The Golden Age of Hops and Beer: The Fine Art of Choosing a Hop

By: Robin Dohrn- Simpson

Choosing the right hops can be a complicated task. Some breweries choose hops based on past agreements – they have long-standing relationships with growers they feel confident will provide what they need, at the highest quality. Some search out their hops based on geography, based on knowledge of which plant grows better in Washington than in Oregon or Idaho. Some experiment with hops growers who are creating new varieties and bringing them to market. Others just want a Citra, or an Alpha, or a Cascade, and make a spot purchase. Whichever path they choose, what truly matters is the quality of the hop and the right varietal for the beer.

Purchasing Based on Terroir

  Thomas Bleigh, Innovation Brewmaster at Craft Brew Alliance’s Ph Experiment in Oregon, chooses his hops based on the terroir.

  “While I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this, I, historically, have had a preference for Oregon-grown vs. Washington-grown Cascade hops. Much of it was the most likely narrative for the beer that we produced, but we did run trials on Cascade in our flagship single-hop Cascade Ale, and we found a preference in one supplier,” Bleigh said. “Much of this would have been tied to a qualitative raw source, but we also believed that processing played a role in the character of the hop.”

  Despite Bleigh’s preference for Oregon-grown, the CBA doesn’t limit themselves to hops from one state over another, instead, focusing on locally sourced ingredients. This is undoubtedly the case at their Redhook brewpub in Seattle.

  “Currently, our Redhook BrewLab is working on a series called Washington Native that focuses on Washington sourced malts and salmon-safe sourced Washington hops,” said Bleigh. “That project is an interesting example of trying to tease our nuance based on regional distinction. One of the challenges is that while Pacific Northwest breweries are hyper-aware and engaged in local sourcing, we are also mindful that these hops service the majority of domestic craft.”

  Hop varietals, just like any plant, thrive in some regions over others. At the same time, varietals that thrive in any environment can develop characteristics based on the soil and weather of the area where they grow. Terroir is often spoken of regarding winegrapes but can also be applied to other crops, particularly those involved in the creation of alcoholic beverages.

  “Yakima, given its dry climate, is a much better growing region for higher alpha hop varieties and Nuevo IPA hop varieties. These proprietary hops (such as Citra, Mosaic, Azacca) all fare better in Washington than they do in Oregon. Idaho presents an interesting domestic terroir character, and they have now surpassed Oregon for hops produced and are becoming more of a geographic force in the industry,” Bleigh said.

  Larry Sidor, Co-Founder, Master Brewer and CEO at Crux Fermentation Project in Bend Oregon, knows hops and appreciates why different regions and growers yield a range of characteristics.

  “Terroir, climate conditions during kilning, as well as processing methods post field harvest make all the difference. When hops are dried in Oregon the ambient temperatures are lower than Washington, but the humidity is higher, yielding significant differences. Methods of preserving the hops differ quite widely and can contribute different nuances. An example is “farmer bales” that are dried, packed loosely, and then stored in barns. Books can and have been written about all the differences. The resulting beer is also different,” Sidor said.

  Sidor does have a preference, however. “Being a native Oregonian, my belief and preference is that Willamette Valley grown hops are the best in the world. I may be a bit biased, I’ve brewed with hops from every major hop growing region in the world, so that should count for something,”

  Christian DeBenedetti of Wolves and People Brewery in Newberg, Oregon, feels that the amount of sensory and flavor research and description in the industry is at an all-time high. His brewery wants growers with proven track records and a full grasp on their fields and crops.

  “Hops are almost like wine varietals at this point. There are so many interesting old and new varieties being cultivated with real care, and we definitely look to favored growers who can communicate accurately about their hops and lots. They vary by year and even by the lot, because of variations in soil and site. So we’re looking for a combination of characteristics we can bring forward in a well-made beer,” DeBenedetti said. “Soil chemistry and farming techniques both affect hop flavor. Take Cascade, for example, a classic aroma hop. In Oregon and Washington, it tends to grapefruit and pine. In New Zealand, which is free of the sort of pests that plague other growing regions, it’s often more melon-like. This is due to the soil it’s grown in. This a perfect reflection of terroir in beer.”

Which Comes First, the Hops or the Brew?

  Brewers vary in their approach to creating a beer recipe. Sometimes, an idea for a new brew will come to them, and they will search out the ingredients to make it. Other times, it’s the ingredients themselves that inspire a recipe.

