Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Riding the Wave at Karl Strauss with Chris Cramer and Paul Segura or, What’s He Building In There?

SAN DIEGO, CA. A few years ago I bellied up to the bar at a swanky wedding reception at a glass and steel museum in downtown Portland. My hard-nosed buddy Jim Solberg had just tied the knot with the lovely Anca , ending years of speculation that Jim was destined to spin out his days puttering in his hermit-ically sealed woodshop. The crowd was up – this was our Super Bowl. Amidst the rockets bursting in air, we were tensely awaiting the opening kick-off, coiled to spring headlong into what man or beast got in our pay. In short, we were ready to party, and party hard.

Next to me at the bar was a double-kegger of a man dressed comfortably in a body that seemed carved out of a towering platter of German pilsner soaked brats. I’d heard him speak at the wedding and knew he could handle an audience, and his alcohol. Charming, full-throated, appropriately reverent -- your standard-issue Stanford brainiac with the beer belly to match. He had just delivered a rousing toast tinged with humor and affection, and his mouth was dry. Pustules of dried spittle had gathered at the edges and I feared those enormous lips locked in a knowing grin would soon crack.

I’d heard that this patron of jolliness was in the beer business. I deduced from the Zen like way in which he carried himself that he knew things – important things-- the rest of us didn’t, so I waited for him to place his order. “I’ll have the Karl Strauss Amber Lager,” he casually beckoned, as if any other choice would have been uncivilized. It struck me, the way the four-letters (Karl *Strauss*Amber*Lager) rolled off his tongue as if it were one incantation, and the recital of same itself was an expression of piety . He was, by any account, the quintessential proud Papa, serenely privileged to share his pride and joy with the rest of us.

I had known of Karl Strauss. I’d tasted their beer and had bought a few cases in my time. Smooth, drinkable, festively carbonated. But I’d never held it up as the Golden Doubloon of fermented malted beverages. Now, standing their awe-struck next to this adoring tippler, my interest had been piqued. What does he know that we don’t? What’s he hiding in there? More critically, how could I tap into it? He exuded a confidence that hinted at owning a secret recipe for untapped greatness and limitless wealth.

The man’s name? Chris Cramer. Co-owner of Karl Strauss Brewing and classmate of Jim Solberg’s down at the Farm. A true believer. At the time, Karl Strauss was offering about 3 bottled beers, generally aimed at the growing legions of industrial lager drinkers who were just dissatisfied enough to be curious about dabbling in craft. What Chris Cramer knew that we didn’t was that Karl Strauss was busting to break out. They’d invested in a brew house and were primed to up their game, expand their repertoire, and experiment like crazy with heavily hopped brews, despite the edict of Uncle Karl who decreed in his day that Americans would never take to a beer whose bitterness crossed the 45 IBU Rubicon.

Today, the new and hopped-up Karl Strauss proudly offers 14 bottled beers and over 22 styles, plus a bevy of oddball but ambitious seasonal and drafts. They use over 25 varieties of hops. The other night I cracked a 22 oz bottle of a Belgian ale that had been aged in a bourbon cask. A few months earlier, Cramer had presented the bottle to me solemnly, as it were a rare loaded gun. Normally ,I enjoy sharing new grogs with my Lovely, but not this beauty. Within a few sips, my mind had begun to secrete from my body. A pint later, I was floating inside a cave pub in Salzburg, my back up against the ceiling, splayed out like a starfish, smiling down on all the wonderful good times seekers below. Easily the most deliriously delicious brew that had ever touched my soul.

We know today that Karl Strauss has arrived, thanks in large part to the workmanlike execution of Chris Cramer’s carefully crafted vision by brewmaster Paul Segura. Segura, who joined KS in 2001, is unafraid. Built like a butterflier with the wingspan of a California condor, the towering brewer never met a beer style that stared him down or left him weak. Belgians, pales, imperial pils, imperial IPAs, Black IPAs, hefeweizens, whateveryougot – bring it on. Seasonals and draughts galore. KS recently brewed up a Rye IPA for their pubs using generous amounts of our Cascade hop pellets. The verdict, per Paul: “Everybody loved it!” KS, to the delight of this proud papa, plans to brew up more.

