Friday, August 31, 2012

Hop Scrounging in the Helderbergs

Yeah, yeah, I know I’ve been a bit absent of late.

Although, during my little hiatus, I have been working very hard, I promise you that. Thankfully it wasn’t on anything of any real importance. It was however, all about hops. Specifically heirloom hops—and perhaps (and I say “perhaps” with some hesitation) with a connection to the New York hops industry of the 19th-century—being grown around the Helderberg hills outside Albany. Yup, that’s right I may have stumbled across the very same hops that helped to build the hop boom in New York State 150 years ago; and of which may also have been used to bitter-up my beloved—and a bit obsessed over—Albany Ale.

It's been a bit of a ride getting to these hops over the last two weeks, but I assure you, it was a ride that was well worth taking.

The whole adventure started as casual conversation at work. The New York State Museum—along with exhibits folks like me—also employs an number of natural scientists, such as Geologists. My friend Dr. Chuck Ver Straeten happens to not only be an expert on the Helderberg Escarpment, but also an all around knowledgeable resident of the Helderbergian town of Berne, New York. In our conversation about beer and New York, he mentioned that he had heard that wild hops grew in and around the jewel of the Capital Region hill towns, John Boyd Thatcher State Park, and that I should contact Dan Driscoll, a neighbor of Chuck’s who has done a good bit of Helderberg historical research, as well as some of his own hop growing.

Views from on high
Dan, it turns out, isn’t just growing your run of the mill, transplanted Pacific Northwest, Cascade or Centennial variety of hop. In fact, Dan doesn’t have any idea at all what he’s growing. Thirty years ago Earl Williamson, a retired Helderberg farmer, gave Dan a small cutting from one of his hop plants. Earl owned a small dairy and chicken farm in Berne from the 1920s to the 1970s, and at some point worked with the Shultes, a well-known hop farming family whose homestead dates back to 1800. Dan speculates that Earl got a few rhizomes from the Shultes and started his own little hop yard. To summarize, the Shultes gave to Earl and he, in turn, gave to Dan.

Enter Dieter.

In keeping with this tradition of sharing Dan has most recently passed a few plants along to my new pal Dieter Ghering. Dieter’s involvement in this hoppy lineage has really made things interesting. A freelance photographer, Dieter married into the Ten Eyck family—a good, New York-Dutch family who has operated the venerable, Indian Ladder Farms since 1915. Not only does Dieter have land, and experience, and the hops—he’s also a beer nut. His game plan is to begin supplying craft breweries and brew pubs with not only the finest Helderberg raised hops, but also the finest New York grown barley—a double threat.

Late addition: This is them...
Dieter’s interest in these mystery hops is based on sound economic reasoning and agro-sciences. My interest in them is firmly rooted in the past, yet we’re asking the exact same question—What are they? Whereas Dieter needs to determine the viability of these plants—Their potency, sustainability, etc. I want to prove that these hops are indeed the great-great-grand children of those 19th century hops.

Before I get into how we’ve decided to answer those questions, let’s look at a few things we already know. We know that hops did grow in the Helderbergs. The area is just about the eastern most border of New York’s historic hop growing region. We know what varieties of hops were the most prevalently grown in New York—English Cluster, Grape, and Pompey. The first two were the most successful, while the latter was more susceptible to disease. We know that these Helderberg hops thrive in the environment in which they are currently growing. Dieter has about 100 plants growing in his hop yard, of a number of varieties. They’re all doing fairly well, but the Helderberg hops are doing exceptional, having grown a third larger than the other plants.

So how do we answer the question? Determining potency is fairly easy. A few sample cones snipped—once their lupulin glands start producing resin—and sent of for a little lab work should answer that science-wiency bit. Genetic testing, of course, would answer the lineage question, but Dieter and I have decide to take the more scenic route, literally. Dan offered the names and address of a few Helderberg residents who live on property where hops were once grown commercially. So, Dieter and I decided to hit the road and visit a few of these places—on an adventure that Alan has now dubbed a “hop scrounge”. The hope is to locate a bine that matches Dieter’s stock on one of these properties. Finding a counterpart growing in an area known to have once had hops growing on it, suggests that the variety may (again I say hesitantly) be the feral offspring of New York’s hoppy past. It’s not 100% full proof, but it has been fun.

