I remember having a C-Note Imperial IPA at New Old Lompoc in Portland in the fall of 2007. It was one my first over-the-top-hopped IPAs at 100 IBU, and it totally blew my mind. I fell in love and began my personal quest for hops.
I still love their flavor and character, but once you reach the a certain point in your journey, it’s hard to find anything truly revolutionary in the world of hops. What is a beer explorer to do? Perhaps the answer lies far in the past, to a style of beer long forgotten.
Beer traces its roots back for more than 10,000 years. However, the use of hops in beer only dates back to around the 11th century. Widespread use of hops didn’t really catch on until the 15th and 16th centuries. So what did brewers do before hops?
In the olden days, brewers would use all sorts of herbs and spices to flavor their beer. One particular style of herbal beer, popular in medieval Europe, was called gruit. The base herbs used in gruit usually consisted of bog myrtle, rosemary and yarrow. Recipes and references to gruit vary widely as to other herbs used, and the exact proportions were generally kept secret by church authorities.
(Quick tangent: The politics of gruit are interesting. Apparently, the church at the time required that all beer be made to the gruit style, but they didn’t give out the recipe, thus creating a beer monopoly for the church. If you wanted beer, you had to go to the church. It was, in effect, a beer tax. There are some theories that the Reinheitsgebot required the use of hops as the only acceptable herb in beer as a form of retaliation against the church’s gruit. The Reinheitsgebot was passed as law in 1516, one year before Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, thus beginning The Reformation. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide.)
Other herbs used in gruit depended on what grew in region in which the beer was brewed. Gruit could have included sweet gale, mugwort, juniper berries, heather, ginger, caraway seeds, aniseed, bay leaves, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Aside from politics, one of the other contributing factors to the demise of gruit was the occasional use of toxic plants or herbs that gave patrons a slightly different buzz than they were used to, and could make them sick. That was primary motivation to the Reinheitsgebot, as laws were put in place to assure consumers that they knew exactly what they were drinking.
On a personal note, I will attest that the couple gruits I’ve made have had somewhat of a stimulant effect. It was certainly a different type of buzz, even after just one. (I promise that nothing illegal went into those beers.)
Since there is very little historical documentation about gruit, and it’s an uncommon style that few modern-day brewers have attempted, getting the amounts and proportions of the herbs right can be tricky. I’ve homebrewed two gruits, and while each turned out drinkable, they were a little on the medicinal side.
|In the “herb lab,” preparing ingredients to go in the gruit.|
I can imagine the miracle “tonics” of the early 20th century coming out something like this. “Step right up, try my miracle gruit tonic! It cures everything: influenza, sore throats, chicken pox, the gout, and rheumatism! You will be more alert, and it will even make your hair shinier! Step right up!”
There are not many commercial examples of the style today, but they are poping up here and there. Though not a true gruit, Alba Scots Pine Ale was the first hopless beer I had tried. New Holland, Cigar City and Dogfish Head have also tried their hand at gruits and hopless beers.
The craft beer world is driven by experimentation and the quest to find the “next big thing.” Now that hops and alcohol content have been thoroughly explored and pushed to their limits, is it possible that the future of beer lies in a modern twist on this forgotten style?
The possibilities are endless. There is an entire world of herbs and spices that can add new layers of adventure to the beer we drink. I’m not implying hops will go away, but I’ve had some excellent beer brewed with basil, camomile, juniper, mint, pepper, cardamom… the list goes on and on.
I doubt traditional gruits will become the rage some day, but I think that we can learn a lot from them and come up with some interesting flavor combinations today. It takes creativity, experimentation and a willingness to fail in order to develop a tasty herbed beer.
I, for one, am looking forward to what the boldest of brewers have in store for us beyond the hops.
For those curious, here is the recipe for the latest gruit I brewed earlier this summer. Credit also goes out to General Lordisimo, who was co-brewer with me in this effort. Be warned, it’s heavy on the cardamom and juniper.
11 lbs 2-row
4.5 lbs Munich
2 lbs wheat
0.5 lbs peat smoked 2-row
0.5 lbs roasted barley
Mashed at 148 deg for 60 min.
15 bay leaves
0.5 oz star anise
1.5 oz crushed juniper berries
1.0 oz cardamom
2 g sweet gale
0.25 oz caraway seeds
0.5 oz rosemary
1.5 oz crushed juniper berries
2 g sweet gale
0.5 oz rosemary
1 oz fresh ginger
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale
(Technically, hop plants are “bines,” not vines. A vine uses tendrils, suckers or some other appendage to climb, where as a bine uses stiff hairs. I just learned that.)
In 2008, at nearly the same time, four Western North Carolina farms planted hop rhizomes and came together to form the Southern Appalachian Hops Guild: Echo View Farm, Winding River Hops, Blue Ridge Hops and Hop’n Blueberry Farm.
|Click on the image for a larger view in order to see the hairs on the bine.|
Hops are very sensitive plants that are very susceptible to bugs, disease and mold. Similar to wine grapes, hop plants prefer climates that are relatively arid with long days and lots of sunlight during the growing season, yet have access to a plentiful supply of water.