Recently KS has earned attention for its flagship Red Trolley Ale, a heavily malted, copper colored, toffee flavored, hearty but drinkable ale. Red Trolley, which began as a holiday beer back in 1989, this year pulled off a brewer’s Olympics dream, taking back-to-back gold medals at the World Beer Cup in Chicago and the GABF in Denver. Not a bad year.

Paul admits to being surprised. They entered the “Irish Style Red Ale” category with modest expectations, pulling the beer from a batch headed for their bottling line. “We were elated,” Paul recalls. “The gold at GABF confirmed that our Gold at the World Beer Cup was no fluke.”

Although Paul wouldn’t dream of tweaking the Red Trolley recipe, which relies on oodles of Willamette hops for its aroma, he’s constantly tweaking the panoply of new styles KS has been introducing to its San Diego faithful the past few years. “We’ll continue to push the envelope, including more oak aged beers and more sour beers,” promises Paul, whose learned to thrive on little sleep.

In 2009, KS ranked 40th among crafties in terms of volumes, an 11% uptick from 2008 that coincides with KS’ bold mission to take on more styles. Not bad, especially when you consider KS had not aggressively marketed their brews outside of San Diego County.

When it comes to hops, Paul continues to follow his nose. He happened upon Nelson Sauvin hops a few years ago and was so impressed several of his brews feature the aromatic New Zealand hop. He’s also fired up to try Crystal, Chinook and Liberty hops from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In fact, the wheels are in motion for collaboration with a Portland, Oregon brewer on a brew that features 100% Oregon grown ingredients.

Little did I know four years ago when I gazed upon that ruddy-cheeked beer buddha that one day I’d be privileged to aid and abet his pursuit of enlightened beers. Today, a few pounds of Cascades for your Rye IPA. Tomorrow, the whole hop and caboodle. We are poised to feed the beast.

Roger Worthington

Monday, September 27, 2010

Will Mad River's Whole Cone-centric Method to Aroma Madness Allow for Properly Designed Pellets? IH Mock-Examines Brewer Dylan Schatz.

Mad River Brewery in Humboldt County is on our radar. They're craft pioneers. They make great beer. They win medals. They're a touch wacky. And they've hitched their aroma wagon to the whole cone.

In short, Mad River offers up the sort of challenge that Indie Hops was born for. Any merchant can sell pellets to a brewer who's already sold on their virtues. But it takes a hop messiah to liberate the whole cone disciple from the chains of nostalgia, romance and tradition. Good Lord that sounds arrogant. The hop hubris! Have I gone too far? My conscience is starting to sting. But wait, we do sell whole cones, too. We just think that pellets, done right, can deliver unto beer more bang for the buck.

Like Deschutes and nearby Sierra Nevada, Mad River knows a few things about hops. They're sort of a micro version of Sierra Nevada. Indeed, they brew on the original 17 barrel system that launched Ken Grossman to greatness. Like SN, their operational mantras are recycle, re-use and reduce waste. Unlike SN, which uses whole cones only, Mad River does use pellets for bittering.

Ripe for conversion? Not exactly. But, to his credit, head brewer Dylan Schatz has an open mind about what whole cones can and cannot deliver. I recently spoke to Dylan after his triumphant return from the GABF in Denver. Mad River had just won the Small Brewery of the Year and three medals, including the Gold for his John Barleycorn Barleywine (which also took Gold in 2007).

A little background here. Dylan's been cooking up winning brews at Mad River since 2000. The brewery was established in 1989. Their flagship beer, Steelhead Extra Pale ale, took the Silver at the GABF this year, after winning the Gold in 2008. Mad River offers 12 styles (6 year-rounds, 4 seasonals and 2 draught only), has accounts in 30 states, and projects 11,500 barrels in 2010, up about 500 barrels from last year. They're growth curve is steadily upwards to the right. Clearly, their eye is on the prize.