Last Tuesday, on our inaugural hop scrounge, I met Dieter at his house and he gave me my first look at his Helderberg hops. The plants were bushy with tri-tipped, slender leaves. The plants were about six feet tall and tapered at the top, winding their way up their twiney rig. Dotted with bright green cones, I plucked one of the flowers and rubbed it between my fingers, slightly disappointed, as they haven’t yet begun to give off their distinctive aroma. After my introduction to the hops, and a quick tour around the farm, Dieter and I climbed into his Prius and headed out into our first adventure.

The Bathrick's hop house
Our first stop was to the Clarksville, New York home of Bob and Linda Bathrick, the current owners of the Van Wie Farm—a farm complete with a hop house built in the 1880s. The Bathricks’ have lived on the property for well over thirty years, and were more than happy to show us around the area. The hop press still sits in one of the barn’s lower two rooms. Above it, light streamed through a slatted ceiling that was used to dry the hops before being pressed and sent to market. While the hop barn was impressive the view from the Bathrick’s home—a nearly 180º panorama of the upper Hudson valley, southern Vermont and western Massachusetts—was just as stunning. After our visit with the Bathrick’s, we cruised around the back roads of Clarksville, and then Voorheesville, stopping occasionally to investigate promising areas, before calling it an evening.

This past Wednesday’s hop scrounge took us further into the Helderbergs— first to Berne, and then to Knox, New York. Our initial stop was at the hill top home of Russ and Zenie Gladieux, which in turn led us to John Elberfeld and Jane McClean, the current owners of the Bebee Farm farmhouse. The Bebee Farm was the largest hop farm in Albany County, but has since been subdivided into residential plots. That didn’t stop us from meeting some of John and Jane’s neighbors, and scrounging around their back yards for any clues to a hoppy past.

There has been one little snag—a minor set back, if you will. After all this traveling through pastoral landscapes, and visiting with—unarguably—the most friendly and out-going folks I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, we have not found any hops growing on any of the properties. There has been an unusual trend, though. Nearly everyone we’ve met has said, “Oh, yeah, there was hops around here ten, or so, years ago, but not now.” It’s amazing how many times we’ve heard that, repeated.

So what do we do now?

We hop scrounge west into Schoharie County, and then into Otsego and Madison Counties. If there are no hops in Albany County, there’s got to be hops somewhere.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Working on Big Things

Okay, not big things, but things nonetheless—and hoppy things, at least.

I'll be back the end of the week. Sorry again for the fat guy in the last post, it couldn't be helped.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fat Tire

No, I don't mean New Belgium's sweet, coppery classic. What I'm getting at is nestled above my hips, and is otherwise known as my gut, belly or ponch. Yes, folks I’ll admit it, I've gotten pudgy. That's not to say I haven't done anything about it. Walking, running, biking, sit-ups, push-ups, and climbing stairs—you name it, and over the last three weeks, I've pulled muscles doing it. I'm counting calories and starving myself adjusting my portion sizes, too. I'm trying the tried and true method of diet and exercise, to slim down and it seems to be working—I'm down about six pounds. Granted I've developed Achilles tendonitis and my knees are killing me, but six pounds nonetheless. There is however, a little snag, aside from the general aches and pains. A snag, that usually comes in sixteen ounces.

It's not quite this bad.
As much as I'm enjoying my new exercise routine—and I am actually enjoying it—I can't say I enjoy it as much as a trip down to the pub to quaff a pint or two of Well's Banana Bread or Lakefront IPA. I don't enjoy it as much as popping the cap on a bottle of Longtrail Ale, to sip while grilling chicken or fish for that night's dinner. Nor do I enjoy it as much a leisurely afternoon, knocking off a few bottles of Fullers London Pride while flipping between Arsenal versus Sunderland and the Mets versus Washington. Okay, maybe I enjoy it a bit more than the part about the Mets, but generally speaking, beer is more enjoyable than exercise—for me at least.

As enjoyable as beer drinking is, the clincher, unfortunately comes down to calories. A 7.5% ABV beer ranges between 220 and 250 calories. Let me walk it back this way—two bottles of Tröegs Perpetual IPA offer nearly the same caloric value as a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with cheese. So, a beer while grilling up that heart-healthy chicken breast and one later in the evening, sipped on while typing up the latest blog post, is essentially like eating hamburger on top of whatever else I've taken in for the day. There in lies the rub I've become a beer blogger who essentially can't drink beer—at least not more than one beer a day. Sure, I know the mantra of "everything in moderation", but that's the tightrope I'm having trouble traversing. I've been searching for a way to write about this, it's a topic that's been on my mind for quite a while. I'm not an exercise junkie by any means, nor do I drink six or seven pints in one sitting. I just want to have a beer or two and still have my pants fit.

