So we’ll be honest…
…When the winner of the Underdog IPA Competition was announced as the never heard of before brewery Tiny Vessel, we were keen to find out a bit more about them quite quickly. This competition is a big investment for us and it was quite clear that these guys were barely even set up yet. The Underdog competition is designed to search out the best brewers working in the industry with the skill and ability to create the best possible flavour from almost any ingredient. Tiny Vessel had managed to brew a really good beer which beat stiff competition from around Europe, so they obviously had something good going on. It’s just that with a website “under construction” and the names involved not ringing any bells, we were just quite keen to find out exactly what it was.
So on a grey January morning we braved the black-hole for the soul that is the M25 and made our way to a small island in the middle of the River Thames, fingers crossed and positive smiles stuck to our faces. We are met in the car park by the two guys involved and for the next two hours we learn just how lucky we might have been.
Ivailo (Ivo) Penev and Neal (NellyD) Durrant are very different people. The former is a hard-working, self-made and quiet spoken Bulgarian with a love for the big American beers. As far as we can tell he’s the risk-taker, already working on other unusual projects such as Rose Brew (www.rosebrew.com). The latter, an ex banker who like many in our industry said goodbye to the daily grind to do something he is passionate about. It seems he’s the pragmatist from a more traditional brewing background, developing his love of beer in the 80s when CAMRA were making waves and more recently taking an interest in the resurgent UK brewing scene.
Together they are Tiny Vessel. A project led by Ivo and his push to experiment with flavour wherever he can and supported by Neal, helping to develop the recipes and ensure that the quality is there. It seems then, that they are in almost perfect alignment with the Underdog ideology. No wonder their first brew, the English IPA brewed with coriander seed “Summit Else” has punched so far above its weight.
As we sit and chat with them in their fledgling brewery our concerns begin to melt away. They speak of collaboration and experimentation rather than the challenges of starting a new brewery. They are excited about all the possibilities of being involved in some of Europe’s best craft beer festivals. Most importantly for us though is their clear desire to learn through experimentation and trial. They know that they are still at an early stage for their business and they will very likely make some dodgy beers in their quest for the good stuff. As true underdogs though, they are not afraid to try and we’re looking forward to backing them all the way. It might not be perfect... yet. It looks like it will be fun though.
The Underdog Project - 09/30/2016Hop To
What Did This Puppy Teach US?
The launch of the second Underdog competition had a few of us at Simply Hops reflecting on how the first year had gone. We really enjoyed it, and we we’re really pleased with the response we had but was it worth repeating? Did it support the brewing industry as we intended? As we looked over all of the material we produced we realised that the competition had started as one thing and kind of mutated in to something subtly different. The subtle difference though, is a pretty important one.
When we started Underdog our primary goal was to highlight an issue in the brewing industry that we could see only getting worse without a step-change in brewers hop habits. It was obvious that certain hop varieties allowed brewers to make some really good beer, that was loved by the beer drinkers and therefore sold well. These beers often quickly became part of the breweries’ core range as they kept the readies rolling in. As a result, more and more frequently we would be contacted by brewers that were trying to secure hop varieties that were essential to their business but were also in very short supply. More needed to be made of the varieties that were more readily available if the industry was to continue to grow securely. At least until the supply caught up.
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not arrogant enough to think that our one little competition would change the world. Despite stereotypes, it turns out many of the breweries we work with are run by savagely astute business people. For us though anything we could do to encourage more experimentation with a wider range of hop varieties could only help.
So move forward one year and there are still issues around the supply of some varieties although it is looking like, with a potentially good harvest, many of the positions on the notorious hop varieties may be slightly less critical. So do we need to run underdog again? Absolutely, but it has less to do with hop usage and more to do with the brewers just being well up for a proper challenge!
The Feedback we got from Ben Howe, the wunderkind behind last year’s winning beer “Straight Outta Boston” from Danish brewery Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri seems to highlight this. For him it was all about the challenge to his understanding of the hops and his ability as a brewer to manipulate the myriad of variables to get what he wanted. (He’s American so excuse the spelling ;-))
“I honestly found the Underdog IPA competition to be a unique and thought provoking challenge. While I don't consider the hoppy beers I like to make to be overly dependent on hard to get "sexy" hops, a least one or two of those varieties makes its way into most every IPA or pale ale I brew. I really enjoyed the idea of pushing myself to utilize less easy to use hops through specific brewing techniques to create the flavor profile I had in mind. What we decided to do was to combine the Target hops with some very pungent and dank older school American hops (Chinook and Columbus) the way I would use brighter more fruit forward tropical varieties. The challenge really taught me how to balance several big, bold, and seemingly blunt hop varieties and to harness the really pleasant flavors that are often hidden under their intensity. In hindsight, I feel this contest is the type of challenge we need to see more of in U.S. and world craft brewing. Sometimes it feels like anyone with a couple boxes of Citra or Galaxy can put together a very flavorful IPA that pleases the masses. Being forced to work with less forgiving ingredients with the goal of creating the same bold and delicious character has certainly improved my general understanding of how flavors work together and better ways to utilize the tools that I'm given.