For aroma hops, Dylan prefers Cascade, US Tettnanger, Willamette, and Amarillo. Mad River pushes the wort through a hop back before whirlpooling. They also dry hop with whole cones in a nylon bag. Their system is designed for the most part to use whole cones. And yet , as the conversation progressed, a question inside me began to burn and burn hotter. With at least trying not to sound argumentative, or arrogant, and prefacing the question with a disclosure that 20 years of trial lawyering have given me habits that are hard to break, I queried Dylan whether he had any ... Dear God ... evidence, empirical or anecdotal, that using whole cones was a better way to extract oils than pellets.

"Evidence? Like you mean courtroom evidence," Dylan asked, puzzled. "No, none of that. We just have a personal preference for whole leaf hops. Plus our beers are unfiltered, which means we don't want to clog our whirlpool and tanks with hop pellet sediment. "

No lawyer, even a recovering lawyer, is worth his wingtips if can't cook up at least one river-parting rebuttal. “Sir, are you saying that the method to Mad River’s madness, and by that mean I mean your steadfast reliance on whole cones for aroma, is based moreso on tradition, romance and nostalgia than the guiding light of science and reason?

To which Mr. Schatz – correctly I might add – took the Fifth, but added: “We prefer pure raw ingredients. “To which I just had to rebut, bad habits being both bad and hard to break, “But, sir, you do use pellets for bittering, correct?”


“And why, good sir, do you use pellets for bittering?”

“I am bound to admit that they offer good utilization in the boil. They’re concentrated. They’re stable. They store better. “

“Ah, the glory of efficiency. You’re saying pellets, properly designed, offer advantages in efficiency. Let me ask you, have you ever broken up a whole cone after dry hopping with same?


“Then you have seen, after pulling back the bracts, clusters of semi-full lupulin glans, clinging as Nature intended to the strig, still bursting with oil?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know if they were full or not, nor whether they were ‘ bursting.’”

“But you do send wort infused cones to a local rancher who in turns feeds the beery hops to free range cattle who, in turn, alternate between hobbly-gobbly, happy-wappy and sleepy-weepy, as if under the influence of humulus lupulus, which as we know is a close cousin to Cannabaceae family.”

“Sir, we live in Humboldt County, where all sorts of medicinal and spiritual weeds grow wild. I have indeed seen happy cows, but I can neither confirm nor deny whether their euphoria was the result of humulus lupulus.”

“But you can confirm that oil is aroma and flavor and your mission is to extract as much aroma and flavor and, on balance, you’d rather please your flavor-thirsty customers than the local manure- splattered ungulates.”

“It’s true that we’d rather help our customers slake their thirst first before the cows and pigs, but the pellets we’ve used just aren’t suitable. They’re made of dust, fall to the bottom, form a sludge and otherwise end up in our unfiltered beers. In addition, we are bound by a city permit that requires us to pre-treat our wastewater, which means removing suspended solids and oxygen demanding biomass.”

“I see. Would you be interested in a hop pellet whose particle size distribution was substantially greater than the standard? That is, for dry hopping, what if you packed a tightly knit bag with larger hop particle pellets, thus minimizing leaching?”

“I’d be interested. But I have one request.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Whether we try out your ballyhooed big fat oily pellets or your Oregon-nursed whole cones, can you please pretty please screen out the safety glasses, chunks of tire, baling wire, corn cobs, license plates and desiccated bird carcasses? The pigs may like ‘em, but we don’t. Keep ‘em pure. We’re mad that way.”

“Yessir, we are on it. Our farmers hand pluck the artifacts on the drying room floors and we spent a buttload of money on a seed/vine separator. In the meantime, stay tuned for that vaunted empirical evidence out of Oregon State. We’re going to answer the optimal oil extraction question burning in every brewers brain once and for all. Cones vs. pellets? If pellets, how fat? How coarse?”

Stay tuned. And Mad River, be glad, stay Mad, but stand by to tweek your tried and true methods if, and this is IH being bold again, the research backs up our intuition. Hey, you gotta believe.

Roger Worthington

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Silver Moon’s Tyler West Shoots for the Moon: “I want More Oil Using Fewer Hops.”

BEND, OR. Tyler West is the son of a pipefitter who spent his youth in Boise, Idaho tearing apart and rebuilding engines. The self-described “gearhead” and master brewer at Silver Moon, in Bend, Oregon is an inveterate “tinkerer” who never met a mousetrap he didn’t want to make better.