Certain areas of the Pacific Northwest United States have a near ideal climate for growing hops. The Yakima Valley in Washington alone produces 75% of the hops in the US.
Western North Carolina, on the other hand, is humid, rainy and since it is at a lower latitude, has shorter days during the summer. So why in the world would anyone want to try and grow hops amid such adversity?
The short answer is that North Carolina has over 30 breweries, 12 of which are in Asheville and the surrounding area, within a 30 minute drive of each hop yard. With the “buy local” movement in full force, there is a big market for local ingredients, and it’s a great marketing benefit for breweries to be able to claim they get their hops from a local farm.
Not only is buying local good for marketing and the environment, it allows brewers the unique opportunity to make wet hopped beers. Normally, when hops are harvested sometime in July or August, the hops are immediately dried and often ground into pellets in order to preserve them.
However, if a brewer has access to hops within a day of being harvested, he or she can use them directly in a brew, yielding an amazingly fresh, grassy, citrusy hop-tasting beer. For smaller craft breweries that can’t afford to overnight a couple hundred pounds of fresh hops, having them down the road can allow them to join the ranks of Sierra Nevada, Rogue and Great Divide in making wet hopped beers.
In fact, Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, North Carolina, brewed a wet hopped IPA in 2009 using local hops. According to Pisgah owner Jason Caughman, “It was one of the best beers we’ve ever made. People loved the idea of using fresh hops and it flew off the shelves.”
Hop’n Blueberry Farm
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a field trip to visit Van Burnette of Hop’n Blueberry Farm and see his hop yard. The farm is located just outside of Black Mountain, North Carolina, just a few miles from Pisgah’s brewery.
|Van showing me his hops.|
Van’s family has owned this 60 acre farm for 150 years. For much of that time, the family raised livestock. These days, the farm grows a variety of alternative crops, such as medicinal herbs, blueberries, milkweed and wild leeks.
In the mid-oughts, North Carolina was in the midst of a three year drought. Around 2006, Van started researching crops that were drought resistant and came across hops. If you’ll recall, this was also around the time of the Great Hop Crisis, when everyone was fearing a hop shortage, so they started hoarding hops and the price went through the roof.
Those factors made growing hops look very attractive, and after two years of researching how to farm hops, Van planted his first hop rhizomes on a small, 1/10 acre plot in 2008. However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing since then. “We had a drought here for three years, and on the day I planted my rhizomes it rained. It hasn’t stopped since,” he joked.
Despite the less-than-ideal climate, Van’s hops have done pretty well overall. He planted four varieties: cascade, centennial, chinook and nugget. Cascade was the best producer in 2009, and this year the nugget bines are looking the best. Centennial has struggled the most, and he’ll likely give them one more season before giving up on them.
|Centennial bines. They have not grown nearly as tall as the other varieties.|
Van and the other new hop farmers have received a lot of support, even outside of the beer community. A group at NC State University received a grant to study the commercial viability of growing hops in the region. They, along with state and county Soil and Water Conservation people, have conducted soil and plant analyses at each of the four farms.
Several of the hop farmers were able to get off the ground through a Western North Carolina AgOptions grant. To get started, it cost Van about $1,200 for the hardware, materials and 130 hop rhizomes. “That’s an expensive experiment to pay for it with your own money, especially if you aren’t sure it’s going to work,” Van said.
Even if the hop endeavor proves to be successful, Van doesn’t have aspirations of turning Hop’n Blueberry Farm into Hop’n Farm, “I might expand the hop yard to a quarter of an acre, but if I got much bigger, I’d have to hire additional people just for the hops. At today’s prices, it’s hard to be profitable on a small scale. I don’t have the desire to get that big.”
Regardless of how well this turns out, Van intends to keep the bines on his farm if for no other reason than their value as an attraction. His hope is that the hops, along with a few other projects he’s working on, including building a butterfly house, will create another income stream through agritourism. These agricultural “attractions” will draw visitors who will pay for tours of his farm.
The interest his hop yard has generated from the craft beer and homebrewing communities has been significant. He’s already had tour groups come through and often fields calls from other people wanting to learn about growing hops.
This year, Van’s initial harvest, likely in mid-July, is going to Pisgah Brewing for use in their 2010 wet hop special edition, but he hopes to get a second harvest in August, which he’ll open up to homebrewers.
I definitely want to get a piece of that action.]]>
This week South Carolina took one step closer to getting out of the craft beer stone age. Bill H.4572 was ratified by the state senate and is now in the hands of the governor. This essentially completes a two-year odyssey to allow beer tastings at breweries and off-premises retail establishments. The bill also allows breweries to sell a limited amount of beer directly to customers.
This is a major victory for craft beer in my state, which currently has only five distributing breweries. It gives breweries and craft beer stores a new point of contact with customers, helping educate and develop a personal connection with them. My hope is that this is the first step to creating a more brewery-friendly climate in the state, which will encourage more breweries to start here.
This bill is not without its share of head-scratching stipulations. The samplings and brewery sales are very limited, but it’s a step in the right direction. If South Carolina breweries and retailers can demonstrate how beneficial these liberties are to their business, then perhaps we can have some of these restrictions lifted down the road.
To get a flavor for the bill, here’s a summary:
Brewery Tastings & Sales
Got all that?
