Friday, August 19, 2011

Columbia Finally Gets Her Limelight

Oregon Rain!!
Roger and Dr. Al Haunold
performing the Willamette
Valley Hop Dance, Goschie Farms.
"These are my babies," beams
The People's HopMeister.

Introducing, finally, after being banished by the King of Beers in the hop basement for two decades, the fragrant, the durable, the the unsung sister of the Queen of Oregon Hops, the soon to be mighty Lovely Miss Columbia!!  
We've written previously about our efforts to resurrect Columbia, the forgotten sister of Willamette. To recap, back in the Summer of Love, Dr. Al Haunold was asked by Bud to breed a hop similar in character to Fuggles. Several years later, early in the Disco era, he presented two new cultivars, Columbia and Willamette.

Bud's team of six brewers evaluated pilot beers using the new little "Fugglish" darlings, and all six selected Columbia as the winner. Rank, however, has its privileges. Along comes their boss, Bud's head brewmaster, Frank Schwaiger. Frank zeroed in on the chemistry. Columbia had a slightly higher alpha acid profile than Willamette (8-9% AA vs. 5-7%, respectively), but otherwise the oil profile was virtually indistinguishable. Our German born Brewmeister prophesied that the US consumer would never go for a higher alpha acid hop (a prediction that ranks right up there with Henry Ford's lawyer advice that the automobile was simply a fad and the horse was here to stay).

The result: Bud chose Willlamette, which went on to fame and fortune, and Columbia never saw the light of day. Until now. Yesterday, on a brilliant, sunny day in the Valley, we walked the hopyards at the idyllic Goschie Farms with Columbia's proud papa, Dr. Al Haunold. Al last saw big green Columbia cones dangling some 40 years ago. Needless to say, he was happy to see Willamette's slightly bolder sister finally get her moment in the sunlight.
Separated at Birth.
Pointy Columbias, on the left,
and plump Willamettes, on the right.

And so are we. Columbia and Willamette share the same parents and yet they sport amazing differences. Take a look at the picture to the right. The Columbia cone is longer and narrower with spiked bracts (granted, this is approxiately 2-3 weeks before harvest). Willamette is fuller, rounder and plumper. As mentioned, the chemistry profiles are slighlty different. As for aroma, based on an in-the-field rub & sniff, both have superb aroma, but the Columbia has a subtle "lemon twist" at the finish that seems to trigger an eye-lid flutter response and cheeky giggle.  

Welcome to the light, Miss Columbia. May you enjoy many more moments in the sun as we, the beer drinking public, finally get to revel in your glorious bounty.

Roger Worthington

A Man Outstanding in His Field.
Here he is -- the man who
brought us 23 public hop varieties.
Dr. Al Haunold, surrounded by Columbia hops.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taking the High Roads with Backroads

Jackson Hole, Wyo. It's no secret that craft beer and bicycles go together like champagne and limosines. A bicycle allows its operator to roam about, to explore the nooks and crannies, and to work up a thirst for the kind of beer that keeps the ride alive when the legs stop spinning. A richly hopped beer and a robust bike ride can both clear the head and open hidden doors.

So it was with great gratitude but little surprise that waiting for me at the end of my bike ride through the maze of mud pots, geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone, right there on the picnic table, courtesy of my good friends at Backroads, was a cooler crammed with locally brewed craft beer. Overjoyed, but not surprised, since it seems true enough that the further you get away from Main Street, and the closer you get to the untamed wild, the more you crave the wonders of nature's bounty.

That said, also waiting for my family and me was a 5 star tent with sleeping bags rolled out on top of cushy air mattresses. Hardly roughing it. Again, Backroads knows even in the backwoods there's no substitute for a soft pillow to lay your head down after a full day of exercise and demon exorcism.

For the next five nights, as we journeyed South from Yellowstone down to the Grand Tetons, I tended to push myself a little harder, knowing that each night a new craft beer from a new local brewery awaited me on ice. My fellow travelers understood my addiction. They shared my love of craft beer -- a perfect companion around the campfire as the kids romped and stomped about while the team of chefs prepared another amazing four course meal -- but a few kind souls came to understand that to me craft beer was sort of like heart medicine to a cardiac patient. They made sure that, in view of the strong demand, and my proclivity for ranting and raving, I would never be left bereft of my hoppy fix.

They sacrificed. They drank wine. They drank margaritas. They even ... gulp... cracked a can of Coors. Now that's brotherly love. In the bush, guided by Backroads, in the middle of bear and wolf country, foregoing a botanical derived, hand crafted ale for a thin industrial fizzy. When I think of the strength and courage shown men and women whom I'd never before met, volunteering to dumb down so that I could rise up and fulfill my quest for exuberant drunkeness, well, it brings me to tears.

And so a toast: thank you Backroads for pairing your intrepid travelers with home cooked brew. Thank you Snake River Brewing, Big Sky Brewing, Deschutes, and Grand Teton Brewing for mixing up the medicine. And thank you Indifferent Creator for the light show every night at about 3 am as I gazed up while returning the beer residuals you wrought back to the soil.