Brewing, Tradition & Innovation

Trucks loaded with hops (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Outside Magazine offers this primer on the ascendence of one of the key ingredients in one of the oldest fermented beverages:

How Hops Became the Star of American Brewing

The craft beer revolution turned the tall cousin of cannabis into a breakout ingredient, infusing your brew with flavors and aromas that range from stone fruit to barrel oak. Christopher Solomon hits the road to understand why hop madness isn’t over yet—and why brewers and plant breeders are always on the prowl for the next big thing.

Hop harvesting in Washington State’s Yakima Valley (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The 2019 American Hop Convention, held in January in Monterey, California, was part agriculture conference and part old-home week. Almost all of the nation’s beer hops—and roughly 40 percent of all hops in the world—are grown by about 75 farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, many of them owned by families who have farmed hops for four or five generations. At the convention, everybody seemed to know everybody. This gave a loose feel to the proceedings, which recognize and celebrate the fact that only one thing can be done with the crop the conventioneers produce: mix it with malt and water, ferment the liquid, and drink the beer you’ll get after a few weeks. During afternoon coffee breaks, everybody cracked a cold one.

That wasn’t the only reason for the festive mood. The past 15 years have witnessed a spectacular surge in craft brewing in the United States; more than 85 percent of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery. U.S. beer culture, once a punchline, has become the most vibrant on earth.

Hop bines being loaded into a machine that shakes out the aromatic cones (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The hop industry has been a beneficiary and driver of this renaissance. Hops once were considered a drab ingredient, tossed in mainly to preserve the beer, thanks to antibacterial properties of the resins found in hop flowers, which are also called cones. Today, hops are the star of American brewing. Continue reading

Not Quite Water Into Wine, But Righteous Indeed


Mark Szmaida, right, Chelsea Craft Brewing’s head brewer, and Devin Hardy, the co-leader of Toast Ale’s American project, inspected the bread mash for the first batch. Credit Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

We have featured plenty stories about reducing food waste, and plenty about brewing various beverages, but this is the first story we have found at the intersection of the two:

Toast Ale, From Recycled Bread, Is Now Brewed in New York


Overproduction is built right into the business model of most bakeries. While we devour much of what is made, huge quantities of perfectly good grain are tossed.

But Tristram Stuart, an Englishman who began battling food waste 15 years ago, long before it became a popular cause, discovered a way to turn bread, an inexpensive product with a short shelf life, into one that’s long-lived and lucrative: craft ale. Continue reading

Urban Renewal We Can Relate To


We like the sound of it:

In Denmark, Brewery’s Departure Offers a Chance to Go Green


Copenhgn3.jpgCOPENHAGEN — Perched in his centrally located office, Laust Joen Jakobsen looks out onto a small plaza, a rooftop basketball court and a grass bed that will be lush with flowers by the summer.

Just months ago, Mr. Jakobsen, the rector of University College Copenhagen, was sitting in a suburban campus between parking lots and a residential neighborhood. “We are happier here when we look out the windows,” he said. Continue reading

Brew & Conservation


Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director of Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the Penn Museum, examines a sample of the “King Midas” beverage residue under a microscope. Photo © Pam Kosty / Wikimedia through a Creative Commons license

And in other beer-related news, thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s contributors at Cool Green Science, particularly for Matt Miller’s article Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione on Archaeology, Conservation and Beer:

Spain, Hops & Craft Beer


Ignacio Nicolas Campillo, director of a hops production facility in northern Spain, peels apart the flower of the hops plant, to reveal yellow powder inside. The powder is used to make beer. Lauren Frayer/NPR

This story from the salt over at National Public Radio (USA) adds to our hops coverage from time  to time:

Only the oldest residents of Villanueva del Carrizo, a town on the fertile banks of the Órbigo River in northern Spain, remember that day just after World War II, when all the area farmers were called to a meeting in the center of town.

Spain’s tiny beer industry was in a bind: It could no longer import hops – a key ingredient in beer – from war-devastated Germany. But brewers had spotted wild hops along the Órbigo River, and they had a hunch it could grow on farms too. Continue reading

Liquid Cultural Heritage


UNESCO cited Belgians’ affinity for a wide range of beer in its official recognition of the beer culture of Belgium as a treasure of human culture that should be protected. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

We might have assumed that yoga had already been recognized as intangible patrimony worthy of UNESCO status. But, surprisingly, that is just happening now, according to the Guardian. Speaking of surprises, beer culture–specifically that of Belgium–makes the cut as well. We are impressed with variety within this brewing heritage and hope the classification helps preserve the knowledge for all of us to get to sample all those styles. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

UNESCO Deems Belgium’s Beer Culture A Treasure Of Humanity


Citing Belgian beer’s integral role in social and culinary life, UNESCO is putting the country’s rich brewing scene (with nearly 1,500 styles) on its list representing the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Belgium’s beer culture is one of 16 new additions that were announced Thursday. Continue reading

Growing Hops & Crafting Beer


Ripe summer hops good for making beer. Tim Newman/Getty Images

We are anticipating another post by one of our authors, on a topic related to this news story below (thanks to NPR’s great special section, the salt), so let this serve as a reminder and a harbinger:

Hop Growers are raising a glass to craft brewers. The demand for small-batch brews has helped growers boost their revenues, expand their operations, and, in some cases, save their farms.