So I'll ask all of you out in the beery inter webs—how do you walk the line?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Political Science

Whoa, two politically-motivated posts in one week—a drinkdrank record. It's not much of a record, but who's counting?

Anywho, the Des Moines and are both reporting that the White House has gotten into the craft-beer biz. During a press conference in the Hawkeye State, White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that the most famous residence in the country is indeed brewing its own beer—the appropriately named White House Honey Ale. Carney who admittedly, didn't know much about the beer, did confirm that the brew comes in two iterations—light and dark—and the honey is locally sourced. In fact it's so local it comes from the White House garden.

According to the Des Moines, a local Knoxvillian (Iowa, not Tennessee) engaged the Prez in a beery conversation, which resulted in the Beer-Drinker-in-Chief retrieving a full bottle of the White House brew from his campaign bus, and presenting to the supporter.

Here's my only issue with this. The President has come to the Capitol Region twice—twice—and I've yet to get a free bottle of beer—and I voted for him.    

Monday, August 13, 2012

Congressional Session

I have to admit that heard about this story from an unusual source—NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! It was also reported on, so—and not that I doubt NPR's fact finders—but two sources is always better than one. Either way, here goes:

A Super PAC has been formed to raise beer money to bring back happy-hour on Capitol Hill.

Allow me to repeat that for you.

A Super PAC has been formed to raise beer money to bring back happy-hour on Capitol Hill.

Two George Washington University students have registered with the Federal Election Commission as a political action committee, with the intent to raise $5,000 by September to, well, go on a beer run.

Roommates Daniel Bassali and Winslow Marshall have organized the, uniquely named, Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles Super PAC in the hopes of getting Congress to cross the aisle, share a pint with them, and in Baselli's words, "We want to bring back that happy hour time, that time just to sit down and have a beer with someone person-to-person instead of politician-to-politician." The duos first happy hour objective? Balance the budget. While FEC regulations don't restrict how their money is spent, the FEC does require that the money be used only for campaign purposes. That might provide a stumbling block for Bassali and Marshall, not to mention neither Mit Romney or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid drink because of their Mormon upbringing.

In any case, I'm not a overly political person, but I think this whole idea (and excuse my French) is fucking awesome.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

I'm just now relaxing after the Marathon du Beer Blog of this weekend. It's the kind of effort that only a former host of the Session can truly appreciate. Hosting the Session is really a lot of fun, but it's also a quite a bit of work—all worth it, however.

Now, though, we're onto more pressing matters—matters of beer-related Japanese inspired poetry.

That's right, it's the "announce the #IPADay Haiku contest winner" time! I do wish blogging had commercial interruptions, so I could say "Right after a word from our sponsor..." ya' know just for a little drama. But since it doesn't, I might as well just get on with it. Three great entries this go-round, by the way.

From Curtis at HopHeadSaid entered this beaut:

Empty Tulip glass
I P A is in the can
Combined brings me joy

Photog, Dietrich Gehring, sent this along:

August heat
Hop yard growing
IPA soon come

Last but not least, an anonymous poster questioned #IPADay haikus, thusly:

IPA Haiku?
On a steamy afternoon?
Prefer a Resin...

All three are strong contenders, but I think the edge... goes... to...

Curtis at HopHeadSaid! 

Congrats Curtis, I'll get a hold of you to find out where to send your swag!

Ah yes, another successful #InternationalInsertyourchoiceofbeerstyleDay haiku contest. I will sleep soundly tonight, for sure.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Session #66: The Wrap-Up

What a fantastic turn out it was this month! Thanks to every one who contributed, it was a blast to host! I do have to apologize for not commenting on everyone's site, but it's recently come to my attention that a good number of blogs see my URL as spam, and therefore my comments end up on the dark side of the moon. In any case, I did read them all and was astonished by the number of contributor's and the creativity those contributions. Well done—all.

In reading all the posts, I noticed two near constants. First, almost everyone said, "I love all beer, and it's the the diversity of beer that makes it great, so I couldn't possibly pick one, single beer." I'll offer a case-in-point, from Jon over at 10th Day Brewing. Apparently, it's impossible to pick pick the perfect beer, and yet everyone seems to come up with a pretty good answer to the question. Secondly, like politics, the middle if the road seems to be less represented than the fringes. A far broader showing for higher octane brews and those at the opposite end of the spectrum—the 4.5% and below, set of session tipples. Those 5, 6 and 7 percent-ers seemed few and far between. Ryan and Alan, of Growler Fills, prove this point with their dueling One Beers.

