The Session #134: Scenes from My Beer Garden

For this months Beer Blogging Session, Tom Cizauskas at “Yours for Good Fermentables” asks us to ponder what is, isn’t, should be, or where is a beer garden.

I never realized my back patio could be considered a beer garden until reading Tom’s Session announcement. I’ve savored many a beer on this small island of concrete, wedged in between my back door and garage, surrounded by a pair of hibiscus bushes, a lemon tree, potted herbs and succulents, and a small garden of chard, tomato and zucchini plants. On warm days, which is pretty much the norm in Northern California, I’ll take 20-30 minutes out of my day to stop and quietly sip a beer out there. Sometimes my wife will join me and we’ll chat a bit. Other times it’s just me.

I may be back on the patio just enjoying the weekend. Other times, it’s a place to recover from a hard day at work. Whatever the reason, the greenery poking up from the ground in my concrete urban world is the place to contemplate, or escape, life’s drama, with beer as the catalyst.

I’ll leave you with a few images of the place.

 

Coming to Terms with Glitter Beer

I want to hate it. As much as I love beer as a beverage and a culture, it has a long history of insipid gimmicks. Glitter beers seems like just the latest in the long line of them.

Then I read Jeff Alworth’s deep dive on the subject, and realized in many ways, there’s more to it than that.  As Alworth points out, the recent popularity of Hazy IPAs is partially driven by how they look. Now I don’t particularly find floating crud in a glass  aesthetically pleasing, but clearly a lot of other people do. In an age where virtually anyone can broadcast images all over world with their hand held phone, Hazy IPAs have enjoyed a rapidly growing popularity in a way that couldn’t be replicated at any other time in beer’s long history.

Brewers used visual tricks to engage drinkers long before Hazy IPAs.  For example, Belgian brewers are notorious for their history insisting all sorts of contrived glassware is required to properly enjoy their beer. Of course, this really has little to do with how the glassware affects the taste and aroma of the beer, but how it looks in the funky goblet. Brewers have long taken considerable effort in the brewing process to ensure each batch has the same look. They’ve used all sorts of brewing gadgets and processes that date back centuries to clarify beer, or otherwise change the way it looks, which often have little or no effect of the final product’s taste or aroma.

Belgian Beer glasses
A cornucopia of Belgian Beer Glasses

 

Glitter beer is yet another example of brewers pushing that envelope. We normally think of brewing innovation in terms of ingredients or technique that creates a unique tasting beverage. And while brewers have been coming up with all sorts of wonderful new flavors and riffs on tried and true beer styles, these new beers still come in the same yellow, orange, amber, and black color. But all the senses, including sight, contribute to the beer drinking experience and brewers seem to be increasingly aware of this, with social media as the catalyst.

I think it’s also worth mentioning craft beer community seems somewhat receptive to glitter beer, largely because craft brewers are the ones brewing these beers. Glitter beers seem to be appealing more to women and female craft brewers have been instrumental in driving the craze. But if a huge corporate brewery like ABInBev released something like Bud Lite Glitter, I think it would almost certainly be denounced as some crass marketing gimmick cynically aimed at women.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Hazy IPAs. I don’t find murky brews attractive and they might taste juicy, but the hop flavors seemed muddled in the haze. Glitter beers? I’ve never had one, initially tho they were a pretty stupid gimmick, but now I’m intrigued by them.  Of the many things you can say about glitter beers, they’re a study of fluid dynamics in a glass which appeals to the physics geek in me.  (Check out this video or that video to see for yourself.) As someone who once claimed, with tongue partially in cheek, that glitter beers were a hideous diabolical plot to destroy Western Civilization, I think we’ll survive OK with glitter beers in our world.

(Glitter beer image from boldmissybrewery/Instagram.)

 

Scenes from Hermitage Brewing

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired visiting breweries and talking to the folks there who make the beer. This time, my travels took me to San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing, where I spoke with Brewmaster Peter Licht and Head Brewer/Cellarmaster Greg Fillipi.

Hermitage is not your typical brewery. For starters, 75% of what they brew is made under contract and sold under a different label. If you ever see “Brewed in San Jose, CA” on the label of a small California brewery, chances are it was brewed at the Hermitage facility. Hermitage has their own line-up, but what they’re really known for is their single hop IPA-series, a fun and tasty way to explore hops in their many forms, and some highly underrated barrel-aged sour ales. I’ll have a lot more to say about Hermitage in an upcoming writing assignment, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from where the Hermitage magic happens.