The fit and trim 28 year old former home brewer brings this same can-do spirit to work with him every morning. “I like to question everything,” Tyler says with pride. “We may not have a big R & D budget, in fact we don’t have any R& D budget, but that doesn’t stop me from toying with new ways to make better beer using fewer ingredients.”

Fewer ingredients? Does this mean Tyler’s lofty brew muse in fact wears a green shade and hand cranks an adding machine, fastidiously trying to stretch every penny? Well, sort of. Tyler’s imagination is second to none – witness his award winning Snake Bite Porter and Hounds Tooth Amber – plus his rotating line-up of all star session and experimentals.

But, as owner Tyler Reichert will attest, brewer Tyler is a student of efficiency. That is, his up-tempo brewer’s brain is wired to figuring out ways to get the best of both worlds: more flavor, fewer hops, which equals higher margins. What small brewer, especially in this down economy, doesn’t think this way (Answer: the ones in bankruptcy!).

In the age of ever-expanding hop bombs, Tyler’s one of the few brewers not willing to take the bait. He’s dead set on finding ways to do more with less. For example, he’s helped design a hopback system that steeps the wort through a compressed bed of whole hops and recirculates the enriched wort back into the kettle for whirlpooling.

The idea of course is to maximize the extraction of oils. Why push the wort over and through a hop cone just once? Won’t that leave valuable aromatic oils untouched or underutilized? What caffeine junky among us after filling his espresso cup doesn’t spritz his coffee puck with one last burst to drain out the last drop of concentrated goodness?

Right now Silver Moon’s mix of hops is 90% whole cone, 10% pellets. They use the pellets for dry hopping but after examining our pellets, the wheels in Tyler’s head began to spin. The questions came fast and furious.

“What if instead of cones we packed a comparable amount of your pellets instead?,” he pondered excitedly. “What if we ran two batches, one using whole cones, the other using your pellets, and measured the total oil and individual oils before sending the wort to the fermenter? Which batch would have more oil? What if we figured out a way, for certain beer styles, to boil and steep hops so well that we didn’t need to dry hop at all?”

We’d like to check that out. Granted, we’re always glad to see crafties using more hops, but we’re no fans of waste or slavish devotion to pointless protocols. Silver Moon recently purchased a few boxes of Centennial and Cascades, so stay tuned on that interesting project.

Tyler’s creativity doesn’t stop where the stainless steel ends. He’s also thinking about ways to release more aromatic oils in the beer after fermentation, during dry hopping. Curiously, he’s been freezing his pellets the night before pouring them into his tanks (either 2 inch or 4 inch PRV). Freeze Dried Hopping? Hmmm. Tyler says this is a trick he learned from another brewer the goal of which is to foster both the dispersion of the hop particles and the oil extraction. Tyler’s theory, if I have it right, is that at 65-68 degrees F the myrcene in the pellets reacts with the CO2 in the beer to essentially unleash the magic.

Far be it for this non-brewer to cast doubts, but yet questions linger. The textbooks are fairly clear that heat accelerates the liberation of those citrusy oxidized myrcene gems like Citral, Nerol and Limonene, as well as those heavenly floral Linalool and Geraniol compounds. Heat, at the moment of truth, is a good thing, at least if you want those delightful myrcene metabolies. What if you don't? Perhaps the method to Tyler's madness is to avoid heat induced oxidation, in an attempt to pull the unoxodized bulwark oils like myrcene and farnesene through without any serious changes. Enough there to make my lunken head spin. I better ask around.

The focus on the temperature of hop storage is of course energy well spent. We know that the rate at which the alpha acids in certain varieties deteriorates is a function of the storage temperature, the passage of time and the quality of packaging (impermeable barrier, inert low-oxygen vaccum sealed environment).
In short, before brewing, cold is good, frozen is even gooder.

Keeping the hops frozen is a good idea for alpha and oil retention, but at least for oil extraction my intuition, such as it is, tells me that heating the hops up a bit would probably help release more than less oil. For example, I’d be keen to learn the extent to which instead of simply dropping the dry pellets into the tank converting the pellets to a room temperature slurry might enhance oil extraction.