“Without the advent of craft brewing, a few large, corporate growers would be supplying all of the hops and local, family owned farms like ours would have gone bankrupt,” says Diane Gooding, vice president of operations at Gooding Farms, a hop grower in Wilder, Idaho. “It’s saved the industry.” Continue reading

I Love IPA, And I Know Why

HopsOne of the ironies of living in India for six years, as a devotee of IPA, is that IPA is not to be found in India. So, I have it only when I travel, and mostly in the USA where the craft of brewing in small batches has grown radically in recent years.

The book to the right is a tiny drop in a big bucket of evidence of how the craft of brewing has reached far and wide, and it came to my attention when I visited a website associated with its authors:

IPAWhich came to my attention in this post by Russell Shorto, which must be read in its entirety (it takes only a few minutes) if you care about IPA, hops, ethnobotany or just excellent non-fiction writing, and includes these two paragraphs:

…while an emphasis on hops has likewise boosted the business of small-scale brewers, I.P.A. aficionados are known to be among the most fickle of beer consumers, flitting from one label to another in their endless search for new flavor elements. That puts pressure on brewers to come up with new beers, which, in turn, leads to a hunt for new hops varieties.

Enter Paul Matthews, who is to hops what John James Audubon was to birds. He has been involved in the search for wild hops strains from Colorado to the Caspian Sea; from these he teases out flavor components. Spicy, floral, grassy, citrus, herbal, evergreen: the horizon keeps expanding, and still the crowd wants more…

Ha! Top that. Actually, he does. Keep reading it. Continue reading

Fermentation Is Here To Stay


The new brewery at Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. The school now teaches the art and science of brewing, an elective course. Allison Aubrey/NPR

When the Culinary Institute Of America says so, we pay attention. We keep hearing about fermentation from our friends and colleagues in the know. So we watch for these stories. The Salt feature on National Public Radio must be, by now, one of our most go-to sources, and for good reason (considering what we care about):

Fermentation Fervor: Here’s How Chefs Boost Flavor And Health


There’s an explosion of interest in friendly bacteria.

Beneficial microorganisms, as we’ve reported, can help us digest food, make vitamins, and protect us against harmful pathogens.

As this idea gains traction, so too does the popularity of fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Though the science is tricky, researchers are learning more about how this ancient technique for preserving food may also help promote good health. Continue reading

Let’s Fill Up on Some Brewtroleum

New Zealanders can now run their cars on the same fuel they run themselves on—beer. Brewtroleum is a new biofuel which mixes beer by-products with regular gasoline to power the nation's cars. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

New Zealanders can now run their cars on the same fuel they run themselves on—beer. Brewtroleum is a new biofuel which mixes beer by-products with regular gasoline to power cars. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Generally, beer and moving cars don’t work well together. Remember the warnings against drinking and driving? But in a few places, companies are recycling the detritus of the beermaking process into a clean gasoline additive that allows cars to navigate without using as much of the precious fossil fuel.The latest venture comes from New Zealand where for a short time, motorists can fill up their cars with beer. Well, almost beer.

Continue reading

Craft Ascendant

Local Habit, in San Diego, offers a variety of California craft beers. Beer has become as much a part of the San Diego identity as surf and sun. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY EROS HOAGLAND/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

Local Habit, in San Diego, offers a variety of California craft beers. Beer has become as much a part of the San Diego identity as surf and sun.

As admirers of well-crafted beer, and of small-scale businesses, we appreciate this post by Tim Wu:

Consider a few surprising and optimistic facts for the new year: nationwide, independent bookstores have grown by about twenty per cent since 2009; meanwhile, American craft breweries collectively now sell more than 16.1 million barrels of beer annually, outpacing, for the first time, Budweiser. This isn’t the only evidence that small-scale businesses are making a comeback. Over the last ten years, the long-running decline of small farms has levelled out, and more than three billion dollars was spent last year on more than four thousand independent feature films. Over all, since 1990, small businesses (with, generally, fewer than five hundred employees or less than $7.5 million in annual receipts) have added millions of employees, while big businesses have shed millions.

None of these developments has individually transformed the American economy, but taken together they represent something. Continue reading