Aside from the broader strength and diversity issues, the beery blogoshpere split itself in a number of partisan factions—the Stylists (the largest groups), the Realists, the Literalists, the Mixologists, the Technicians and the Dreamers. Each unique to itself, although a few similarities may occur cross-category. Generally, however, all the contributions fell into one of these groups—not to pigeon hole anyone, it just worked out that way. There is one exception, but I'll deal with that one at the end. So, here goes:

The Stylists are not hair-dressers—at least not in this exercise—they are, however, those who chose their One Beer to be of a pre-determined set of guidelines.

Beers I've Known's Steve gets funky and black with his post.

Leigh over at The Good Stuff leans paler.

Mr. David, at Good Morning..., waxes romantic.

Pete, of Pete Drinks, who is contributing to his very first Session, goes in for a brew he named Four Candles.

Something Belgian with an American twist is what, What We're Drinking is on about.

Chris, at whoisbrew, asks to have pretension left at the door when it comes to his extra special brew.

Beer Search Party Sean has a Helles of a time with his One Beer.

Greg, at The Pour Curator, knows exactly what his perfect beer, and it's red and sour.

Eslem, a.k.a Mr Moustache, over at In Cervesio Felicitas adds his citrusy two cents—and in Spanish, no less!

Jon, at the Brew Site, takes a little inspiration from Middle-Earth.

The Realists, take the Stylists idea and turn it up a notch. Not only do they pick a style but they took it a step forward and chose an actual, on-the-market beer.

The one and only Beer Nut zeros-in on a trio of Dutch-brewed, barrel-aged Imperial Stouts...

...while Mark, at rock n roll beverage, wishes he could tweak a beer from his youth.

Beer Tinted Spectacles chief David, is Going Back to Cali

Next up are the Literalists—those bloggers who took the challenge literally, and imagined a single beer that could be everything to everyone. 

Newcomer, pintsizedticker, imagines a Wonka-esque brew of endless possibilities, but brings it back down to earth at the end.

Hophead Curtis, of HopHeadSaid, conjures a beer that solves the pesky question of what to drink when—regardless of your mood.

David of othertonsles, however, takes the gold in this category by imagining a beer that metamorphosizes as it's being consumed.

Mixologists take the best bits from one beer or another, and like mad-scientists, build they're One Beer, one piece at a time.

Jay, at A Beer in Hand is Worth Two in the Fridge, takes a note from Mary Shelly and builds some good memories.

Likely Moose Looke benefits from some divine inspiration.

Beerbecue decided that a little experiment was in order—including a visual aid, complete with a soundtrack by the Cramps.

Red, bitter, smokey and boozy are Beer Bar Band James' requirements for his One Beer.

The Technicians said, "I can brew the One Beer, and here's how"

John at the Home Brew Manual says all he knows is, that the best beer is the next one—but he's willing to brew up a batch of Oatmeal Stout just in case it's the One.

Mark, from Kaedrin Beer Blog, proposes a high-octane, barrel-aged, Stout or Barleywine (or perhaps a Belgian Quad) that smacks of American hops.

The Dreamers—ah, the Dreamers—are those beery souls who took the challenge in another direction all together.  

November of 1842 was the place to be, for Al at Fuggled.

Simon dreamed a little dream over at The Reluctant Scooper.

Beersay's Phil... well, uh... Phil and his Mood Beer are bent on world domination.

...and then there was one. The one that doesn't fit.

The good doctor McLeod has gone and turned the whole thing on its ear.


Friday, August 3, 2012

The Session #66: The One Beer to Rule Them All

Is there a question that even God himself can't answer? I don't know about that, but I do know I've asked a question that I'm having a hard time coming up with an answer to.

What is the One Beer to Rule Them All?

I've been agonizing (as much as one can agonize when thinking about beer) over this diabolical conundrum since I proposed it as a Session topic to Jay and Stan, back in March. I really do need to start thinking about what I say, or in this case ask, before I actually say it. Seriously, who suggests a topic and then can't figure what they want to write about?

"Don't worry about it, Craig, you'll come up with something." I thought in April, to no avail.

"What about one of those citrusy IPAs, you like so much?" I proposed—and then dismissed—to myself in June

"C'mon, let's funk-ify a Saison with rosemary, or something..." I heard myself say while lying in bed last week. Rolling over, I pulled the pillows over my head to silence the absurdity in my head.

After racking my brain, finally, I think I've figured out what my One Beer would be.