  At Crux Fermentation Project, Sidor prefers experimenting with hops and letting them do the talking. “I don’t brew a beer until I’ve acquired the materials to brew it,” he said. “Once they are acquired, I then look for the best way to utilize them in a formulation. Crux tends to bring in a dozen or so new hops every year with the intent of experimenting with them using this approach. I don’t have an idea about a brew when I purchase a hop. I typically brew a single-hop brew to get a feel for the hop. The result is usually a very one-dimensional beer that isn’t very interesting. This doesn’t mean the hop is bad; it means that other hops are needed in the brew to make it shine.

  A good example of this is the Strata hop. By itself, it is very one dimensional, when in combination with other hops, it’s a rock star. One hop that seems to shine all by itself is the Sabro hop. Have only brewed one brew so far, but as a single hop brew, the Sabro delivered a very layered and interesting beer. In short, you need to let the hop tell you what beers it’s going to shine in.”

  Wolves and People Brewery has built beers around individual hops. “There are new aroma varieties that play up fruity, tropical aromas like passionfruit, lychee, coconut and mango. We want those traits to be front and center, so we build a recipe almost like a stage to pop those bright, high-tone aromas to the fore. Sometimes we’re doing the complete opposite. We want a beer that has spice character, some old-world bitterness and aroma, then we go looking for those varieties and use what’s freshest,” DeBenedetti said.

Experimental Hops

  Joe Catron, “Hoperations” Manager at Yakima Chief Ranches, feels right now is the Golden Age of hops and beer. Three hop farming families created Yakima Chief with the sole purpose of creating new world-class hops varieties and bringing them to market. The process of creating a new hop takes up to a decade and can cost upwards of a million dollars from cross-pollination, to market research, to placement in the marketplace. The ranch releases one new hop approximately every year.

  “We make several crosses each year and generally result in 30-50,000 seedlings in any given year,” Catron told Beverage Master Magazine. “In my seven years working here we have released five varieties: four flavoring and aroma for the American scene and one super alpha hop for bittering for the big macro brewers.”

  Yakima Chief has experienced immense growth over the years. When Catron started in 2013, there were three owner-growers and 900 acres planted. As of 2019, there are now 45 farms in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, with 15,000 acres managed.

  The ranch applies a “fail fast” mentality. They run a hop through the gamut, and if it doesn’t check off all the boxes, it goes to the scrap heap. However, they did have a quasi-flop that eventually became a success.

  “The Simco hop was released 20 years ago as a dual purpose hop alpha and aroma. We couldn’t give it away. Some said it was too pungent, punchy and dank. We were going to tear down the bines, but Russian River Brewing found it and liked it, and it became a champion in the beer called Pliny the Elder. Vinny, the head brewer is a cult hero amongst brewers. He helped to save the variety, and now there are 3,000 acres of this hop planted. It was definitely before it’s time and needed a new audience,” Catron said.

  Crux Fermentation’s Sidor has seen experimentation change the hops market throughout his career, due to the increase in craft brewing and the demand for the next big thing.

  “When I started brewing, only Cluster and Fuggle were available. You could bring in hops from Europe, but most were at a state of oxidation higher than acceptable,” he said. “My concern now is, can the hop breeder keep up with the customer demand for ‘what’s new?’ Remember that Cascade was revolutionary in the 1970s, Citra 40 years later, Galaxy 5 years after that. The thing that has accelerated hop breeding is the customer demand, the technical tools now available to the hop researcher, and the money available to do the research. My only concern is that not enough money is being spent on breeding public varieties by the USDA.” 

  Craft Brew Alliance’s pH Experiment specializes in trying new things, and Bleigh enjoys testing hop varieties. “We are heavily invested in trialing new hop varieties and working with the Hop Research Council to explore new varietals and to support public breeding of hops. Our initial explorations have shaped our early pioneering interest in hops like Citra and Galaxy, which have very specific tropical hop characters that are signature hops in some of our brands,” he said.

  Hops play an essential role in the craft beer industry, helping create distinct brews with complimentary varietal combinations and terroir. With a high demand for more hops and hops growers, and places like Yakima Chief Ranch creating new cross breeds nearly every year, the U.S. hops industry can only continue to bloom.

“American hops is the world leader right now. It’s a special time to be alive,” Catron said.

A Guide to Some of the Best Canadian Beer Fests

By: Briana Tomkinson

The popularity of craft beer in Canada has fueled the growth of beer festivals across the country. Some, like Craft Beer Week events in Vancouver and Ontario, are primarily dedicated to showcasing local brews, while other festivals, like Montreal’s Mondial de la bière, are opportunities for beer-lovers to explore new tastes from across Canada and around the world.