So if you’re coming to or through South Carolina, it might be worth a trip to stop in at a brewery. I know that Thomas Creek, Coast and RJ Rockers already have plans for tours and tastings. Be sure to stop in and say hi. Tell ‘em Brian sent ya!
I was very surprised to find those numbers to be so low. Given the enormous capital investment needed to start a brewery, I expected there to be a higher percentage of brewers taking advantage of the contract brewing model.
After all, if you want to start even a small production facility with a 5 to 10 barrel brewhouse, you’re looking at needing somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 to $400,000. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money laying around right now. Give me 10 years, but not right now…
If I wanted to sell my beer commercially, but don’t want to assume the risk of investing several hundred thousand dollars, contract brewing seems like a viable alternative. So why don’t more people choose to go that route?
Before we dive into the pros and cons of contract brewing, let’s define contract brewing and the different arrangements that can be made between a contract brewery and the production brewery.
What is Contract Brewing?
At its simplest level, contract brewing is a term used when one company (the contract brewer) signs a contract with a production brewing facility to brew beer that becomes the property of the contract brewer.
There can be many different arrangements for this relationship, so I’ve broken it down into four basic types for the purposes of discussion, with each type increasing in the contract brewer’s involvement in the process:
Type 1 – The Marketer
This is the least involved that the contract brewer can be. Even using the term “brewer” is a loose connection. Under this arrangement, the contract brewer asks the producer to use one of the producer’s recipes or to formulate a new recipe for them that the contract brewer can then put a private label on and sell as their own. This is what someone might do if they know very little about beer, but they feel confident they can build a brand and sell product.
Type 2 – The Collaborator
This is a combination of types 1 and 3. The contract brewer knows what they want in style and character, but may not know the ideal recipe to achieve this on a commercial level. The contract brewer may bring an initial recipe to the producer, who will then work with them to tweak the recipe where they ultimately want it. The producers then makes the beer for the contractor according to the collaborated recipe.
Type 3 – The Architect
The contract brewer has formulated the exact recipe they want, hands it to the producer to brew, and the producer takes it from there.
Type 4 – The Renter
At this level, the contract brewer is a capable commercial brewer and physically participates in making the beer themselves using the producer’s equipment. Depending on the contract brewer’s level of expertise at the commercial level, they may assist the producing brewer or they might be able to handle the entire process by themselves with little or no involvement from the producing brewer.
Why Contract Brew? The Advantages.
“It dawned on me one day, ‘What if everyone hates my beer?’ I’m stuck with all this equipment. Worst case by contracting production, I’m stuck with a warehouse full of beer that I like. It takes out the ‘what if’.” That was why Terry Bumbaugh, founder of Kind Beers (Charlotte, North Carolina), ultimately decided to have Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, South Carolina, contract brew his beer when he went commercial.
Terry got his start as a homebrewer. Unlike someone like myself, who never brews the same beer twice, Terry took the approach of working on one recipe at a time until he got it exactly where he wanted it. After working on a few recipes for a year or two, he knew he was on to something when his friends would choose his homebrew over the commercial stuff he had in his fridge.
Once he made the decision to take his beer to the world, Terry decided the best approach for him was to form his company as a wholesaler, not as a brewery. He felt this gave him an advantage since he has the option of selling his beer directly to retailers and to other wholesalers.
When he first started, Terry would deliver his beer directly to his retail accounts. Now, after nearly two years in business, he only services two or three accounts directly. It makes more sense for him to work through other distributors, and Kind Beers has expanded distribution into five states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama (coming later in 2010).
Fred Block, the founder of BottleTree Beer Company out of Tryon, North Carolina, recently saw his dream come to fruition as his first pilot batch of BottleTree Belgian Blonde rolled off the bottling line at Thomas Creek. A homebrewer for eight years, Fred worked on recipes, entered homebrew competitions and spent countless hours researching the craft beer market and commercial brewing.
|Fred Block, left, founder of BottleTree, helping bottle his pilot batch brewed at
Through his experiences and research, Fred concluded the best way to ensure his success was to partner with an experienced brewery, “I work with a great brewery. I instantly gained 12 years of industrial brewing experience with this partnership. Every situation is unique, but for me, the folks that are showing interest in BottleTree are interested because of the 12 plus years that Thomas Creek bring to the table and the consistent quality they produce. It is a big positive.”
Terrapin Beer Company, budding craft beer stars out of Athens, Georgia, built their own brewing facility in 2007, but they got their start as a contract brewer in 2002. From the beginning, founders John Cochran and Spike Buckowski wanted their own brewery, but as John put it, “We didn’t have any weathly relatives, and back in 1999 the first craft beer explosion was dying down, so banks weren’t too eager to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a couple guys who claimed they could make good beer.”
In order to get their start and brew commercially, they struck up a deal with their friends at the now defunct Zuma Brewery in Atlanta. Spike was allowed to use their equipment to brew Terrapin beer himself.
Terrapin took the same approach to building their brand as a contract brewer the same way they would have if they had their own place. They used a grassroots marketing effort, working at beer festivals, personally getting to know businesses and customers throughout Athens, and doing whatever it took to get their product in the hands of consumers.