As we toured “Straight Outta Boston” this year at events across Europe many of the brewers and beer fans we spoke to were amazed at the flavours achieved by Ben. Brewers producing some of Europe’s best known craft beers were fascinated at what a beer using mostly Target could achieve. So yes. we are repeating underdog again this year. It’s still really important to us to encourage experimentation with hop varieties that will lead to more unique beer being created. Where the subtle difference comes in is that we’re going to be paying as much attention to the brewer as we are to the beer. Can we unearth another individual or brewing team who like Ben, brew intuitively as well as skilfully? Somebody who can be held aloft as an ambassador of creative brewing.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger - 08/03/2016Hop To
Everybody has heard about it. 2015 hop harvest has not been good in some regions. While many of us enjoyed the nice weather during the summer, swimming in the beach or even drinking beer, the German hop fields were having a bad time with it. And being fair, who wants to work when the thermometer reaches 35C and above?
Hop cultivation requires a particular environment. Long light periods during plant growth (up to 18 hrs/day) and temperate weather (sufficient warmth and moisture) are the conditions in which the hop plants like to grow. Normally, July is the month with the highest precipitation values in Central Europe. This together with the moderate temperature makes countries such as Germany, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Poland privileged for the growth of hops. But something totally different happened this year. This summer has been described as the summer with the most “heat days” on record and it had less precipitation than normal, even surpassing the record year 2003. This combination allows us to describe the 2015 crop as the worst crop for the central European hop industry within decades. At the end of August, the German hop industry association described the crop as significantly below-average in all European hop-growing regions due to the hot and dry conditions in the months of July and August.
In spite of an increase in acreage by 540 ha, the official harvest estimation commission’s forecast is down by 25-40% versus a normal crop in Central Europe. Also, experience shows that poor yields go hand in hand with low resin and oil contents which increase the problem exponentially. Fortunately, the US is expecting a more or less average crop so that at least the supply of US flavour hops should not run into any serious problems. The UK crop is looking good with an increase around 5% versus a normal crop. However, it’s not just supply that’s causing the problem. The huge demand increases that we have seen for aroma hops and continue to see will only make the problem worse. On the plus side, the supply situation in the high alpha segment is far more relaxed.
This year will be the year of creative solutions. Brewers and hop traders should work together to achieve the targeted results. Some recommendations are for example to look into prior year inventories. Good hop traders keep their products under cold conditions (0-5°) and under vacuum or controlled atmosphere to ensure a good quality of the products over the years. The important value here is not the harvest year but the Hop Storage Index (HSI), which indicates the freshness of the hops. The HSI measures the amount of α- and β-acids lost over a period of 6 months at 20C. This value, which aims to estimate the future α-content, depends on the analysed variety, the time of harvesting and the packaging among others. The conditions and moment in which hops are harvested have also an influence on the initial HIS. The combination of these influences develops in that even older hops may have a better HSI than younger hops. This in combination with the hops contracted for crop 2016 may help to bypass the shortage in some varieties.
Of course, those who have worked with and on their recipes and the sensory characteristics of the hop varieties contained in them will be at an advantage and well prepared for the hard circumstances. Looking into new varieties to substitute or to prepare mixtures of different varieties to achieve the desired aroma profile offers a good solution. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is no one to one substitution of any hop variety. We have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in this field in recent years and can assist brewers in finding the optimal solution with the help of brew trials, sensory panels and flavour analyses. Moreover, we have developed some mixtures of hops to achieve a defined aroma perceptions or to simulate a defined hop variety. For example T’n’T® and Fantasia® are 2 composition of hops which provide an explosive passion fruit aroma and taste character and a silky touch of cream and caramel, respectively. Or also our new launch, Yellow Sub, which is a mixture of hops recommended to substitute Amarillo. You can take a look to our website to find more information about it (http://www.barthhaasgroup.com/en/varieties-and-products/creative-products).
Also optimising the recipe by using CO2 extract or bittering products such as IKE, Isohop… may help to save in other products used to give aroma to the beer. Or maybe considering the usage of PHAs or other hop oil products to kick the aroma and flavour of your beer to balance the final desired sensory perception.
Summarising, hop harvest 2015 is thus anything but “business as usual” and will require the willingness of suppliers and brewers to cooperate in the search for the most suitable solution. So do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions…
…because the magic doesn’t happen in your comfort zone.
My lil Bitter Paradise - 08/03/2016Hop To
What is currently your favourite hop variety?
“I think at the moment it would have to be Galaxy from HPA, our sister company downunder.”
Why is it your favourite hop variety?
“I think Derek Prentice (formerly of Fullers now at Wimbledon Brewery) summed it up best at Beer X this year when he said it has a real depth of character that makes this particular hop stand out even against some of the big US hops. The complex variety of fruity flavours and aromas that can be achieved makes it great for many beer styles.”
Have you brewed with it and how did it turn out?
“Yes I used it a few times when I was at Tap East in Stratford. The first bottled beer we released was a single hop Galaxy IPA called ‘Nebula’. I think we only did around 1000 bottles. After 6 months the hops were still shining through.”
What beer do you think is the best current example of this hop?
“At the moment I think it has to be Antipodean IPA from Harbour Brewing Co. in Cornwall. The guys are using Vic Secret and Galaxy and the aroma and lip smacking fruity flavours are amazing. If you see a can, grab one and try it, you won’t be disappointed.”
We speak hops. That means we focus 100% on hops and hops derived products. That's because we're are really good at it (there's no point being modest ). We leave the experts in other areas of brewing to do what they do best and with our partners make that expertise available to our customers. We've been recommending and selling White Labs for a while now and from our point of view, they are untouchable when it comes to a quality product. But don't just take our word for it...
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