Tyler summed it up best when he confided that like a lot of hard-working, time-pressed brewers he wants to be educated. “I’ve spent a lot of the last eight years trying to master fermentation and cleanliness issues, as well as build up my nose and palate. My plate’s been full. I’d like to learn more about how best to utilize oils,” said Tyler, who gave credit to Indie Hops for sponsoring oil extraction research at Oregon State.

That conversation segued into a more general discussion on the clash (perhaps) between creativity and consistency. “A lot of brewers talk about being driven by ‘consistency.’ There’s something to that – I love knowing that a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is going to consistently taste great no matter where I am. But for ‘consistency’ to be the mantra, the brewer has to assume he’s reached perfection -- and maybe he has for a special niche that a given beer fills. For me, though, I’m going to keep tinkering, keep working hard, and keep asking questions.”

Good luck with your IH pellet vs whole cone showdown. May the oiliest medium win!

Roger Worthington

Monday, September 13, 2010

Indie Hops Rocks Fiesta Island

SAN DIEGO. Fueled by bitterness, Indie Hops stayed low, tight and fast to win the Fiesta Island Team Time Trial on September 11th, scorching the 40k island course in 49:57.

The rag tag team of beer lovers included Jason "Quadzilla" Bausch, Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers, T.S. Fuggov and Max Kash Agro (aka, Roger Worthington).

"We hydrated the night before on a robust menu of the local San Diego Imperial IPAs," recounted MKA, soberly. "The race started at sunrise, so we carefully titrated the blood-alcohol to return to baseline just as the gun went off. About half-way through, with the pace hovering at 30 mph, I admit to struggling. But the prospect of pouring down a Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA at the finish line helped me block out the pain."

Indie Hops is pleased with the win. "At Indie Hops, we want to show that a heavily hopped craft brew is an essential ingredient in any serious athlete's training table," said Coach Jim Solberg. "Play hard, drink smart. Can't think of a better way to replenish your nutrients and relieve the soreness after a tough workout than nursing a big hopped brew. Plus you can't beat the buzz."

Swamis and Aqua 2 filled out the podium in 2nd and 3rd, respectively (50.10 and 50.11). A unnamed but dejected Swami's rider was heard lamenting after the race: "I thought we were supposed to drink that Ultra lite beer that Lance endorses. Next time, I'm prepping with beer that tastes more like beer."


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tonya Cornett: Big Things from a Small Package. Plus Notes Towards Solving the Vexing Packaging Conundrum

Tonya Cornett has won just about every award but you wouldn’t know it from talking to her. She’s not one to boast. But taste her beers and it’s clear why the halls of Bend Brewing Company are adorned with tons of her medals, mostly gold.

I dropped by to pick Tonya’s brain about hops, naturally. Where most brewers tend toward the crustier side, Tonya is a breath of fresh air. Cheerful, buoyant and smooth. As she said, she doesn’t wear her beers on her sleeves, daring you to knock them off. She wants your criticism, as she’s always looking for ways to improve even those bellwether beers that have won her so many accolades, beers like Outback X and her big bold Hophead Imperial IPA.

Tonya’s been brewing up fabulous beers for over 8 years at BBC and 15 years in all. She mainly works alone in a tight brewhouse that’s best compared to the engine room of a vintage WWII US attack sub. A web of hoses like the roots of a giant Doug Fir treacherously line the floors. The rest is stainless tanks, kettles, handles, valves and a cold room. The diminutive but not tiny -- I won’t use the word ‘swarthy’ to describe our chipper, ginger-haired, bob-tailed brewer -- is like one of those resilient five star chefs who manages to churn out the most mouth-watering delights from the humblest of kitchens.

The eminently likeable Tonya has a reputation for exceeding expectations, except her own. "I don’t think I’m ever completely satisfied. I’ve learned that brewing is an evolutionary process. You set a goal and patiently take baby steps towards it. When you’re close, that’s when you need to stop and re-evaluate, asking yourself: how can I make this even better?"

