January 14, 2016 Recent beer geeks associate hops with the Pacific Northwest. Old timers know that hops were once a big part of the economy of eastern states. While we’re deeply grateful for all that our West Coast friends have done to protect and develop our favorite plant, we’re delighted to see a resurgence in Eastern hopping as well. Some of the resulting beers manifest a flavor unlike any coming from the west coast or the South Pacific.
Our connection with hops predates our Hop Pocket adventures. Bob’s grandfather picked hops in upstate New York, which led the country in hop production. Prohibition would have killed the industry there if powdery and downy mildew hadn’t done it first, and by the turn of the 21st century we had to visit the western US states of Europe to immerse ourselves in the aroma of fresh hops. This fall we estimate there were at least a dozen and perhaps twice that many fresh hop ales produced in the east with local hops.
Our first experience with eastern hops was in State College, Pa., while visiting the previous incarnation of the Happy Valley Brewery. The brewery used malt extracts, but managed to brew mostly enjoyable beers by adding some cooked-on-a-stove real malt to the extract. They pointed out to us the wild hops growing like the weeds they are in the woods around State College, and if memory serves, they occasionally used some of them for brewing.
An increasing number of breweries are planting their own hop yards. Most are fairly limited efforts but some are substantial enough to help the breweries avoid some of the vagaries of free market hop suppliers.
Taylor Smack at Blue Mountain has several years of experience growing hops; a Tom Sawyer approach to harvesting brings volunteers to pick them every fall. The pickers get the thrill of smelling like a Double IPA for a few days….and a free lunch. Tom Barse has not only grown hops for his Milkhouse Brewery, but helped connect hop growers and other brewers in the state. Farm brewery laws in most eastern states are leading to a profusion of home-grown fresh hop beers.
Big eastern brewers are hopping on board as well. Saranac, the current identity of the well-established F.X. Matt brewery in Utica, New York, has produced a beauty. Tom Barse gave us a brief tutorial in the differences between western versions of such hops as Cascade and their eastern cousins. Saranac’s Immortality uses a blend of hops that produces a flavor that we can’t remember experiencing before. There’s some fruit and citrus, but it’s all on a leash, with complex earthy and herbal tones that make the overall hop profile, in our experience, unique. Trying to use West Coast style recipes with eastern hops has produced mixed results at best. Saranac has achieved a stylist integrity with a strong amber ale that matches its hops rather than someone else’s vision. To be able to achieve this blend in a big batch brew kettle makes it even more of an accomplishment. The Immortality was a fall 2014 beer — we haven’t had a chance to try Saranac’s 2015 fresh and locally hopped beer this year. We’re eager to find it — they surely weren’t brewing beers like this when we were at Hamilton College.
Smaller eastern brewers are already off to a good start in using local hops. We’re much looking forward to the next few years as they learn more and more how to take advantage of the distinctive qualities of hops that, much like people, bring a mix of tradition and innovation to their new environments.
- January 18, 2016, Brewdog Breeds Bars and Breweries Worldwide
- January 21, 2016 Wild Yeasts: For better or worse.