Wednesday, July 2, 2008

LongShot Addendum

The results are up. Unfortunately, ESB Dave was shut out. Sigh. But that doesn't change the fact that Dave makes great beer.

Here's to your beers, Dave. Salut.

LongShot winners coming up

Quick note: Finalists in the Samuel Adams LongShot homebrew contest are due to be announced this week, a Boston Beer contact tells us. Seems like the folks up in Boston are running a little late this year, compared to last year when finalists were announced mid-June.

But nonetheless, we’re pulling for friend of the blog Dave Pobutkiewicz of Morris County, who entered again this year, after finishing as a runner-up last October, when the winners were announced at the Great American Beer Festival. (Grand prize, aside from the Samuel Adams swag that goes to the finalists, is having your beer brewed for the SA LongShot sixpack.)

Dave got a trip to Denver out of the deal in 2007. But this guy’s such a perfectionist when it comes to beer – the detailed records he keeps on each brew and his methods are impressive – he pretty much decided, right there in the slipstream of coming up short last year, that he would hurl himself against the SA ramparts in 2008. (Dave shared his beers with us and Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly back in March in Atlantic City. It’s really, really good.)

This year, Dave entered his helles bock (6.9% ABV), the same beer that made him a finalist in 2007. He also entered a double helles bock (8% ABV) in the specialty category, and his Fuller’s-like ESB (6% ABV), a holy grail for a guy who’s known in his homebrewer club (Defiant Hombrewers) as ESB Dave.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Hop Project (Update)

Over the weekend we checked in with the folks at Weyerbacher Brewing in Easton, Pa., just over the Delaware River from Phillipsburg.

If you recall, Dan Weirback and his wife, Suzanne, undertook the daunting project of growing hops to perhaps offset some of the cost at the brewery Dan founded in 1995. You may also recall hops on the commercial market now cost about four times as much as they did a year ago.

So back in April, after some cajoling by Sue (the project was her idea, Dan admits to harboring a few reservations), some Web research and some outreach to folks versed in hops, the Weirbacks put 1,500 rhizomes in the ground on an acre surrounded by wheat fields in the rolling hills of Lehigh County, Pa. They hired a fencing company to seat rows of poles 9 feet high, upon which they strung trellises for the hop bines to climb. Along the rows, at the base of the hops, they ran hoses for a drip irrigation system.

The Jersey angle – after all, this is a Jersey beer blog – is that they’ve relied on research Rutgers agronomists conducted on hops in the 1990s at a demonstrator hopyard at the Snyder Research Farm in Hunterdon County. The Weirbacks continue to stay in touch with their Rutgers contact, John Grande.

Cost for their project: $8,000 and a lot of physical labor – weeding, mulching and training the bines to climb, more weeding, more training, checking for pests etc. It’s quite a bit of work for two people who otherwise have plenty to do in the course of running a brewery and, in Sue’s case, her own career.

There are no shortcuts to the work. And there’s a fair amount of having to make do with limited resources, such as the poles supporting the trellis lines. At 9 feet, they could easily be twice that height, since hop bines are prodigious climbers. But 9 feet was the tallest the fence company could handle; plus there’s the need to reach the bines, most likely from the bed of a pickup truck.

The payoff thus far? Part of the hopyard is going strong, while the other portion has some catch-up to do. But the Weirbacks’ mix of Cascade and Nugget plants are starting to bud. Barring calamity of bad weather, Japanese beetles or some other hop-hungry insect, the Weirbacks expect to harvest plenty of cones later this summer.

It's worth mentioning that Dan and Sue are under no illusions with the project. After all they’re living it, and even confess to some moments of doubt about the merits of the endeavor. But as they say, they haven’t had those misgivings at the same time, so they’ve been able to soldier on.

And while they haven’t really talked up the project, the Weirbacks have drawn some curiosity from other Pennsylvania brewers interested in seeing what the couple comes up with at harvest.

From all sides, this is a rather bold experiment, commendable, too, when you consider it’s risky, and the Weirbacks are willing to try to cut a trail in the wilderness, so to speak.

Good luck, see you at harvest time.

In the glass

We're making a conscious effort to drink Jersey-made beers for a while, not exclusively, since good beer is good beer, and we have an ample supply from around the tristate region and a number of imports.

But Jersey's the home team, and we're trying to support the state's brewers by thinking local and drinking local. So with that in mind, here's what's in the glass this week:

Tim’s Peculiar Porter, from the Ship Inn.

We grabbed a to-go box of the Brit-style porter (think church, not odd, as in Old Peculiar with this beer's name). We liked this beer from the ’07 NJ craft brewers festival on the battleship in Camden, and were a bit forlorn when the Ship skipped this year's event (we hear there was a death in the owners’ family, so that may be the reason they passed on it).

When business took us in the Ship's part of the state over the weekend, we made a point to stop by and get some take-home beer after a quick lunch there in Milford (grilled chicken sarny … the Ship is British motif from bow to stern; a sarny’s a sandwhich. We had Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick stuck in our head afterward “… queuing for sarnies at the office canteen.”)

Some buying advice on the beer box:

• Don’t plan on same-day consumption if you have to travel far to get home or wherever. The drive can shake it up quite a lot, and it degasses, making that inner plastic bladder swell up like a soccer ball. (If that happens, just leave it in the fridge for a few days. The beer will be fine waiting and will reabsorb the CO2 that was released into the ullage.)

• Do try to keep the beer cold for the trip home. So yeah, a cooler is a smart idea, again especially if the ride is long. Warm beer degasses more than cold. But remember, the outer carton is cardboard – and under pressure from the inner bladder – so make plans to keep that dry somehow if you’re using a bag of ice. (Cover it entirely in a few layers of plastic or something.)

• Discard the box when done, hang on to your white plastic tap for when you …

• … Get another. The Ship makes good ales. Plus the beer box is a pretty cool idea, and at 5 quarts (their smallest size), it’s more than a traditional, half-gallon screw-top growler, and actually takes up less space in your fridge.

Also in our glass …

Hoffmann Hefeweizen, from Climax Brewing.

We ran into Dave Hoffmann at the annual mug club dinner at Basil T’s (Toms River) last week (June 27). Dave, who has a side gig as brewer there, was kind enough to provide a sample of this year’s rendition of his hefe, produced at his home base in Roselle Park.

If you’re familiar with Dave’s Union County operation, then you know his German-style brews are his eponymous beers. His IPAs, brown ales and EBS go under the Climax banner.

Calendar item:
Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie roll out their New Jersey Breweries book on Sunday, July 27th with a brunch affair at the Grey Lodge in Philly. Yeah, the Jersey beer book is getting christened in Pennsylvania, as if Jersey doesn't have enough of an inferiority complex as it is.

But Lew says he and Mark have three Jersey dates planned for the book, and scheduling can pose some issues. Hence the Grey Lodge, which has hosted Lew's book debuts twice in the past.

And, besides, the Grey Lodge is everyone’s all-American when it comes to supporting craft brewers, including ones from the Garden State.