To improve, Tonya is a big fan of experimentation. She was the first brewer in the beer hotbed that is Bend, Oregon to use pellets for dry hopping, several years ago. “They thought I was crazy, but now it’s fairly well accepted, except at Deschutes of course where they use whole cones.” I got the impression she was far more proud of that “first” than being the first female to ever win the small brewpub brewmaster of the year award at the World Beer Cup in 2008. Everyone’s impressed with a pioneer it seems, except the pioneer.

As far as hops go, Tonya admits to obsessing on the details of getting the aromas and flavor just right. “It’s funny,” she laughed. “Customers really have no idea how much thought goes into getting that aroma just right.” At the same time, she’s an alpha monster who loves bittering workhorses like Galena, Nugget, Northern Brewer and Perle.

The funny thing about meticulous, uncompromising craft brewers like Tonya – and this is where I go off script and wing it -- is that when it comes to ordering hops, and accepting them, they often sound powerless. Tonya, like so many otherwise stalwart brewers, has never ever rejected hops , even ones that were intolerably cheesy. If the alpha acid was below the custom, she still took and paid for the hops and simply made adjustments on the fly.

Like her brethren, she’s often worried about the shape and hardness of her pellets. “Sometimes they come in baked and shiny. Brittle. They just cleave apart, and it makes me wonder how they behave in the tanks during dryhopping.” She, like others, worries about these things, but like a seasoned trauma doctor in the ER, she’s learned to triage the urgent from the merely important.

Asked why she didn’t’ hold suppliers to her own standards of excellence, Tonya matter of factly admitted what I’ve gleaned from so many smaller craft brewers: "I have so much going on, so many batches and ingredients that keep me on my toes. I really don’t have the time and manpower to send the hop pellets back, though I should. I feel stuck with what I got. I certainly wouldn’t try to sell them to my friends – that’d be a good way to make enemies."

And this is the rub of it. Brewers like Tonya have high standards but because of limited resources they have to make do with the cards they’ve been dealt. They want to learn more about where their hops were grown and why terroir is important. They want to know for each batch the hop chemistry, including oil content and composition. They want to know why a pellet is designed the way it is, and they want to know if there’s a relationship between that design and the oil extraction and dispersability. They want to know how to optimize oil utilization.

In short, they want to be educated. And that’s where a hop merchant comes in.

Take a look at packaging, for example. How many brewers today specify that they want their pellets packaged in a soft or hard pack? How many know what the optimal residual oxygen content should be? Brewers certainly would like to refrain from having to break up cementious bricks of pellets with a hammer and chisel, but how does a brewer know that the pellets in a soft pack are preserved correctly? Can a soft pack of pellets (think bag of potato chips) still be relatively oxygen free? How does one know? What’s the standard? And why?

Tonya expressed both puzzlement and frustration over these packaging questions. She recently received four (4) 11 pound bags of Cascades from a supplier [see the pictures above]. Two were hard as a brick. The other two were loose, as if the bag had been punctured. Were they punctured? No hole was visible. The supplier simply sent the bags with no explanation, no attempt to educate.

"I guess you sometimes fall into the ‘small brewer mentality’, where you just take what you get and forget that you have a choice," confessed Tonya earnestly. "Believe me, I’d like to have the data. I’d like to hold them [the hop merchant] to a standard, like a warranty, but we’re not Deschutes. Show me a merchant who provides me with the data and tells me why it’s important and I’ll vote with my dollars."

Heard that. Just as we are committed to protecting our pellets from excessive heat, we also want to insure that our pellets are packaged in an inert environment in such a way that facilitates ease of use. Stay tuned for further news on the packaging and pellet design fronts. In addition, with the help of our friends at Oregon State, we’re looking at developing a science-based hop substitution chart. The effort is to provide as much valid information to the brewer and let them decide.

When it comes to enhancing hop flavor, packaging is a critical issue from start to finish, from the hopyard to the brewhouse. Nature designed the hop flower to protect the snugly tucked lupulin glands. IH is designing pellets to protect and enhance those aromatic oils. Brewers understand the need to protect the hop metabolites in their beer by using darker glass t bottle. The emphasis on hop oil protection carries all the way to the bar where the brew is served.