Within five years, it obviously worked well enough for them to achieve their goal of building their own brewery, and they haven’t looked back.
If It Were That Easy, Everyone Would Do It. The Disadvantages.
To this point, I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture. So what’s the downside to contract brewing? In my view, there are two primary disadvantages: perception and independence.
As a homebrewer, I love the craft of making beer. From conceptualizing a recipe to the smell of the grains in the mash tun to the relief I feel as I crack open the first bottle from a batch and know that it conditioned, I receive a great deal of satisfaction that I made a beer with my own hands.
In the minds of many craft beer aficionados, they feel that this sense of the craft should also translate to commercial brewing. As my friend Evan put it, he wants to know that the beer he drinks “has a soul.”
We have so much good craft beer available to us now, people now want to know the story behind the beer. The best way to build a loyal following is to create an emotional bond with your customers. People are more emotionally tied to other people, not to things.
That’s why Terrapin wanted their own brewery. As John Cochran put it, “The marketing aspect of having a brewery is huge. There is something about going to a brewery and seeing how it’s made and the people behind it. Being in a college town, Terrapin is the first craft beer that many of the students are exposed to. We’re their first love and they never forget that.”
However, both John and Terry Bumbaugh said their experiences as contract brewers has been positive. The average consumer really doesn’t care where the beer is physically made and if they own the equipment. As long as the beer is good, they are happy to lay their money down to buy it.
While they wouldn’t get specific, they both said the only backlash they received was from people within the craft beer industry. Terry has dealt with discrimination as a contract brewery. John said that once Terrapin started going beyond Athens, some other breweries tried to use their contract status against them.
Fred Block offered an interesting perspective on being a contract brewer, “There is no difference between how Thomas Creek operates and how I would operate if I had my own brewery. Every brewery has folks that make beer, folks that do the finances, folks that market and promote the beer. Every person has a role. In most cases in a small brewery, everyone does a little or lot of all of those things. I would have to wear all of those hats for a long time, but to deliver quality, we have to have our areas of focus.”
The other big disadvantage to being a contract brewery is the lack of independence and control. I believe this is why most brewers want their own brewery. They want to be able to brew what they want, when they want and not be constrained by the production brewery’s schedule.
Most people get into commercial brewing because they are passionate about beer. Most got their start as homebrewers, tinkering with recipes and building their own systems one piece at a time. Their passion is in making beer, not selling it.
Except for the biggest of the big, few breweries will survive if they’re only in it for the money. As a contract craft brewery, if that’s your motivation, odds are your beer will be seen as a gimmick and consumers will quickly see through it once they taste an inferior product.
Terrapin, Kind and BottleTree are perfect examples to show that many contract brewers are passionate about their beer. However, a brewery is a business, no matter how us beer geeks like to romanticize it. In business, reality sets in quickly, and owning a brewery may not make sense for everyone.
Everyone should have the opportunity to bring us good beer, no matter where it’s made.
1 The New Brewer, The Journal of the Brewers Association (Vol. 27 No. 3 May/June 2010)]]>
I first met Josh Brewer when I traveled down to Beaufort, South Carolina in the fall of 2007 to do a story on his new brewpub, appropriately named Brewer’s. He and his wife Alexia were very nice and extremely hospitable. The beer and food at the pub was excellent.
So it was with disappointment that I learned early last year that they had decided to close Brewer’s. It was understandable, as a husband and wife team trying to run a brewpub while raising a newborn girl is no small task.
I was excited to see that Josh quickly teamed up with a new brewery that was starting in Kinston, North Carolina called Mother Earth. My first reaction was, “Awesome!” My second thought was, “Where the hell is Kinston?”
Kinston is a small town of 25,000 people in the eastern part of North Carolina, about 80 miles southeast of Raleigh and 90 miles north of Wilmington. A two-time winner of the All-America City Award, Kinston is in the middle of the tobacco belt and is heavily tied into agriculture. Textiles were also a large part of the economy up until the 1960s, when the industry began migrating overseas.
As with many small towns, as the local economy went downhill, the downtown area went with it. However, in the past couple years, downtown Kinston has begun a revitalization. As breweries often are, Mother Earth has become one of the anchors of the restoration effort.
So Why Kinston?
Mother Earth was founded by Stephen Hill and his son-in-law Trent Mooring. They both grew up in Kinston and have strong ties there both personally and professionally. They are both big into organic farming. Stephen still raises cows.
After Stephen made Trent his first “Red Eye,” a mix of homemade tomato juice and beer, (I had one, it was good. Perfect for those morning afters.) a lightbulb went off. They wanted start a brewery that was focused on being environmentally friendly and that kept much of the process local. They wanted to stay in Kinston to support their home town.
They came up with the name for the brewery one afternoon when they sat down with a stack of Stephen’s old vinyl records, seeking inspiration. When the song Mother Earth by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came on, they knew that was it.
Stephen had homebrewed back in the 80s, but neither he nor Trent were accomplished brewers, so the next step was finding someone to make the beer, yet also shared in their philosophies. They put an ad up on ProBrewer. Trent said they probably received over 100 resumes and interviewed about 25 prospects.
