Friday, May 24, 2013

Kane Brewing offering hops lesson

Think you know hops? Have a passion for hops?

Then this event is sure to please.

For its June 1 brewery tour day, Kane Brewing will train a spotlight on hops, taking its Head High IPA as a base beer and turning it into a flight of nine single-hopped brews for a lesson on the flavors and aromas that hops provide and some insight into the green-yellow flower cones' power to turn a single beer into many different beers. 

"So many IPAs out there use tons of different hops to blend the flavors together," says Matt Czigler, head brewer at Kane. "A lot people who are into IPAs, or are getting into IPAs, aren't sure which flavors come from certain hops. So, we want to give (them) that experience while celebrating everyone's love of hops."

So think of A Wolf Among the Seas, as the event has been dubbed, as creating a knowledge bank, a foundation for your taste buds and nose to begin teasing out flavors and aromas in your favorite IPAs or pale ales, beers no doubt shaped by the typical brewing conventions of multiple hop additions. 

(About the event title: The Latin genus and species names humulus lupulus roughly translate to wolf among the weeds; Kane Brewing is located in Ocean Township in Monmouth County, a little over three miles from the beach, so A Wolf Among the Seas. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. at the brewery.) 

As a brewing ingredient, hops are hardly two-dimensional. They're more than mere bittering and aromatic agents. And in a single varietal, you can get quite a range of qualities.

"There are times even in a hop itself you get different qualities off the flavor and off the aroma," Matt says. "Certain hops may be very heavy in grapefruit in the aroma but the flavor might give a sort of different citrus (taste). We want to let people know that when we say we're using certain hops in there, these are the qualities we're looking for, and we're blending them together for this reason."

Head High, Kane's 6.5% ABV flagship IPA, is normally brewed with a blend of Columbus and Chinook in the boil for bitterness, with later additions of Cascade, Centennial and Citra to lend a grapefruit signature beneath a nose of citrus, pine and tropical fruit. It's dry-hopped with Cascade, Citra and Columbus.  

For A Wolf Among the Seas, Matt pulled off a few barrels of wort from a Head High brew day, and finished out single-hopped batches with Citra (citrus and tropical fruits); Columbus (citrus, slight woody flavor); Amarillo (spicy, orange-like bouquet); Simcoe (varied aromas of pine, passion fruit, citrus, or earthiness); Legacy (a spicy hop with black currant notes; Kane used Legacy in some recent specialty batches); Nelson Sauvin and Pacifica (New Zealand-grown varietals, with fruit flavors or orange marmalade signatures); Bravo (floral aromas and fruitiness); and Mosaic (floral qualities and tropical fruit). 

Besides having the same grain bill, the beers all have the same IBU level and were fermented with the same yeasts to ensure even comparisons across the lineup.

"They're all sort of apples to apples, just different hops in them," says brewery founder Michael Kane. "It might not be the best beer in the world, but it's a good way to understand what a hop tastes like. We've also been working on a pale ale, a lower-gravity American style beer. We're hoping to release that that weekend as well, if it's ready."

Kane's event is reminiscent of one Iron Hill Brewery held at its Maple Shade brewpub a couple of years ago. Brewer Chris LaPierre turned out an Irish red ale without using finishing hops, then dry-hopped individual quarter kegs with several kinds of American hops, plus Czech, Slovenian, German, English, and Japanese hops.

But specifically, Kane Brewing's tour-day event is really an echo of its highly successful afternoon of stouts held in March. Back then, Kane took its Port Omna Stout and spun it several ways with adjuncts like coffee, vanilla bean and orange, or whiskey barrel-aged it, effectively demonstrating for tour guests how brewers can rewrite a beer with some later conditioning and tweaking. 

Offering a lesson on hops made for a natural a follow-up. New Jersey beer enthusiasts can expect more such events on a semi-regular basis from the brewery. 

Beyond that, though, the event provides something else to consider: Given the new liberties to retail to the public and serve beer, freedoms that Garden State craft brewers were handed last fall by the Legislature, Wolf Among the Seas and events like it become effective uses of production breweries' tasting rooms. They're ways to interact with the craft beer-drinking public that take brewery tours beyond the big, shiny stainless steel tanks people often get to see. 

Likewise, such events distinguish production breweries' serving pints of beer from the idea of the breweries acting like bars. In the case of the hops and stout events, for example, tour guests comparatively taste and smell how a particular beer ingredient is used. That's something a bar or restaurant can't really do, and it speaks directly to the spirit of regulatory changes craft brewers won last year.

"Brewery tours are designed to be an educational experience, so this is a logical use of the tasting room," says Flying Fish Brewing's Gene Muller, who helped lead the push last year to change the state's craft brewing regulations.

The tasting rooms then truly supports brewers' products and help build followers, who in turn buy the beers in bars and packaged goods stores. 

"It's a good tool, especially to educate about some of the styles that we do that are a little different," Michael says. "Some of the beers we make are a little more unique. So we can talk about that, the process by which we do it, other things we're working on, new hops, new malts, different yeasts, different barrel-aging techniques and products we're using.

"Our primary business is brewing and (wholesale) distributing. That's what we do. But it's nice to be able to interact with people who are interested in what we're doing, explain a little bit more and focus on what's going on around here and keep people informed. We're always adding new equipment. It gives people a chance to come in and see what's new, see what's going on around here."

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