It would pour, cool but not cold, from the glass a ruddy chestnut—reminiscent of the finish on an antique table. Swirling to the bottom of my pint as it leaps from the tap, rolling slightly and then billowing to a dense foamy head—a head the color of raw canvas. Leveling, with its bottom edge an inch from the lip of the pint, the froth settles—like reluctant skydiver—just before it's about to cascade over the side of the glass.

Its aroma is sweet as... wait, a second, this isn't how I want to do this either.

Enough of the prattling on about swirling and billowing. I know what I want it to look like, that's the easy part. I've got to get into the nuts and bolts of this one. I want something, darker with a bit of strength; something sweet, followed by a subtle bitterness—a bitterness that sneaks up on you. It needs to have a bit of weight to it, not a heaviness per say, but a nice presence. A good British pale malt seems like the most logical place to start, maybe Maris Otter, or better yet—Optic malt. Optic has that great full malty tone and a nice fruitiness that you just can't get with Maris Otter. The Optic will set me up with a great base, but I want another underlying element—something Märzen-like, without being too Märzen-like—just a hint of nuttiness. A simple Mild malt should do the trick— yes, a nicely rounded Mild malt.

I've got the base taken care of, so how do I darken-up this brew? I'm going to steer clear of Black or Chocolate malts. They would get me my color, but they'd bring to much roasted flavor to the party. I want to roll with the sweet theme for now—lets bring on the Crystal malt. I'm thinking dark Crystal, in the 70º to 80º Lovibond, range. That deep, toasted malt will really start to darken things up, but it'll also add an intense, almost buttery toffee flavor—that great caramel coated popcorn flavor is what I'm looking for. I've got a good bit of sweet going on here, and I'm thinking I need to off-set that a bit with something a little drying, maybe even a bit bitter, like molasses or dark invert sugar. The sugar will add that dark stone fruit, raisin-y, character and deepen the color.

Yeah, this one is coming together.

Okay, two big elements left hops and yeast. Let's do the hops first. This brew has a pretty formidable wall of sweetness, so I'm going to need a bittering hop that can stand up against it. I'd like to go American, but not the piney Cascade or citrusy Summit route. I want herbaceous-ness with a fairly strong punch of bitterness to go up against the malt. I'm thinking Nugget hops are just what I need for this one. Nuggets are strong and herbal and should keep that malt balanced. The aroma hops, however, are a different story. The brew seems to have a British slant, so I'm thinking East Kent Goldings. Fuggles might be an option, but I think they might be a little to grassy, so I'll stick with the floral, earthiness of the EKGs. As for the yeast, again I'm leaning toward the British strains—one that will bring a little fruitiness and a full body, but more importantly, one that's on the lower attenuating scale. The yeast really needs to be able accentuate all those malty characteristics, yet get the ABV into the 8% range.

Hmm. Dark, bitter-sweet, a tad on the stronger side, Anglo-centric. It appears as though my One Beer is a modern-day Burton Ale. Who' da thunk? But what to call this neo-Burton? I think I might have to call on my hometown for a little inspiration. A title from Albany's past that would befit such a brew—so I dub my brew Patroon.

Patroon is a Dutch word for a business owner, and the title bestowed on manor owning landlords—by the Dutch West India Company—in the Dutch New Netherlands colony of 17th-century New York. The best known patroon was Kiliaen van Rensselaer, whose patroonship, Rensselaerswyck, covered most of what is now present-day Albany and Rensselaer counties, along with parts of Columbia and Greene counties. Kiliaen van Rensselaer was a big shit—Patroons operated essentially as feudal lords, overseeing criminal and civil court cases and appointing local officials. The patroons assumed this power, in return for establishing settlements within the patroonship which benefited the DWIC—although the patroons were not always subject to the laws and regulations of the Director-General of the New Netherlands colony Peter Stuyvesant, who was also appointed by the DWIC. When the Brits took over in 1664 they continued the patroon concept and it stayed a common practice until the 1770s. In 1715, Scottish-born Robert Livingston (the Elder) would establish his 160,000 acre manor and lordship in what is now modern-day Sullivan county. Robert's grandsons, bucked the system a bit—Phillip signed the Declaration of Independence, and William the U.S. Constitution.

In any case, Patroon seems like a fitting name for a beer that showcases just about everything I'd want in a beer. So, there you go—my One Beer—bitter-sweet, dark, strong, with a little Albany history tacked on to it for good measure.

Yup, that sounds about right. Although the rosemary Saison still has promise...                      

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Anyone for #IPADay Haiku?

Just asking, as I usually do on these momentous occasions. Here's my quip:

Bitter tangerine
both in color and flavor
in my pint today

As always, fabulous prizes to the best-est.