Mondial de la bière

  At the 26th annual Mondial de la bière, held in May 2019, an estimated 80,000 visitors flowed through the kiosks at Windsor Station in downtown Montreal. Visitors were keen to sample some of the 450 beers, ciders, meads and spirits from at least 90 craft beverage producers—including 35 from Quebec.

  While the included the usual branded brewery kiosks, it also featured the Petit Pub where visitors could try a selection of beer varieties from eight countries: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Although admission was free, visitors could buy coupons for two- or four-ounce samples, ranging in price from $2 to $8 CAD.

  Quebec distilleries were a notable presence at the event, offering many creative tastes like les Subversif’s maple gin, produced in a former church in Sorel-Tracy; and Franklin-based Sivo’s rhubarb liqueur. Sivo was the first in Quebec to create a single-malt whisky in 2017 and is now known for its complex herbal liqueurs as well. Quebec’s first locally produced bitter Italian-style apératif, Amermelade, by Montreal’s Les Spiritueux Iberville was also available for sampling, along with the company’s Amernoir, a bitter amaro-style digestif with notes of coffee, cocoa, sarsaparilla, mint and orange.

  The event featured Quebec breweries proudly touting their sour beers. La Souche’s Canadian Brewing Award-winning Limoilou Beach beer stood out, in particular. The brew incorporates locally sourced ingredients unique to the northern Boréal forest, such as tart wild berries, Labrador tea and pine tips.

  The Mondial de la bière was founded in Montreal in 1994, and has become one of America’s most important international beer festivals. In addition to the original Montreal event, there are now three other Mondial de la bière festivals organized around the world, including one in Europe (mondialdelabiereparis.com), and two in Brazil. The events in France and Sao Paulo took place in late May and early June, and the seventh edition of the Rio de Janeiro Mondial de la bière (mondialdelabiererio.com/en/) is September 4-8, 2019.

Just wait, there’s more…

  If you missed out on the Mondial de la bière, don’t fret—there are similar events held across Canada throughout the year. Here are some of the most notable.

  Festibière (festibiere.ca), held in Gatineau in June and February, is another Quebec beer festival. The June festival drew more than 30,000 people over three days and featured over 300 beers from more than 30 Quebec breweries. The winter edition in February is more intimate, drawing closer to 10,000 people.

  In July, the Toronto Festival of Beer (https://beerfestival.ca/) pairs craft beverages with food and music. This year’s headliners include Ashanti and Ja Rule. The event will feature samples of over 400 beers from more than 90 brewers.

  Brewfest (http://brewfest.ca/) takes place in Ottawa in February and Toronto in March. The February event coincides with Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival, a significant tourist draw at the famously frigid time of year. The Toronto event features over 150 beers from breweries in Quebec and Ontario, as well as gourmet eats from popular local food trucks.

  Alberta Beer Festivals (albertabeerfestivals.com) organizes six events throughout the year in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Jasper. Their Calgary International Beerfest, home to the Canadian International Beer Awards, is one of Canada’s largest beer festivals. The beer fest, held annually in May, features over 700 beers from more than 200 breweries. Another of their events, the Jasper Beer & Barley Summit, held in February, is a two-day mountain retreat at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, featuring food and beer pairings and seminars from top brewers, distillers and other industry leaders.

  In British Columbia, Vancouver Craft Beer Week (vancouvercraftbeerweek.com) is the event to watch. Held in late May and early June, it’s a 10-day party celebrating the city’s thriving craft beer scene, including a two-day festival at the PNE Fairgrounds in June, as well as events at breweries, restaurants and bars throughout the city. This year’s events included beer bike tours, tap takeovers, special beer pairing menus at local restaurants, and a three-hour sunset cruise featuring craft beer, snacks and a DJ.

  Another notable summer festival in B.C. is Farmhouse Fest (farmhousefest.com), held in July at the University of British Columbia’s 24-hectare model farm. Farmhouse Fest is an ode to farmhouse-style beers and ciders—the funky, fruity, peppery, tart, dry and sour. Participating breweries include local breweries as well as specialty producers from throughout Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Chile and Australia.

  August in the Maritimes brings the Seaport Cider & Beer Festival (seaportbeerfest.com) to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The two-day event features over 300 beverages from producers in 20 countries. This year they’ve added a new feature: the Maine Beer Box, a pop-up taproom in a shipping container featuring 78 craft beer taps from breweries in Maine.

  Another major East Coast beer fest is New Brunswick’s Fredericton Craft Beer Festival (http://frederictoncraftbeerfestival.com/) in March, which features over 200 varieties of beer, cider and mead.