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Hermitage Disco Ball
Every brewery should have a disco ball

Hermitage man leaning overhermitage equipmentHermitage toolsHermitage make it niceHermitage moving barrelshermitage fermentershermitage Barrels and fermentersHermitage Barrels and fermenters2Hermitage Foedershermitage barrels and foeders

hermitage fermented kiwi
There’s fermented kiwi in there
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Hermitage Brewmaster Peter Licht (l) and Head Brewer Greg Filippi

hermitage glass

Rambling Reviews 3.19.2018: The Sour Edition

You might say I’ve been in a sour mood. I’ve been savoring tart brews these days, whether soured by the yeast used to make them or by the fruit added. Let me tell you about three that have particularly caught my fancy.

We’ll start with Rubaeus Raspberry from Founders Brewing.  The beer kind of sneaked up on me. At first sip, I’m thinking it’s not very tart, there’s a moderate sweetness and then pow! Lots of fresh raspberry flavors blew through my taste buds, ending with a soft earthy finish. Brewing this with a neutral, light underlying malt was a wise decision by Founders, as it let all those big raspberry flavors shine. One of those rare beers that work both as a thirst quenching lawn mower beer, or something to slowly sip and contemplate.

hermitage flower sourMoving along, there’s Flower Sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage brewer Greg Filippi ages a blonde ale for up to 24 months in French oak barrels and flavors it with a bunch of flowers including rose, hibiscus, lavender and chamomile. Yep, there’s a real depth of floral character to this moderately sour ale, which reveals a little white winey-ness. Sorry, I can’t really tick off of a bunch of flavor characteristics, I was just enjoying this one too much to get into all that.

We’ll end with the 2017 version of Almanac Beer’s Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry which uses four, count ’em four pounds of blueberries in each and every gallon. So as you might expect, it has a lot of blueberry flavors, rounded out with a little sweetness, a slight tartness, a noticeable peppery spiciness and a barely detectable earthiness. It’s a fascinating composition that screams “blueberry” but it’s all those different, barely noticeable accents surrounding the blueberries that really makes this one work so well.

 

almanc farmers reserve blueberry

Scenes from Almanac Beer’s new brewery in Alameda

It’s pretty amazing how much Almanac Beer accomplished as a contract brewery, borrowing brewing equipment at a few locations to create their unique, farm to bottle style. So it’s pretty exciting to see what they’ll accomplish now that they have their own brewery that’s just opened in Alameda in a World War II area warehouse they share with Admiral Maltings.

Perhaps the best thing about writing about beer visiting breweries, talking with brewers and learning their craft. The hour I recently spent with Almanac’s Jesse Friedman was a top notch clinic in that respect. Behind the farm-to-bottle ethos is a lot of careful process coupled with science, and it really pays off in beer infused with all sorts of character from the meticulously sourced ingredients, many from California farms.

You’ll be able to read all about it in an upcoming issue of Edible East Bay.  For now, here’s a few shots from inside Almanac’s new brewery.

(The top photo is from Almanac Beer, the ones below are mine.)

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Almanac’s Damian Fagan (l) and Jess Friedman

Take aways from the 2017 Hop Growers of America Statistical Report

I must admit, my idea of a good time is looking at hop statistics. The 2017 Hop Growers of America Statistical Report has been released and I’ve been pouring over the numbers recently.  Here are a few of my take aways from after looking over the numbers.

The growth of hop acreage has slowed. In the 2016 report, overall hop acreage growth was up 17.9%, compared to 2017, with a reported growth of a more modest 5.3%. Since 2012, US hop acreage has increased 79.5% but that looks to be slowing down considerably.

Hop yields have increased as well as the price per pound. Good news for hop farmers as yields improved from 1,710 pounds per acre in 2016 to 1,960 last year. The report attributes this to less “baby” or newly planted hops in the field and better weather conditions in 2017.  (It takes generally three years for a hop plant to fully mature and deliver maximum yield.) In addition to getting more hops per acre, hop farmers are getting more money for their hops, at $5.92 per pound in 2017 compared to $5.72 in 2016. I should note that different hop varieties will fetch different prices, so averaging this out is a little problematical, and some farms certainly made out better than others. The average revenue per acre jumped to $11,600  in 2017 from $9,800 the previous year, which the Hop Growers of American estimate that each acre of hops gained a profit of $785 per acre when an estimated $10,810 per acre of production costs are factored in. So hop farmers did well in 2017.