Looking to get back in the game, Josh saw the ad and sent his resume. When he met with Stephen and Trent, they quickly bonded. It became apparent that Josh was their man. After a second meeting to cement the relationship, Josh took the job and moved the family on up to Kinston.
In September 2009, Mother Earth produced its first batch of beer. By the end of October, they were ready to open their doors to the world and had their grand opening party.
When Nicole and I pulled up to the brewery, it was like a beacon of hope. There is nothing more beautiful than a brand spanking new brewery. Well, there are a lot of things more beautiful, like sunsets, canyons, snow-capped mountains and women, but I’ll put a new brewery in the top 10% of beautiful things.
We walked in to the brewery and it was pristine. Shiny tanks, clean floors, no clutter and everything organized in tidy stacks.
Mother Earth has a 20 bbl brewhouse, four 40 bbl fermenters and two 40 bbl brite tanks. However, the initial response to their beer has been so positive they are already looking to expand capacity, with a couple 60 bbl fermenters on the way, along with another brite tank or two.
What caught my eye, however, was a tiny little 1 bbl system off to the side. This is where Josh and the crew can really have some fun. They are constantly brewing test batches, tweaking their regular recipes and experimenting with new ones.
|1 bbl test system|
Mother Earth also has a barrel-aging room, stocked with bourbon and pinot noir barrels. I wanted to grab a stake, jab it in one of those barrels and lay down underneath like Homer Simpson at Moe’s. There is nothing better than a good barrel-aged beer.
However, Mother Earth is not just about the stainless steel and the fermented barley. There’s a certain aesthetic and attention to detail that they put into everything. Their bottle labels are designed by a local artist. The tap room is run totally by solar power. The “Door To Nowhere” that they left in when renovating the brewery. They even have a quaint cottage-like brewer’s suite where Nicole and I got to stay. There was thoughtful design put into everything.
|The second story Door to Nowhere above the brite tanks|
If they put as much thought into their beer as they do the experience that is Mother Earth, there is no doubt in my mind it will be a hit.
The Tap Room
We reaped the benefits of the test batches and barrel-aged brews once we got to the tap room. When we walked in, I felt like I entered the set of a Billy Idol video.
White curtains lined two of the walls and the decor was sparse and modern. Blue lights illuminated the bar from underneath a glass counter. The floor was made from whitewashed wooden planks, giving the room a slight rustic twist in homage to the building’s historic past.
|Trent, Nicole and Josh in the Tap Room|
In one corner were two red and white bubble chairs that looked like they were stolen from Dr. Evil’s compound. Black leather couches sat opposite the Dr. Evil chairs, giving patrons a comfy area to relax or pass out. There is also a large outdoor patio with plush red and white cruise ship chairs.
|Nicole… or Dr. Evil?|
Every other Thursday, Josh puts a cask on tap. Tonight was an IPA that was dry-hopped with Sorachi Ace. It was an amazing coincidence that I had posted an article about that hop that very morning.
In addition to the cask, there were a few other special edition beers on tap, including a peppered wit, their standard Weeping Willow Wit with ground peppercorns and coriander added, then fermented with trippel yeast. They had a trippel IPA, a blend of imperial IPA and barrel-aged trippel. Topping it off was an imperial stout with coffee, served on nitro.
The tap room has been a huge boon to Mother Earth. Not only does it give them a way to get immediate feedback on their test batches, but it provides a way for them to interact directly with the community. In a small town, that personal interaction is extremely important.
To illustrate that point, Nicole and I went to breakfast the next morning at Christopher’s Cafe, about a block from the brewery. After our meal, we went to the register to pay, and Christopher, the owner, was manning the register. “So how long you staying?” was his first question. Apparently I forgot to take the “I’m Not From Here” sticker off my forehead.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t creepy or rude. Everyone we met in town was friendly and warm. We even had an amazing dinner experience at Chef & the Farmer, a farm-to-table restaurant featuring local ingredients and a creative menu. They even had a good beer selection. I enjoyed a Three Philosophers and a Duvel. It was a restaurant I would have expected to find in Asheville or Charlotte.
In our brief time in town, we could see the seeds of growth sprouting in Kinston. It was very encouraging to see a brewery at the forefront, leading the economic charge.
With all the unfriendly beer regulations that make the beer business so tough, especially in the South, perhaps many of our legislators ought to talk to the people of Kinston and ask them what Mother Earth has meant to their community.
They would paint a beautiful picture.]]>
I have never used, or even heard of that particular hop variety before that day. It’s probably the most unique and distinct hop I’ve experienced. It comes through with an amazingly distinct lemon-citrus flavor. Yes, lemon.
Even in an IPA, it was refreshing and tasty. It added such a unique element to the beer that I can honestly say I’ve never tasted an IPA like it.
Sorachi Ace was first developed in 1988 by Sapporo in Japan for use in their beer. It’s a cross between British Brewer’s Gold and the Czech Saaz hops and is primarily grown in Oregon.
It’s a high alpha hop, ranging anywhere from 11% to 14% alpha acid. From what I’ve read on some forums, it’s fairly smooth on the bitterness, especially for such a high alpha hop. From what I tasted in Bobby C’s IPA, I would agree. It was not harsh on the back end.
