Tag Archives: hops

Confessions of a hop head

Call Phil Hoechst a “hop head” and in return you’re likely to get a sly smile and an enthusiastic admission of guilt.

“I enjoy using hops in cool combinations,” says Hoechst, who along with his wife Sara owns Hop Haus Brewing Company, a 2-year-old brewpub in Verona, just south of Madison. “Their popularity isn’t going to fade anytime soon.”

Hops — along with water, malted barley and yeast — are the key ingredients in beer. Originally added as a preservative before there was refrigeration, hops have taken on a new mystique in the craft beer era.

For the Hoechsts, hops are the not-so-secret ingredient in compelling elixirs that keep craft-beer aficionados coming back for more.

“We produce unique beers, but not weird ones,” says Hoechst, pointing to the 12 tap lines in his 2,600-square-foot brewpub. “There’s no room for boring beers here.”

Hoechst is a licensed physical therapist who works part-time for the state, providing therapy to inmates at prisons in Portage and New Lisbon. He discovered brewing in 2009, when he and his wife were living in Denver. Sampling neighbors’ handiwork led Hoechst to try home brewing.

“I went for it right away, brewing as my first batch a Belgian dubbel,” Hoechst says. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy crap, this really turned out well!’”

The die was cast, and in 2012 the couple moved home to Wisconsin — Sara is from Verona and Phil grew up in neighboring Fitchburg — to start brewing full-time. Hops, of course, figured prominently in the brewer’s batches.

Hops to the rescue

Hops — their flavors derived from the cone-shaped flowers of the plant that’s part of the cannabis family — determine the character and bitterness of a beer.

How and when the hops get added during the boil governs the level of influence the flower has on the beer, Hoechst says.

“You can do 10 different beers using the same hops and the point at which you add those hops will govern what the beer tastes like,” he says.

Big American IPA hops like Centennial, Cascade and Chinook, mostly grown in Oregon, add bold floral flavors to the blend, Hoechst says.

But even “boring” hops like Hallertau, Willamette, Pearl and Magnum have their own roles to play.

“They do their job and bring down the sweetness of the malt,” the brewer says. “They have a ton of alpha acids, which is good for a clean bittering, but not much else.”

In the Belgian-style beers that he brews, Hoechst favors Sterling and Styrian Goldings hops to add more spice and peppery flavor to the mix.

Hoechst hops up his Magic Dragon — the most popular beer Hop Haus produces — with Citra, Mosaic and Columbus hops, producing a double IPA that weighs in at 8.2 percent alcohol by volume. The combination produces an intense tropical-citrus aroma popular among craft-beer drinkers and ends in an assertively bitter flavor and clean finish.

El Andy, Hoescht’s West Coast-style IPA with a 6.6 percent ABV, relies on El Dorado hops to create a delicate floral nuance to go with its bright citrus style. The high notes are most evident on the nose, while the palate defers to the hops’ more resinous characteristics, coupled with a splash of grapefruit.

All brewers have their favorite hops, but Hoechst thinks a few too many may be tapping Citra, which as its name implies adds a strong citrus quality to beer.

“Citra is a great hop, but too many people use it just to say that they used it,” Hoechst says.

In addition, Citra ages quickly and its floral flavors become earthier, in the worst case adding a “dirt-like” flavor to the beer, Hoechst says.

Chinook, one of Hoechst’s favorite hops, often is overlooked by craft brewers searching for new styles on the hops horizon.

“Chinook has kind of fallen out of fashion, but it has a resinous, piney flavor and balances the blend so you’re not being hit over the head with fruit flavors,” he says.

Wisconsin hop resurgence

Before Prohibition, southern Wisconsin was one of the country’s leading hop-growing regions, especially on the north side of the Wisconsin River running through western Wisconsin.

The local industry is returning thanks to such groups as the Wisconsin Hop Exchange, a cooperative connecting small growers to buyers.

Gorst Valley Hops, located in Sauk Country, is one of the state’s largest growers, providing hops to 30 of the Midwest’s leading craft brewers, including Wisconsin Brewing Company, New Glarus Brewing Company and others.

As passionate as he is about hops, even Hoechst knows there’s more to beer.

“It comes down to water science and a bunch of other elements working together,” he says. “When I go somewhere, I will always ask for a sample before ordering a pint, then smell the beer so I can anticipate what I am getting.