Now what’s good for hop farmers is often bad for brewers and consumers, since if the price of hops go up, breweries have to pay more for them and often pass those costs on to consumers in terms of higher prices. But considering the modest price growth, it’s doubtful this would create a disruptive shock that would affect a breweries ability to brew certain beers, or result in sudden pricing increase to consumers. A thriving network of hop growers allows for innovation and greater willingness to take risks on exotic hops that might product the next killer IPA or be a dud. So in general, I think these numbers are sign of a healthy hop market that should also be good for both breweries and consumers.

Hop growing outside the Pacific Northwest has really slowed. The Pacific Northwest (Washington / Idaho / Oregon) accounted for 95.5% of the total hop acreage in the United States, so contributions from other states are tiny to the overall market. But for people like me, eager to see breweries across the country source local hops, and the potential for different hop growing regions to express their unique terroir, it’s something I pay attention to.

In 2016, hop acreage outside the Pacific Northwest grew at a gaudy 64.9% clip. In 2017, this growth still outpaced the overall hop industry, but was way down from 2016, at 18.9%. A few states outside the Pacific Northwest that had small but booming hop farming activity screeched to a halt in 2017.  This includes my home state of California, which had zero growth in 2017 despite growing at about 50% each of the previous two years, and Colorado which also showed zero growth in 2017 despite nearly doubling hop acreage in 2016.  California and Colorado accounted for 130 and 200 acres respectively, which isn’t very much.  But for people hoping to see new hop growing regions emerging, it was disappointing to see a couple of promising hop growing regions stalling out.

Michigan may become next significant hop growing region. The one bright spot outside the Pacific Northwest is the state of Michigan, which now totals 810 acres of hops under cultivation, a 24.6% increase over last year. This is significant as it appears Michigan’s hop industry is gaining critical mass.  As Bart Watson, Chief Economist explained in an e-mail, a big issue facing farmers outside the Pacific Northwest is “…a lack of processing infrastructure, which is really expensive, and limits the scale they can get to. Michigan looks like it’s largely overcome that threshold.”

I’ll mention the states of New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota also continued to show strong growth, but at acreages of 400, 297, and 120 respectively, it will take a while before they show the same promise seen in Michigan.

It ought to be interesting to see what developments occur 2018.

(Hop photo from Wikipedia Commons)

 

Racing into 2018 at the 408k / The passing of running legend Sir Roger Bannister

Running seemed to be going good for me early 2018, but you never really know how good running is going until you test yourself in a race. So I eagerly lined up in Sunday morning’s 408k, a 8 kilometer race that starts at the SAP Center (I still call it the “Shark Tank”), weaves through San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood and finishes at the swanky Santana Row Mall. It was 35 degrees F during the early morning warm-ups, frigid for Bay Area conditions.  But with clear skies, the sun quickly warmed things up for ideal conditions at start time.

My goal with to break 33:00, and felt a hitting a time faster than 32:30 would be pretty difficult. So when I passed through the 1st mile just under 6:30 pace feeling reasonably comfortable, I took that as a good sign.  Continuing to focus on pace, the next mile was about the same time and mile three was even a little faster, all the while slowly moving up the field, picking off two or three runners each mile.  Some small hills on mile 4 and mounting fatigue begin to wear on me, and my pace slowed to over 6:30 per mile pace. I started to get a bit gassed on the last mile, but had enough left to finish strong and crossed the finish line in 31:50 on a course that was probably about a tenth of mile short, based on my GPS watch. Adding about 40 seconds to my time to compensate for that tenth of a mile seemed about right, which puts me right at 32:30 for the 8 kilometer distance, right on fastest target. So I really couldn’t ask for a better racing start for 2018. Next race up is the Gr8tr Race, an 8 mile race from Los Gatos to Saratoga and back, held on April 29th.

That success was tinged with sadness that morning with news outlets reporting the  passing of running legend Sir Roger Bannister.  In many ways, Roger Bannister was in the right place at the right time to break the 4 minute mile barrier, but mere circumstance could not have picked a greater running ambassador. His humility in his achievement of excellence was inspiration to countless runners, including myself. During a time in the early 90’s at my running peak, I devoured his book, The Four Minute Mile. Bannister’s amiable style, coupled with a scientific approach to running, honesty about his failures and weaknesses, and a matter-of-fact attitude about his supreme accomplishments moved me at the time. I wanted to be him.

I’ve choked up a couple times since learning of his death. Rest in peace, Sir Roger. You are so badly missed.

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