside of California, indicating Black IPAs are of interest to Californians, but hardly anyone else. This is why I suspect some people living outside may have perceived Black IPAs as a fad. They may have heard about them, but rarely saw any of them, or Black IPAs released outside California had little staying power.

On the other hand, searches for “new england ipa” or its abbreviation “neipa” show a much more broader geographical interest.

New England IPA Sub-regions
States with the highest proportion of searches for “new england ipa”.
NEIPA Sub-regions
States with the highest proportion of searches of “neipa”

What’s interesting is that search term “Hazy IPA”, is dominated from searches from the West Coast states of Oregon and California.

hazy IPA sub-regions
Searches for “Hazy IPA” originate primarily from Oregon and California

We can zoom into the metro areas and find that “hazy ipa” searches originate all over the West Coast, with San Diego, Sacramento, Portland as the major metropolitan areas having the highest proportions of searches for “hazy ipa”.  The larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco have significantly less searches.

Hzy IPA Metro Areas

Note that the strength of search frequency chart at the rate measures a higher proportion of queries, not a larger overall number.  As Google Trends explains, “A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count. So a tiny country where 80% of the queries are for “bananas” will get twice the score of a giant country where only 40% of the queries are for “bananas”.”

For grins, we can also look at the Metro areas for “new england ipa”.

New England IPA Metro
US metro regions with the highest proportional searches for “new england ipa”

By far, the metro area for with the highest proportion of searches for this term is (surprise!) Boston. But the Midwestern cities of Detroit and Chicago figure prominently, too. If we look at leading metro areas for the search “neipa”, we find pockets of interest all over the country.

neipa metro areas
US metro regions with the highest proportional searches for “neipa”

Again, lots of usage for the term “neipa” in New England, but the term extends all the way to the West Coast. It’s not apparent from this graphic but the San Francisco Bay is way down this list, as the 12th leading metro area for this search term, third from last.  That splotch you see in Southern California? That’s Los Angeles, not San Diego.  There aren’t a lot of searches for  “neipa” from San Diego, but plenty for “hazy ipa”.  Just like Portland.

And by the way, I Googled the term “neipa” to double check that “neipa” doesn’t also stand for something like “New England Independent Pediatricians Association” or something like that which would skew the data. It doesn’t.

OK, I could keep playing around with the data, but it’s time to wrap this up. I’ll concede the data has some limitations, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions from any of its subtleties.  However, three things strongly emerge from the analysis which are unmistakable.

Black IPAs aren’t so much fad, but a slowly declining beer style confined largely to California:  Google searches for “black ipa” are largely confined to the state of California.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough searches for Google Trends to perform a metro area geographical analysis of the term.

Hazy / New England IPAs have enjoyed a fast growing popularity all over the country.  In no way does the growth of this style mimic Black IPAs.  They are popular all over the country, rather than confined to a single state.  In addition, their growth is far sharper than Black IPAs were, at least from the search term data.

On the West Coast, it’s mostly “Hazy IPA”.  Everywhere else, its “New England IPA”.  It’s telling that California’s Sierra Nevada released Hazy Little Thing IPA about the same time Boston Beer released New England IPA.  I’ll note that some places in California, they are called  “NEIPA” by a few. Seattle seems to favor “NEIPA” over “Hazy IPA”.  I think it’s significant both in Portland and in San Diego, the two cities where the IPA style are arguably most strongly tied to local identity, there is resistance adopting the “New England” name, and instead these beers as “Hazy”.

As you might have guessed, I’ve been playing around with all sorts of Google Trends searches the past couple weeks and found some other interesting beery things right there in the data.  Hope you liked this post because you’ll be seeing a few more like it.