“Always smell your beer,” Hoechst advises. “There’s more to it than just the hops.”

On tap

Hop Haus Brewing Company

231 S. Main St., Verona

608-497-3165, hophausbrewing.com The tasting room is open noon–8 p.m. (Sunday); 4–10 p.m. (Monday through Thursday); 3–11 p.m. (Friday); and noon–11 p.m. (Saturday).

In stores

El Andy, El Dorado and Plaid Panther Scotch Ale are available in six-packs thanks to a relationship Hop Haus formed earlier this year with Octopi, Dane County’s newest contract brewer located in Waunakee, north of Madison.

Florida farmers eyeing hops as next niche crop

Florida farmers are eyeing a new niche crop that can tap into the country’s burgeoning beer-brewing business: hops.

Hops are vining plants that produce pungent flowers or buds that for hundreds of years have been used by brewers as the building blocks of a beer’s flavor and aroma. The acids in hops produce bitterness, and the plants’ oils give beer a floral or citrusy aroma, depending on the plant.

Traditionally, Florida was considered too hot and humid to grow hops — most varieties are grown in Germany and other European countries with cooler climates, while 95 percent of hops grown in the U.S. come from Washington and other Pacific Northwest states. An explosion of craft breweries in the U.S. has pushed demand sky high, and as a result, shortages of popular hop varieties are common for smaller breweries, which compete with much larger ones for the same supply.

Three years ago, home-brewing horticulturist Brian Pearson of the University of Florida decided he wanted fresh hops and began doing his own research on what he could grow. He started with a few plants in a small wooden shed, and that has since grown into hundreds of plants and a hope that Florida may have found a new cash crop.

“The amount of phone calls from brewers wanting them, the amount of phone calls from growers wanting to grow them, has been incredibly overwhelming,” Pearson said.

The local interest makes sense. In 2015, Florida added more craft breweries than any other state at a time when citrus farmers in the nearly $11 billion industry were looking to augment their crops with something new due to citrus greening, a bacterial disease that doesn’t hurt humans or animals but is devastating to citrus trees. Over the past decade or so, Florida’s citrus harvest has been reduced by about 60 percent.

“Peaches, blueberries and now possibly hops all provide an outlet to grow something,” said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry trade group. But he added that nothing can completely replace citrus, because it is “a way of life in Florida and forms the backbone of rural communities.”

Demand is on the rise everywhere. In 2007, there was a worldwide shortage of aroma hops. While production has increased significantly, it’s still hard for many small breweries to find the most sought-after hops. In 2014, about 18 percent of brewers couldn’t get Citra and Amarillo hops, two popular strains, according to the Brewer’s Association, a craft brewery industry trade group.

Chris Swersey, a supply chain specialist for the association, said things are getting better for craft brewers as production increases, but there is still room for growth.

In Florida, Pearson was able to grow many strains, but the most interesting is called “Neo Mexicanus,” a native American hop discovered about a decade ago growing on Navajo land in New Mexico.

Pearson found some of this rare hop’s rhizomes, or seeds, and planted them. The early signs were not great — the plants grew, but they weren’t very palatable, likely due to the stresses on a plant associated with growing for the first time in a new environment.

“The smells were terrible, like stinky feet or rotten cheese,” Pearson said.

But the next year was different. The plants were floral and sweet, with a citrusy character — exactly what brewers want. He decided to publish a peer-reviewed paper to announce that hops can be grown in Florida. Since then, dozens of farmers have contacted him with interest.

One farmer is already showing that hops can be grown in north-central Florida.

Joe Winiarksi owns a small farm and brewery in the heart of citrus country about 45 minutes from Pearson’s farm. He’s in his second year of growing hops, with input from Pearson on what varieties to grow. Behind a wooden, ranch-style fence, hundreds of bright green hop vines grow: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and other hops popular with brewers.

He said people were skeptical when he started out.

“You just have to be persistent. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, so when somebody tells me I can’t do something it makes me want to do it even more,” he said.

As for Florida’s brewers, the interest is high, said Brandon Nappy, marketing director for Gainesville-based Swamp Head Brewery.

“Anything we can get close to home is our first choice,” Nappy said.

While they haven’t used any yet, Nappy said the brewery is ready to start experimenting with new brews.

Whether hop farming in Florida can be profitable is unclear.

“Right now, I think it has high potential to at least augment some of the loss of citrus,” Pearson said.