As Tonya stressed as we sat down at the bar to sample her work, while the bartender happily pulled a draught into a warm wide mouthed glass, “I can’t stand it when I see a hoppy IPA poured into an ice cold pint glass. You have to let the oils in these beers breathe.” You have to wait until the time is right. Until then, we’ll be striving to protect those magic oils from the ravages of oxygen, heat and all manner of slap-dashery.

Roger Worthington

PS Thanks for using our Centennials in your Elk Lake and good luck at the Alpha King Challenge. Readers: check out Tonya’s unlabeled scarlett IPA (9% ABV, 80 IBU, Centennial and Chinook), to my tastes, a podium contender at the upcoming World Beer Cup.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Organic Hops and OSU Breeding Program Update, 9/6/10

As previously reported, Indie Hops has contracted with Goschie Farms to grow 20 acres of USDA certified organic hop. I recently visited the fields and my goodness did they look healthy, clean and orderly. See the pictures below.

We planted both Cascades and Centennials. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the history of these historic hops. This is the biggest single tract of USDA certified 0rganic hops in Oregon hop history.

Per Gayle: the rhizomes were planted in an organic compost mix in February and the pots were then placed on a graveled area. With the cooler and wetter than normal Spring, the pots onthe warm gravel did quite well in establishing themselves. It wasn’t long before they developed pretty white/bright feeder roots. I’m glad we planted when we did. Had the rhizomes been placed in the ground in March/April, they would have sat shivering. We waited, thank goodness.

Once the grass cover crop was worked down (grass tuffs are slow in breaking down), the pots were planted in early June. That process took a little longer than planned with the ground never drying out enough to work it without causing compaction problems, which is a fancy way of saying we would’ve got our tractor stuck in the mud.

In June, we planted into the warm ground with the now composting cover crop. The plants have been given a great start. The ground will not be certified organic until 2012 (3 year transition from conventional), but he plants will be grown under organic specifications during the transitional period. From past experience, this will give the plants a great start with this extended establishment period.

Happy Labor Day! Just another day for us in the hop world as we continue our wonderful hop harvest… Gayle

In other news, while down at GF, I spied signs of Dr. Shaun Townsends handiwork. As you know, Indie Hops has financed an aroma hop breeding program at OSU. The program has been designed to foster collaboration between academic breeders, local hop farmers and brewers. Below are a few pictures of hop vines festooned with brown bags, the insides of which contain freshly pollinated female cones.

As Shaun reports, the bags above are part of the crosses that he made in July of 2010.

For each sidearm, he clipped the major leaves off, secured a bag over that sidearm, and introduce pollen from the desired male parent to complete the cross. The plants and bags will stay in place until about October 1, 2010. At that time, Shaun will take the plants down and haul the crosses back to OSU for threshing, seed-cleaning, and pre-treatment for planting.

In addition to Goschie Farms in Silverton, Dr. Townsend is also pollinating female cones at Coleman Farms, our other farm partner (the Alluvial Farm near Independence, Oregon). The progeny from the various crosses should produce a wide range of genetic types for selection. One of the main criteria in selecting pollen and seeds for crossing, in addition to a muscular oil profile, has been downy mildew resistance.

So far, so good.
Roger Worthington

PS That well dressed man in the hopfields reaching for a cone on the "bag vine" is our good friend and gentleman brewer, Dan Kopman of Shlafly from St. Louis.

V for Victory! When the rain quenches and the soil nourishes and the sun shines, the hops win. When the hops win, we all win! Provided of course they’re handled just right…

Monday, September 6, 2010

Harvest Time! Weird Scenes Inside the Green Gold Mine.
Hoppy Readers: Please join me on a quick tour of Goschie Farms during the hop harvest in late August, 2010.

Whole lotta shaking going on! From the back of the truck workers fasten the hop heavy bines to a conveyor and then sent through a gauntlet of thrashers which strip the cones from the bines, sidearms and stems. The action, sights and sounds are both deafening and invigorating. More twists, turns, drops, jolts and jumps than the corkscrew coaster at Six Flags.

