Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fresh Hop Roundup

A little late to this, but I have been busy with exploits that shall yield many intersting blog posts whenever I find time to write them - stay tuned.  I have been lax with the news of fresh hop beers, one of my favorite craft beer products, but I have now had enough that I am ready to give a short synopsis.  It is not a completely useless endeavor, I think there are still a number of them on tap and in the bottle so there is still time to get your fix in quickly before the winter ale season begins in earnest.

So let me start by saying I was a savvy consumer of the fresh hop beers this season and I did not make it to a fresh hop beer festival this year so I have not had a single fresh hop beer I didn't like.  But even though my sample has severe selection bias issues, might I be bold enough to suggest that the NW craft beer community is really starting to get it in term of brewing with fresh hops?  Perhaps.

While this might be true, my experience is that the best of the best come from the reliable top-quality brewers in the state.  In my book, Double Mountain lead the pack: this years killer green was amazing, a real hop bomb that was perfectly balanced (in the NW usage of balance) and yet the fresh hop characeter shone through but not in an aggressive way. I think it is the most accomplished fresh hop beer I have ever had (picture below from the Skamania Celebration of Beers event).

Many beer cognoscenti chose the Deschutes' Fresh Hopped Mirror Pond as their favorite (see, for example, Bill's much more thorough round-up) and though I agree with its excellence, it is not, for me, as transcendent ad Double Mountain's Killer Green (ed. note: I did not have the Killer Red this year).

Other winners: I thought, as always, Full Sails John Harris did an amazing job, this year the one I sampled was the one using Tettenanger hops - fantastic.  Another great one this year was Lucky Lab's The Mutt, which was surprisingly complex and well-rounded given the unknown provenance of the hops therein.  I think the Lab is getting pretty expert at The Mutt now and I really enjoyed the result.

Once again the good folks at the Great Northern Brewery sent me a sample of their Frog Hop beer and once again it was one of my favorites.  They go for a very light body to accentuate the fresh hops which are used gently but to perfection.  One reason for my love of this beer is that they use locally grown hops in the Whitefish Valley - which is what the fresh hop beer is all about: local, seasonal, fresh.

In fact, the Frog Hop was my inspiration for the Green Crown, which is what Jeff named our first attempt at a fresh hop beer.  We had no idea what to do, so I went for a light pale ale recipe, mostly two-row pale malt, with a little crystal and a hint of wheat for mouth feel.  Then it was all Cascade: wet home grown hops in the worth for a dose of first wort hopping, dry cascade for the bitter charge and then a bunch (completely unmeasured - we just dumped a bunch in until it seemed good, and then dumped a bit more...) fresh hops at the end.  From the picture below you can see from whence the name Green Crown came.  I am usually pretty critical of the beer I brew, but this one was a huge success - a wonderful light body upon which the fresh Cascades dance their little dance on your tongue.  Even Jeff, who deesn't think much of fresh hop beers in general, calls it a big winner. 

I still have a few in my basement and to my surprise they are aging extremely well: I think the grassy notes have faded just a bit but the rest of the fresh hop sensation remains.  A fitting end to the season.

I can also attest to the fact that the fresh hop beer craze has hopped the pond.  The Dark Star craft brewery in Sussex did their own fresh hop ale this year with English hops:

This is super cool, unfortunately it was all gone when Jeff and I visited.  Note that at 6.5% it is an absolute alcohol monster relative to most English beer.  

Let the winter beers commence!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Far and Wide

If you were to find a far flung Oregon beer what would you think it'd be?  For me, it's Rogue hands down.  You find them everywhere, including, in my case, on tap at the Rake bar in London's Borough district.   What I would not expect to find in my wildest imagination is Caldera.  But lo! From a bottle shop in York, England:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Brewing Businesses: One Macro and One Craft

I'd show you a nice glamor shot of their Boston brewery but...
Well, almost.  Boston Beer is the one company which I guess you could say straddles the line.  But, say what you will about the business model, Boston Beer is built upon quality beer, not light lager volume.

First, the big. Molson Coors is hurting:

Molson slumps in 3Q as economy saps beer money
By SARAH SKIDMORE, AP Business Writer – 1 day ago

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Molson Coors Brewing Co.'s third-quarter profit tumbled 23 percent as high costs and high unemployment among its core customers continued to take a toll on the brewer.

Molson Coors and other major beer makers have struggled in the down economy as young American men have faced particularly high levels of unemployment. The company, which makes products like Miller Lite, Coors Lite and Carling, also saw lower-than-expected sales in the U.K. And the industry is seeing consumers overall shift toward more craft beers, wines and spirits.

The company is also struggling with higher costs for commodities such as barley, aluminum and fuel.

"We have had the equivalent of an earthquake," Peter Swinburn, president and CEO of Molson Coors, said of the recession. "Our core consumer was hit overnight... It is very difficult to recover from that, it takes time to rebuild."

Next, the slightly less big. Boston Beer is not:

Boston Beer 3Q profit rises on higher revenue


Boston Beer Co., which brews Samuel Adams beer, said Tuesday that its profit grew in the third quarter as shipments increased.

The company reported net income of $16.3 million, or $1.19 a share, for the three months ended Sept. 24. That compares with net income of $15.4 million, or $1.09 a share, in the comparable period last year.

Net revenue surged 8 percent to $134.8 million from $124.5 million a year earlier, driven by a 7 percent gain in shipment volume.

Analysts were anticipating, on average, earnings of $1.13 a share on $131.9 million in revenue, according to FactSet.

"We are happy with the health of our brand portfolio and remain positive about the future of craft beer," said Jim Koch, chairman and founder.

Curious that the AP byline is Portland, Oregon. Where better to report about beer, I guess. Anyway, the empirical question that I still wonder about is whether the growth in craft beer is from new converts while those that have already converted reduce their overall consumption in the down economy, or is it the case that even craft beer drinkers are not reducing consumption? I suspect the former.