However, the unique character of the hops come out in the flavor and aroma, both of which are distinctly lemony. That type of character would go perfectly in a wheat or a saison-style beer. I think it would work in any lighter, summer-style beer where you are looking for a crisp, refreshing citrus character.
In my research I found very few commercial beers that used Sorachi Ace. The most prominent one I found was Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, a saison they released this year as the latest installment of the Brewmaster’s Reserve Series.
Another I found was Nodding Head’s Sorachi Ace Double IPA, out of Philadelphia. Stone, BrewDog and Cambridge Brewing Company also used it as a dry hop addition in a collaboration they brewed together in 2009 called the Juxtaposition Black Pilsner.
This summer, if you want to give your friends a brew that will wow them and bring about “How’d you do that?” questions, get your hands on some Sorachi Ace hops. It’s guaranteed to turn heads.]]>
Simply add 1/4 teaspoon of PBW to your coffee mug, fill it with water, stir, and let sit for 4 to 6 hours. With no scrubbing or wiping, the coffee stains come right out! Just 1/4 teaspoon! So easy, your kids could do it!
Check out these before and after photos!
|Before soaking with PBW|
|After soaking for four hours with PBW. It’s like new!|
Well, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed the OxiClean-like hyperbole as much as I did. I think Billy Mays would be proud.
I’ve been using PBW as my primary cleanser for a while, and I have to say I love it for my homebrew equipment. Soaking my brew kettle with PBW overnight is the only way I am able to get it totally clean and free of all caramelized residue.
I never thought about using it for household use until someone told me that it was great for getting stains out of coffee mugs. I tried it, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t make it look like a new mug. I’m sure regular old household bleach would do the trick, too, but PBW is far less nasty to deal with and won’t stain your clothes.
Great stuff, that PBW. Just thought I’d pass along the tip. Enjoy.]]>
Working a beer festival and being on a brewery team is like being a roadie on a band tour. We rolled in Friday night and had the opportunity to attend the brewers’ pre-fest party at Bobby Bush’s house. Bobby is the main organizer of Hickory Hops and is a writer for the Ale Street News, among other publications.
This party was a beer lover’s dream. Bobby has a full bar in his basement and a large walk-in cooler filled with malt treasures. He sets aside an entire shelf in the cooler for guests to serve themselves and the party turns into a giant informal beer tasting.
|A glimpse into Bobby’s beer cellar. (That’s not Bobby pictured.)|
On Saturday, we managed to get out to the festival grounds at 10 am to start setting up. Luckily we had bloody mary’s to help bring me back to life. It was a struggle that morning.
After getting our bar set up and the kegs online, we had about an hour to chill out, walk around, talk to people from other breweries, and get sneak peaks at some of the beers they were pouring. One such beer I tried was from a cask of a jalapeño beer from Rock Bottom Brewery. I really enjoyed it, and I continue to become more and more fascinated by pepper beers.
|The hotties (Katie (left) and Nicole) from Thomas Creek chillin in the grass before the gates opened.|
Once 1:00 arrived and the gates opened, we were ready to go. It took me a few minutes to get a feel for the taps so I wasn’t giving people a glass full of head. Once I found my rhythm, I felt like I’d been a bartender for years.
One of the cool things about pouring beer for Thomas Creek was that we had all eight of the regular beers on tap. That kind of variety sparked a lot of conversation, as people would ask for recommendations or what the difference was between the amber and the red. The most common request I had was for “your lightest beer.”
|Me behind the bar. Yes, you have to wear aviators to serve beer for Thomas Creek.|
Some of my favorite customer exchanges:
Obviously, as the day wore on, people opened up and we were able to interact more with people. The crowd at Hickory Hops was very cool, and I never came across anyone that was rude or obnoxious. Creepy, maybe, but not rude.
|Having a couple ladies behind the bar certainly helps attract patrons. Good beer doesn’t hurt, either.|
I have to admit, the coolness factor of being with a brewery behind the bar pouring beer for people was off the charts. It’s as close as I’ve come to having a “rock star” experience. (And yes, I know I should get out more.)
The best part is bringing good beer to other people and making them feel cool. It’s such a rewarding feeling and makes all the hard work that goes into making a brewery work worth it.
This was such an awesome weekend. I could go on and on about it, but there are certain things that words can’t do justice. I think these photos adequately sum up the festival.
What does that have to do with beer and BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guidelines? I’m not sure, but thought you’d like to know that about me.
Maybe it does have something to do with it. For a few years, I’ve contemplated taking the plunge and going for my BJCP certification. (Is “BJCP certification” like saying “ATM machine?”)
Aside from making beer, is there a better way to learn about all the different characteristics, styles and variety in the world of beer? It’s a lot of work and study, but seems worthwhile to someone passionate about beer. Plus, it can get you a lot of free beer.
However, like my tattoo idea, I’m now beginning to have some doubts.
Two weekends ago, I participated in my first official beer judging, the Carolina Championship of Beer. I had a great time and it was an interesting experience, but I’ll get to that later on. First, a little background for those that may not be familiar with the BJCP.
The BJCP was founded in 1985 with the goal of “promoting beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills.” (bjcp.org) They publish style guidelines and administer an examination program to certify beer judges.
