Friday, August 22, 2008

Northwest IPA & East meets West

The Ship Inn reports (via newsletter) it’s got a new brew in the mix, Northwest IPA (inspired by a visit to Seattle) ... Cascades in the nose, Centennial for bittering. Ship folks say they’re initially pleased with the brew but are still fine-tuning the recipe.

We’re gonna have to book a trip to Milford and The Ship (maybe on the return from Easton and Weyerbacher on Saturday), especially since the Brit-style pub's got Fuller’s ESB on tap as one of their imports.

Speaking of IPAs, and the West Coast, we did a beer trade with The Thirsty Hopster. That would be Jessica Jones, who keeps, we think, the best beer blog in the US, and travels far and wide, sampling beers (Japan, Continental Europe, the Great British Beer Fest).

Jess made a trip earlier this summer to Pennsylvania (think Philly in March ’09, Jess, Philly Beer Week), with Troeg’s Nugget Nectar and trip to Harrisburg on her radar. Alas, it was a beer out of reach. (But check her archives, she did get to experience Pennsy's drive-through stores).

So we offered Jess a couple bottles of NN via UPS, complementing that shipment with Victory’s 12 and Baltic Thunder, and Weyerbacher's Double Simcoe™ IPA. (Yeah, no Jersey beers in that mix, maybe next time.)

In return, we got The Lost Abbey’s Judgment Day, Moylan’s Hopsickle Imperial Ale, Hair of the Dog’s Blue Dot Double IPA, Arrogant Bastard Ale and Green Flash’s Imperial IPA. Arrogant Bastard is on some shelves in New Jersey, but hey, this Bastard's not gonna go to waste.

We hear our glass calling.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

After hop-picking

It was apples that Robert Frost contemplated in verse, turning the seasonal experience of picking them into a window on life lived and mistakes and regrets.

The guy seriously needed a beer, some hops. That's what he could have done after apple-picking.

But anyway, we know what comes after hop-picking. Or we'll find out this weekend.

On Tuesday, we spoke to Dan Weirback, who noted that he and wife Sue will harvest their Nugget and Cascade hops throughout Saturday.

Make that the rest of their hop crop.

They harvested about 60 pounds earlier this month, most of them Cascades, spending about nine hours plucking the cones from bines they cut down. Those hops are already beer: They went into the hopback to infuse some great aroma into an IPA Weyerbacher brewed last week.

Now the task at hand is to bring in the remainder of the crop, with the help of about eight friends who'll party while they work. (Dan says the plan is to systematically cut bines and hand them off to a table of pickers who'll strip off cones.) In the rolling hills of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, this will probably be the beer equivalent of a barn-raising.

Pound for pound
It looks like the yield will fall short of Dan’s forecasts. No big deal. It takes a lot of hops to make a pound, and there’s really no sure way of knowing until you put what you got on a scale and see what it totals.

But remember, these are first-season bines, and for much of that time, the plants expend more energy claiming their turf, establishing a root system that will serve them well in the future, than bearing fruit.

So, in the meantime, crack open a Hops Infusion or Double Simcoe IPA and check out Dan and Sue’s saga in moving pictures and sound on tape. (FYI: We may repost this; we're going to see if we can process the audio a little better.)

About the video
We shot the interviews with Dan and Sue in late June, rounding those out with on-cameras from others in the beer or farming business a month later to hopefully bring some background or perspective to things. So some acknowledgments are in order for those who spared time from their busy schedules ...

A big thanks to John Grande and Ed Dager from Rutgers’ 390-acre Snyder Research and Extension Farm in scenic Hunterdon County. (John is the farm director; Ed is farm manager.) Snyder’s mission is sustainable agriculture, exploring potential new crops for Garden State farmers. That’s how hops ended up on the farm's radar in the 1990s, just after craft brewing took off in New Jersey, and it's how Dan and Sue came to reap the benefits of fresh, regional research.

When Lew Bryson isn’t speaking about beer or writing about beer, he’s probably just drinking beer (but we’ve seen him do both – speak and drink – at the same time, ha!). Or maybe he’s got a great bourbon or scotch whisky in the glass, one of his other areas of expertise (he’s managing editor of Malt Advocate magazine). Lew has staked out the mid-Atlantic states as a beer coverage area, with guide books on the breweries of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and most recently New Jersey. In what's surely a sign of modern times, Lew also has an bio in Wikipedia (albeit a brief one, but one there nonetheless.)