  In remote Whitehorse, the Yukon Beer Festival (yukonbeerfestival.com) in October brings a taste of craft beer and ciders from around North America to delight beer fans in the Great White North. Last year’s event featured over 100 different brews.

  Some larger craft producers, like Beau’s Brewing in tiny Vankleek Hill, Ontario, have created their own marquee events. Beau’s Oktoberfest (beausoktoberfest.ca) has become a significant fall music and beer celebration, featuring not only Beau’s brews but also a mini-beer festival with over 50 rare or exclusive beers from Canadian craft breweries. The New Pornographers and Shad headline the September festival, along with Jenn Grant, Neon Dreams, Birds of Bellwoods, Caravane, John Jacob Magistery, and What If Elephants. The 2018 event drew over 17,000 people, and since its launch 10 years ago, has raised approximately $711,000 for area charities. 

  The beauty of beer festivals is the opportunity for brands to make a personal connection with beer fans, tell their story, and above all, to entice more people to taste the unique product they have to offer.

Forward-thinking Marketing Is About Looking Back

By: Jim McCune

HefeWheaties is a new beer from Fulton, which collaborated on the brew with another Minneapolis company, General Mills.

Many beer brands have recognized the value of “nostalgia marketing” by tapping into our fondest childhood memories to sell more.

But What is Nostalgia?

  It’s a human emotion defined as “a sentimental longing, or affection for the past”.

  As we grow older, we develop fond memories of our younger days. From the food, candy, and ice cream we ate, the events we attended, the music we listened to, the video games we played, the clothes and sneakers we wore, to the TV shows we watched. 

  Your experiences from your past, form your personality and identity today.

  Scientific research has proven that nostalgia is a powerful feeling that provides a pleasant effect to both mind and body, and the natural phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the “warm and fuzzies”.

  It seems the more we move into an age of technology and innovation, the more we enjoy revisiting a simpler past and the joyous memories that come with it.

  Nostalgia can be activated at any given moment by any of our senses. A certain sound, scent, or color can trigger a nostalgic episode. Nostalgia can appear as a flashback, a vivid memory, or a wave of seemingly out-of-place emotions.

  One of the reasons we love Netflix TV show “Stranger Things” is because of our desire to look back fondly on our own formative years. This show really nailed the time period of the eighties and allows viewers to relive certain aspects of their past that they enjoyed.

  Nostalgia triggers emotion, and emotion activates purchase. This is why nostalgia is smart and effective marketing tactic.

  Breakfast cereals, vinyl records, candy bars, gaming systems, ice cream cake, and literally everything in between. Brands are engaging beer drinkers by tapping into their positive memories from decades past in fun, innovative new ways.

  Retro tactics have found their way into most marketing channels. Throwback Thursdays hashtag across social media, Facebook’s “On This Day”, and apps like Timehop now account for hundreds of millions of new photos linked to personal memories.

  In a series of experiments conducted by the Journal of Consumer Science, they found that consumers who thought about “the good old days” were more willing to spend money. In contrast, less likely to spend bucks when thinking about “the present or future”.

  The research study examined how nostalgia evoked feelings of connectedness and community due to childhood memories being linked to friends, family, and a sense of trust.

  Other interesting findings from the study is that nostalgia is experienced at least three times a week by persons of all ages, and across all cultures.

  It was also determined that most persons see their nostalgic event “through rose-colored glasses,” meaning they were revising history in their favor.

  Additionally, and most interesting, persons who were exposed to extreme heat or cold found relief and comfort from these adverse states when experiencing the joy of nostalgia.

  The emotional component of your brain is far more advanced than the logical side.

  80% of your decision-making derives from emotion rather than logic. This is why most consumers make their purchase decision at the beer shelf based on what they see and feel.

  But, 64% of this group admitted they would change their mind at the last second if “something else better” caught their eye.

  Smart brands are successfully using the timeless marketing strategy to attract new drinkers by elicit the stopping power and emotion in their branding. The results have been extraordinary with the GenX and Millennial aged groups.

  If you peruse the shelves of your local beer distributor, you’ll quickly see how evident, and brilliantly, nostalgic marketing is being employed by many beer brands.

  Why does nostalgia resonate so well with these marketing segments?

  Mainly because childhood for them during the 70s, 80s, and 90s (commercially-speaking) was all about them, and chock full of awesome. So, looking back on these days, there’s bound to be a lot of great memories.

  Children born mid–1960s to 1970s were considered the first generation of children to be directly advertised to. They would be known as “Generation X” and marketers discovered that this segment was impossible to define.