Matt Sage, above, embracing Gayle’s Green Bounty. Normally Matt’s going 100mph with his hair on fire. I’ve never seen him this cool and collected. Must be the opium in those Willamette hops. From the picking room, the hops are conveyored over to the kiln and drying rooms.

Here the green gold falls from the belt like fruit from a tree onto the drying room floors. Goschie Farms has six hot air blowers which heat the raw cones up to about 140 degrees F just long enough to leave about 10% of the cone’s original moisture.

Check out the sea of green above. The drying room is in a coverted barn that’s been the heart and soul of Goschie Farms for decades. The picture doesn’t show it, but the room is very, very humid. Poke your head in there and your glasses instantly fog up.

Handcrafted hops. We like to talk about our hops are grown with Tender Loving Care and processed with attention to quality over quantity. Here’s a worker who meticulously culls from the hop piles before drying any and all leafs, branches or other debris. A labor of love.

Again, here’s the normally peripatetic but now fully sedated Matt in full hop zen mode. “If you find yourself floating in a sea of green, close your eyes , relax your shoulders, and let your mind open up. You can hear the hops chanting: brew me, brew me, brew me,” says Matt.

Glory be to Gayle in all her hop glory. Gayle Goschie, second from left, flanked by intrepid hop travelers, from left to right, Dan Kopman (Schlafly), Yours Soberly, and that ball of fire, Matt Sage, at the base of Mount Willamette.

Fruits of Labor. Here’s the end result: densely packed 200 lb bales of hops. Bales are then trucked about 3 miles down a flower strewn farm road to Indie Hops clean, green pellet mill, where Captain Jim Solberg awaits in the catbird of his forklift, ready to offload the bounty into our cooler, where the oily cones are frozen down to 26F. A few days later they’re converted into big fat oily pellets before being packaged in oxygen purged foils and sent right back into the cooler awaiting delivery to your kettle.

Roger Worthington

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

HopTalk with The People's Hopmeister

Al Haunold Responds to Criticism Re: CTZ History Lesson

[Note: Dr. Al Haunold wrote an article on our blog recently (click here) in which he set forth the history of Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus. He gave the factual background for the conclusion most of us know, and that is, although the names are different, genetically, they are most likely identical. Most of the feedback was overwhelming positive, but a few detractors were upset, accusing Al of maligning his old friend and colleauge, Chuck Zimmermann. Al, a stickler for the truth, which we appreciate, wanted to clarify the intent of his history lesson.]

When I provided the background information regarding the hop composite CTZ I did not have any intention to malign the lasting memory of my friend Chuck Zimmermann.

I have always counted Chuck as my friend and we have had a number of cooperative activities over the years. In writing the article about CTZ hops I simply wanted to put facts together that many insiders, especially the older ones, already knew.

Columbus and Tomahawk are identical and this has been publicly acknowledged.

Zeus, according to unpublished genetic marker analyses done by USDA scientists at Oregon State University, is very similar, if not identical to Columbus/Tomahawk.
Thus, the designation CTZ which is sometimes used in trade reports.

I am sorry to receive feedback from a few readers who perceived my historical account as attempting to cast Chuck Zimmermann’s contributions to the hop industry in a negative light. Far from it. Chuck has made tremendous contributions to the US hop industry. He has initially guided my entry into the field of hop research and I am very grateful for the valuable clues that I got from being associated with Chuck over the years.

When Chuck resigned from his USDA position he was concerned that valuable USDA hop material might be lost until a successor for his position could be found. And therefore, he moved some of this material to a private location for safe keeping. That likely also included some breeding material from Chuck’s research efforts while working for USDA at WSU Prosser.

I simply wanted to point out that even today we do not know anything about the pedigree of CTZ.

The Columbus patent (US patent Nr. Plant 10,956, filed March 22, 1995 and issued June 15, 1999) states that “Columbus was bred as the result of an open-pollination cross that was carried out in 1982 ….” Thus, the male parent was unknown, as indicated by the word “open pollination” . Seed, however, was collected on a female plant which has never been publicly identified and is not identified in the patent.

I am sorry to see that my interview with Indie Hops has unintentionally given a negative impression to some readers and I would like to apologize for that.

Best Regards,

Al Haunold, Ph.D