Greg Zaccardi of High Point Brewing helped us out last year with an Oktoberfest-themed video, and since he often travels to Europe, he was a logical choice to size up the business culture of US brewers vs. their counterparts across the pond. And as the owner a craft brewery, Greg, like his industry colleagues, had to face the bitter truth of the hop shortage and subsequent price spike.

And of course, there’s Dan and Sue, the hop farmers. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to school

Rutgers’ fall semester starts Sept. 2nd, and for Harvest Moon, that means more people stepping off the sidewalks of George Street to settle in for a pint or two at the New Brunswick brewery café.

We stopped by midweek last week (yep, more Jersey beer traveling, with more to come) and talked to head brewer Matt McCord to see what’ll be coming on tap when the Moon gets full with larger crowds.

Think of it as a fall schedule, what glasses you can take. (OK, we’ll leave the bad puns and word play to the would-be Ogden Nashes of the world.)

We’re talking fall here, so naturally Oktoberfest is in the mix, a traditional take on the fest lager with some dark Munich malt and some Vienna. Look for it in late September. It’s worth mentioning that Harvest Moon does go lager with their Oktoberfest. Not all breweries or brewpubs do, since it can mean tying up tank space they just don’t have to let the beer sit and chill for those lager durations. Ones that don't go alt instead.

Pumpkin pie
Also this fall, look for two versions of Harvest Moon's pumpkin ale, with allspice, cinnamon and brown sugar (among other flavorings). Matt says he and backup brewer Kyle McDonald (pictured below) will do two regular takes on the seasonal, plus a high-gravity version.

Last year, the Moon’s imperial pumpkin ale had vanilla beans in it to create a graham cracker crust signature. All three will have the vanilla this year, Matt says.

Deeper into the fall term, Matt has plans for a winter imperial stout and winter warmer. Too bad winter isn't now. Matt also says the schwarzbier, a personal favorite for us, should be coming back around, too. He didn't brew it this past spring, just didn't get it into the mix. So there's something to look forward to.

And speaking of Kyle, the new (but not so new by now) guy on the block, he worked at a brewery in his home state of Iowa before pulling up stakes for New Jersey around the start of 2008, after his girlfriend took a job in the Garden State. Kyle may be the backup, but Matt refers to him as one of Harvest Moon’s brewers, like himself.

Matt brewed solo for about half the six years he’s been at Harvest Moon, and he lives in South Jersey, a fair distance to travel to work. So naturally, he’s glad for the extra hands.

Matt's a guy who respects beer and likes to talk beer – take a look at his extensive beer list on the Moon's Web site; it's pretty impressive, no question. He knows the kind of hard work it takes to always have six to eight house beers flowing (featuring Belgian and wheat brews in that mix) when there's just you and one extra person, plus not a whole lot of floor space available for your brewery. (HM’s brewhouse sits in an elevated spot to the right just as you walk in the entrance from George Street; the fermenters and serving tanks are downstairs; some of the equipment is kinda shoehorned it, but not all. Still, it's not exactly a wide open arrangement.)

Campus life
And what of the Rutgers crowd (notice the big red R on the doors)? Matt says they tend to favor bigger beers. It’s a study of economics, since money can be tight for the college crowd. The equation kinda works out as 1 pint of a bigger beer at $4.50 = satisfaction and savings vs. 2 pints of a lighter style for the same per-pint price. Pretty simple math.

That formula makes Hops2 Double IPA, one of Harvest Moon’s signature beers, in demand with the Rutgers crowd, but it's also popular among women beer drinkers. Hops2 (that’s 2 as in squared) gives you a lesson on hops and bigger beers, but it also mellows somewhat toward the bottom of the glass, and calls on you to answer the question, “Having another?”

It was one of our growler beers – we also took home their kölschbier – so why not? And the kölsch, well it's taken over for the MoonLight Ale on the beer board, to satisfy the session beer end of the scale and lighten the mood. It also fits in with Matt's taste for kölsch beers.

Lastly, also, a quick shout-out to the guys having a school reunion at the bar ... St. John's Prep, was it? Hope the fourth you were expecting in your party made it.

Dates of note
Sept. 1: Rutgers takes on Fresno State in its home opener (4 p.m). The Moon sounds good for pregame or post-game wrap-up, if you ask us.
Sept. 9: The New Jersey Young Professionals group holds a brewery tour and tasting at Harvest Moon. Details here ... tickets here.