The BJCP style guidelines have expanded over the years to more than 80 styles of beer. They differentiate a Southern English Brown from a Northern English Brown, a German Pilsner from a Bavarian Pilsner from a Classic American Pilsner, and a Dry Stout from a Sweet Stout from an Oatmeal Stout from a Foreign Extra Stout from an American Stout from a Russian Imperial Stout.
In essence, the BJCP, as well as another organization, the Brewer’s Assocation (BA), have attempted to standardize how we classify and talk about beer. So what’s the big deal? It’s human nature to try and classify everything we encounter. We see or experience something new, our first impulse is to compare it to a previous experience or put it in a category we have pre-defined in our minds.
The BJCP and BA have risen to prominence as being the authorities on how beers are judged and medals are awarded. Most major beer competitions judge beer according to the BA or BJCP style guidelines, including the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) which awards medals based on BA style guidelines.
Those medals are extremely important to commercial breweries, as they offer validation and notoriety in the beer world. Most importantly, it’s a great selling point to consumers. Being a GABF medal winner can have a real monetary impact for a brewery.
Backing up a bit, what does it mean to judge beers based on BJCP or BA style guidelines? I’ll use my Carolina Championship of Beer experience to illustrate.
On a Saturday morning, around 10 am, I sat down at my table with Jason Yates, co-owner of Olde Hickory Brewery. We were charged with judging Porters. We had 7 brown porters, 6 robust porters, an oatmeal stout and a smoked porter.
Luckily, judging the porters allowed us to have a little variety. After five or six of the same style, the palate does become fatigued. One of the other tables had to judge around 20 IPAs. I don’t know how you can do that accurately. Lots of saltines, I suppose.
That’s not to mention the affects of the alcohol. I tried to only drink as much as I needed to get a idea of how to judge the beer, but still, after 10 samples, I was certainly feeling it. I’m not sure I could have gone much past the 15 we had to try before I need a nap. Our pace definitely quickened and our comments were more general as we went along. I’m sure the palate and alcohol fatigue played a part.
Each selection was brought out to us in unmarked cups by our steward, Shanon. For each beer, we had a score card with each characteristic broken out into a 1-5 rating scale. The characteristics we were judging on were appearance, aroma, flavor, head and carbonation, mouthfeel, bitterness, balance, adherence to style, drinkability and overall impression.
The scores from each characteristic would be added to give the beer its overall score. Beers that scored high enough would move on to the second round, where they would be judged again by official BJCP certified judges. Medals would then be awarded from the second round.
Now, the key to this whole thing was that we were not necessarily judging each characteristic based on what we personally liked, but on it’s appropriateness to the BJCP style. However, drinkability and overall impression are subjective, so there was some wiggle room based on what we personally perceived to be good or bad.
I remember one particular brown porter had a wonderfully strong hop aroma. However, look at the BJCP description for the aroma of a brown porter: “English hop aroma moderate to none.” So, do I subtract a point or two from the aroma score because it was too strong for the style, even though I thought it was well done and very pleasant?
What if that low aroma score cost that beer a gold medal, or a medal at all? In a small competition with seven other brown porters, it may not make a difference, but in a competition with dozens of other beers in the same style, every point matters.
To me, that illustrates the dilemma of beer competitions. It’s also becoming more of an issue these days, as brewers are starting to cross-pollinate styles. Look at Stone’s Cali-Belgique Belgian IPA as an example. There is no Belgian IPA style, at least not yet.
I’m not trying to say that the BJCP or Brewer’s Association is evil, or what they do is wrong. Quite contrary. I think that creating a standard language to describe beer is very valuable, but it’s only a starting place.
As educated consumers, we need to understand what winning a medal really means. We still need to decide for ourselves what we like and what we will buy. We can’t rely on what some judge at a competition or a style book says is appropriate.
After all, Keystone Ice won gold at GABF in American Style Specialty Lager.]]>
Obviously then, Barley’s Tap Room & Pizzeria in Greenville, South Carolina, has a natural leg up with me from any other bars or restaurants in town. However, it’s not your average pizza and beer joint. Barley’s is a beer joint that serves pizza.
The Lay of the Land
Barley’s is my favorite hangout in Greenville. It may not be perfect (that only exists in my imagination) but it’s darn close. It has all that I ask for in a beer bar: a diverse, ever-changing beer menu, good food to accompany the beer, and a comfortable atmosphere for friends to accompany my beer and food.
First, let’s explore the space. Barley’s is located in a building that was a 19th century hardware and feed store. The first floor has tremendously high ceilings, exposed brick walls and creaky hardwood floors. It comes together to form a comfortable atmosphere with a lot of character.
With an open floor plan, the staff can rearrange tables to accommodate just about any party size. I’ve been tucked away in a secluded corner when it’s just me and Nicole, but I’ve also been at a table for 20.
The menu features appetizers, pizza, calzones and sandwiches. My favorite app is the garlic knots, which is essentially pizza dough served with marinara sauce. The artichokes and ale is also superb.
The pizza and calzones are top notch, with generous toppings and a thick doughy crust, just how I like it. The sandwiches are not to be overlooked, either. I went years only ordering pizza and calzones, never venturing out into Sandwich Land. I feel as though I’ve missed out on years of enjoyment.