  Advertisers eventually discovered that although GenX children were not the purchaser, they could use them as “parental influencers”.

  If they could get a kid super excited about their product, they would eventually get to the mum. Many parents reported being pestered by their children for products they saw on television. This new marketing tactic was termed “pester power”.

  The result was an onslaught of exciting new youth products advertised directly to kids during their Saturday morning cartoons, movies, comic books, video games, and beyond.

  The pester era was fueled by a major surge in birthrates during the 80s and 90s that ushered in the new marketing segment, known as “Generation Y” aka Millennials.

  Studies at the time estimated children spent an average of 28 hours per week watching TV and playing video games which exposed them to approximately 20,000 ads a year.

  During these 3 decades the youth market became expansive and accelerated economic growth around the globe to the tune of $250 billion today.

  Millennials were also a big part of the craft beer boom. Over the past eight years, as this age group reached legal drinking age of 21, the craft brewing industry experienced its most significant growth.

  Millennials were labeled the “Peter Pan Generation” due to their tendency to delay “Adulting” for longer than any generation prior.

  So, it’s no wonder, if a beer brand could leverage favorable memories from our childhood and evoke these warm–fuzzy feelings that allow us to suspend our disbelief for a few moments, that we’re actually adults … you’ve likely made the sale already.

  You’ll also forge a meaningful connection with this consumer at an extremely–emotional level that results in brand loyalty (a consumer quality that hardly exists in beer today).

  An alcohol watchdog group recently reported that consumer complaints were stacking-up. As increasing numbers of beer brands rollout nostalgia in their marketing, more cases are being upheld because their label “appears to be aimed at kids” or “encourages immoderate consumption.”

  It’s been urged that breweries, marketers, and designers tread more carefully with the design of their retro packaging that depicts candy, toys, and cartoons. Ensuring the alcoholic nature of their beverage is communicated clearly, and when appealing to one’s inner child, not going too far to inadvertently appeal to a child.

  Check out these 5 beer brands that did great jobs using nostalgic marketing:

1.  Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of New York collaborated with Carvel Ice Cream to make “Fudgie the Beer” a 6.0% ABV beer brewed with Carvel signature chocolate crunchies, fudge and ice cream from their famous cake. Fudgie the Beer has smooth creamy cocoa notes with a roasted crunchies finish. (https://fudgiethebeer.com)

      This innovative concept worked so well, Captain Lawrence Brewing extended the line with Cookie O’Puss St. Patrick’s Day Beer, and Cookie Puss Birthday beer.

2.  Virginia-based brewing company Smartmouth is releasing a “magically delicious” IPA with all the warm and fuzzies. “Saturday Morning” is a throwback to the early mornings in front of the TV watching cartoons in your pajamas eating your favorite cereal. Smartmouth brewed with Lucky Charms-inspired marshmallows. (https://smartmouthbrewing.com/beers)

3.  450 North Brewing Co. of Indiana is pushing the envelope with an extensive line of mouth-watering retro packaging. Peanut butter cups, ice slushes, fruity and cocoa pebbles, firecrackers, French toast sticks, rocket popsicles, marshmallows, Nintendo games, tacos, and anything else you loved as a kid is represented. (https://www.instagram.com/450northbrewing)

4.  Two of America’s iconic beverage brands, Harpoon Brewery and Dunkin’ of Massachusetts collaborated on a limited-edition 6% ABV Coffee Porter. The co-brew combines the taste of Dunkin’s Espresso Blend Coffee with Harpoon’s famous craft beer for a balanced and smooth brew offering robust and roasty notes. (https://www.harpoonbrewery.com/beer/dunkin-coffee-porter)

      Harpoon and Dunkin’ just released a bright, summery follow-up brew with “Dunkin’ Summer Coffee Pale Ale” at 5% ABV.

5.  California’s Altamont Beer Works has an extensive line of cool–looking brews. They left no childhood stone unturned with their heady, and retro plays. Catty Shack, My Little Pony, Grand Theft Auto, NKOTB, Crunch Berry Cereal, to The Dude. (https://altamontbeerworks.com/1/beers)

  Nostalgia is a positive emotion. It’s more than a passive flashback to our yesteryear, it has strong implications of our future. It temporarily alleviates discomfort of our present and provides much needed motivation to head into our future.

  Like any trend that’s rediscovered and overused, nostalgia marketing will eventually be met with skepticism and quietly fade away, only to return again when today is tomorrow.

  Jim McCune is director of the Craft Beverage Division of Melville-based EGC Group.

Reach him at …

jimm@egcgroup.com

(516) 935-4944