Brewing up some winter warmers

On cold winter nights, wine aficionados have luscious ports and sherries to sip by the fire. Spirits drinkers have elegant cognacs and smoky single-malt scotches.

But what is there for the beer drinker?

Thanks to the rapidly growing craft beer movement, there are quite a few beers suitable for the setting. Beers today are every bit as complex as wines and spirits, and the right beer can be every bit as good if not better as an after dinner sipper.

One of the best is New Glarus Brewing Co.’s Winter Warmer ($9.49 per four-pack). It’s part of brewmaster Dan Carey’s Thumbprint series, a line of infrequently brewed specialty beers. A scotch ale by nature and a powerhouse by design, the malty Winter Warmer pours dark with an off-white frothy head. Its flavor palate is redolent of vanilla, toffee and spices. At 9.25 percent alcohol by volume, it has a kick. And aged for a year before this release, it also has great finesse. This beer is going fast, if not already gone. Snap it up if you see it.

Speaking of scotch ales, Whole Hog Wee Heavy Scotch Ale ($6.99 per four-pack), from Stevens Point Brewery, is a bit lighter on all counts. It’s 6.5 percent ABV and has a lighter malt body. But it still pours dark and rich, with notes of caramel and toffee on the palate. Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale ($10.99 per four-pack), brewed at Leinenkugel’s Milwaukee brewery, draws greater presence from its cherrywood-smoked malt and greater strength from its 9.5 percent ABV. Both of these ales are suitable for fireside sipping.

Porters, too, can make fine winter warmers. Developed in 18th century London as a hearty drink for local workers, porters have come into their own for beer lovers who enjoy a robust brew with a fine dash of hops. One of the best comes from Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland. The Edmund Fitzgerald Porter ($8.49 per six-pack), named for the freighter that sank in Lake Superior in 1975, has a complex, roasted palate and pours nearly opaque. A gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival, “Fitz” features a bold hops presence dressed with overtones of chocolate and coffee. The brew is 5.8 percent ABV.

Speaking of coffee flavors, Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery brews up one of the best with Fuel Café ($8.49 per six-pack), a blend of organic roasted malts blended with coffee from the city’s own Fuel Café. The beer pours dark with a creamy head, its roasted malt and light hops providing an excellent canvas for robust coffee flavors. At 6.4 percent ABV, Fuel Café pairs well with desserts or simply as an after-dinner drink.

Want something with a little more kick? Lakefront can provide that, too, with Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale ($4.99 per 22-oz. “bomber”). The award-winning assertive amber ale combines a dominant hops profile of citrus and pine with a rich caramel malt backbone. The components offset for a pleasing brew that at 8.5 percent ABV makes a formidable impression.

We recently discovered Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout ($9.99) and were delighted by the creamy smoothness that its 10-malt blend produced. At 6.1 percent ABV, the beer still creates a strong statement. But it’s a subtle flavor, emphasizing essences of cocoa and just a touch of espresso on the palate. The Kalamazoo, Mich., brewery, best known for its Two Hearted Ale APA, Oberon wheat ale and a host of highly hopped specialty beers, has a quiet hit on its hands with this one.

Speaking of highly hopped brews, Wisconsin beer lovers are huge fans of Three Floyds, the Munster, Ind., brewery. Its flagship brands include Alpha King ($9.99 per six-pack). At 6.66 percent ABV and 66 international bittering units, this American pale ale blends Centennial, Cascade and Warrior hops for a beer that will knock the socks off any India pale ale or American pale ale lover.

For an even more pronounced hop presence with an additional kick in the alcohol department, look no further than Satisfaction Jacksin ($11.99 per six-pack) from Madison’s Ale Asylum Brewery. Brewmaster Dean Coffee’s double IPA weighs in at 8.25 percent ABV and more than 100 IBUs, resulting in a subtle powerhouse with a barleywine-style sweetness.

Speaking of Madison and imperial styles (read: higher alcohol), Capital Brewing is breaking new ground under the hand of relatively new brewmaster Brian Destree. Eternal Flame ($6.99 for a 22-oz. bomber), now in its third iteration, is an imperial stout that combines six malts, roasted cocoa nibs and habañero peppers for a unique drinking experience. Weighing in at 8.8 percent ABV, the beer is surprisingly subtle despite its strength and content.

If any beer says nightcap, Eternal Flame is it. But it also offers beer lovers a bright start to a well-hopped new year.