The Italian and meatball subs are tremendous, warm, well-seasoned and delicious. The cheesesteak may not make it in Philly, but it does the trick on the mean streets of Greenville.
There is an upstairs bar, which is more like a traditional bar. There’s no seating or food upstairs, just beer and bar games. There are four dart boards, six pool tables, shuffleboard and Golden Tee. Everything a good bar should have.
In addition to all the amenities, Barley’s is one of those places that you can become a true regular because they have tremendous continuity in their wait staff. Every restaurant has some turnover, and Barley’s is no exception, but there are at least a dozen people on staff that have been there as long as I can remember. When you get to know their names and they know yours, you know you’ve found a home. It’s the greatest intangible that sets a bar apart, and Barley’s has it.
It’s All About the Beer
Now that we have all the frivolities out of the way, let’s get down to the beer. Barley’s has a lot of it. 70 taps, 50 downstairs and 20 upstairs. They also carry around 120 bottle selections, including a reserve list of rare and cellared beers.
However, it’s not a numbers game at Barley’s. It’s about quality and variety. You won’t find Miller or Anheuser-Busch products on the beer list. I love being next to a table when someone orders a Michelob Ultra, and the person has to either try something new or drink sweet tea. That gives me great satisfaction.
Barley’s is constantly rotating in new selections and seasonals. In fact, the beer list is reprinted at least every two weeks. It’s the only way to keep beer geeks like myself interested. I’m constantly in search of new beers to try, and if a place has the same selection every time I go, I’ll get bored quickly.
Josh Beeby, Head Beer Wrangler
The driving force behind Barley’s commitment to beer excellence is its owner, Josh Beeby. Born in Australia, and still retaining his awesome accent, Josh spent the greater part of the 90s as a professional snowboarder. He always enjoyed and admired the United States, so in the late 90s, he moved to Denver to pursue new slopes.
This was all taking place in the days before the X Games came to be, so pro snowboarders didn’t make much money. They built courses themselves with shovels and sold equipment they received from sponsors to make extra money. Josh worked as a cook in restaurants in the evenings to support himself.
In Denver, he met and married his wife, and they decided to move to Greenville to be closer to her family. His wife got a job waiting tables and Barley’s, and Josh worked in the kitchen at Soby’s, another restaurant in town. Soon after, his wife was able to get him a position at Barley’s as the front house and bar manager. Within a year, he took over as the general manager.
In early 2003, the original owners of Barley’s Greenville location (there are now four independently owned Barley’s locations, the original being in Asheville, NC) decided to sell off that restaurant. As part of any sale, they built into the contract that Josh would remain as GM and would receive a 10% equity share. However, it dawned on Josh, “Why should I do all the work and only get 10%? Why not do all the work and get 100%?” So he put together a plan to buy Barley’s himself.
Within six weeks, which Josh described as the most stressful of his life, he took over Barley’s on December 1, 2003. He began making changes immediately, improving the food menu, dropping the live music, and focusing on the beer list.
From the beginning, it was Josh’s goal to make Barley’s “the best beer bar in the country.” It’s an ambitious goal, but setting the bar high is the only way to continually improve.
However, South Carolina’s beer climate was a lot different in 2003 than it is in 2010. Josh explained, “Back then, we’d have a few beers, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adams Boston Lager, that we’d plow through three or four kegs a week. Everything else sat for months.”
Josh quickly realized that education and awareness were the only way to make progress. Barley’s started offering sample racks and invited breweries to come out for promotional nights. However, Josh made the breweries work for it. “Pint glass giveaways weren’t going to cut it. We wanted lots of cool swag, new beers and brewery reps to be there in person. It was the only way to differentiate ourselves and entice people to come out.”
It didn’t help that until 2007, beer sold in South Carolina had to be below 6% ABV. “It was like doing my job with one hand tied behind my back,” Josh said of the laws. However, salvation came when the cap was popped, and the whole game changed.
It was around that time that Josh and bar manager Drew Moren had the idea to start the Reserve List. They often traveled around the country and always picked up cases of rarities and stuff they couldn’t find in South Carolina. They would put some of these beers away in their “cellar,” but as time went along, the cellar got to be too large. They had to do something, so why not start offering the beer in their cellar to Barley’s customers?
Some of the gems on the Reserve List include 2007 North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, 2007 & 2008 Abbey St. Bon Chien, and a keg of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout that won’t tapped for at least another year.
Despite awareness improving and beer sales increasing every year since he took over, Josh fears that the locals are still behind the beer curve in other parts of the country. “Many people still don’t appreciate the rare beer we bring in. We’d love to bring in more, but we don’t want to spend a lot of money on a hard-to-find keg, only to sell a few dozen pints in the first night and then have it sit around for another month or two and then toss the rest to make room for another beer on that tap.”
So the quest continues in Greenville to bring good beer to the people. We have come a long way, and there are now several other bars and restaurants that have taken up Barley’s lead and offer good craft beer in Greenville, including the Mellow Mushroom, Addy’s Dutch Cafe, Chicora Alley and Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe, but Barley’s continues to work hard to lead the way.
I, for one, am glad they’re here.]]>