Beer Nuts

American Brewers’ Declaration: The Pursuit of Hoppiness

By JEFF LINKOUS | Jun 28, 2017
Source: Supplied Donn Hoosack, brewer and one of the founders of ManaFirkin Brewing in Stafford Township, monitors the transfer of wort (malt sugar solution).

Cheers, it’s Fourth of July. America’s 241st birthday is certainly worthy of toasting, and beer is a fitting choice when you know that some revolutionary figures – Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, for instance – had favorite beer recipes for brewing at home.

So, with that little tidbit of beer trivia in mind, let’s salute our nation’s birth and the revolution that made the divorce from Great Britain final. Let’s raise a pint to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and, while we’re at it, American brewers’ pursuit of hoppiness.

American brewers are the vanguard of the craft beer revolution, with world-renowned reputations for being brewing maniacs, extending beer frontiers, pushing style boundaries and making the beer world a dynamic place. More on that in a moment.

But back to that toast: Let’s also not forget from whence we came; let’s raise our glass and give some props to England. Though we’ve had a couple of major dust-ups with Britain (1776, 1812), those spats are history now. The U.S. and U.K. are A-OK with each other.

In fact, Blighty’s long been an indispensible ally on many fronts, even a fount of pioneering, creative inspiration for us. Laugh along to “The Office” or “Saturday Night Live” sketches, for instance; both shows have roots in British TV comedy. We get a lot of Brit ideas that find successful repurposing in American markets, millionaire quiz shows and popular dancing competitions among them.

Craft beer, too.

Early on in the American craft beer revolution, in the 1980s and ’90s, the small independent brewers began carving their niche by making beers informed by British ales and German lagers. American craft brewers copied those beers, then reinvented them, reimagining them as more robust, hops-forward beers.

That’s been especially true of the wildly popular India pale ale, the IPA, a hoppy British style that traces its long history to origins as an export beer from the U.K.; it also has a long history of being produced in the U.S. market, well before it became the mover and shaker of the current beer scene, with spinoffs such as imperial IPA, session IPA and black IPA.

“It is the best-selling craft category,” said John Holl, a New Jersey-based beer author (The American Craft Beer Cookbook) and a voice on the craft beer podcast, “Steal This Beer.” “If you’re opening a brewery these days and you don’t have an IPA, you’re doing something wrong.”

Make that an IPA or three. Craft brewers that call Southern Ocean County home – Pinelands Brewing, Ship Bottom Brewery and ManaFirkin Brewing – combined bring at least 10 IPAs to the Jersey beer scene. (Be sure to try Cobra KaiPA from ManaFirkin; Sharpshooter from Pinelands; and The Shack from Ship Bottom.)

That’s a hallmark of the industry now, said Brian Casse, sales manager for mobile canning company Iron Heart Canning. IPA makes up the lion’s share of what Iron Heart packages for its craft brewery clients throughout the mid-Atlantic, New England and South, plus compass points just west of Pennsylvania.

“We can about 85 percent IPA,” said Casse, who counts several Jersey breweries among Iron Heart’s clientele. “The rest is made up of lagers, wheats, ciders and even coffee. Those are year-round numbers, too. The IPA craze does not stop, no matter what the season.”

American craft brewers’ embrace of the IPA style followed the same arc as making the pale ales that helped launch their breweries: faithful adherence to tradition. But with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale giving beer drinkers a foundational idea – an education, even – of what hops tasted and smelled like, there became reason to flip that script: flavor.

Fast-forwarding to the modern craft beer era, IPA has practically been rebranded as an American thing, an American approach to beer, stuffing it full of hops and letting let the alcohol content climb higher than our Brit cousins traditionally would.

“I think that American brewers have redefined the style and are brewing better IPAs than the English,” said Rob Zarko, founder of Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven. “New hops that are constantly being developed in the Yakima Valley have allowed us to bring out different flavors and aromas in our beers. We can now look at the hop profile and choose what flavors and aromas we want in our beers.

“It’s starting to get really fun developing new IPAs and having people blown away while they are drinking our creations. We love being the mad scientists and are inviting people into our laboratories.”

Holl, the beer writer and a competition judge at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, said European brewers haven’t let that shift in beer drinkers’ palates go unnoticed.

“It’s interesting now that when you go into a pub in London, you’ll see Southern Hemisphere-hopped IPAs, you’ll see Pacific Northwest-hopped IPAs.”

Meanwhile, the pursuit of hoppiness knows no limits.

“You’re seeing U.S. brewers come up with all sorts of new technology … you’re seeing hop cannons and hop bursters,” Holl said, “all manner of things that are designed to get as much hop flavor out as possible.”

That quest for more flavor even starts with hop growers driven to put the next designer hop in craft brewers’ kettles.

“They’re craftsmen doing what they do, like what I’m doing with their product in my beer,” said Donn Hoosack, brewer and one of the founders of ManaFirkin Brewing in Stafford Township.

Holl agreed.

“It has brought a lot of ingenuity and inventiveness back into that area of agriculture. Everybody’s looking for the next Citra, or the next Mosaic, hop varietals that get beer geeks excited, and also have flavors that have mass appeal to people, the lively citrus of Citra, tropical fruits of Mosaic.”

“These are flavors even non-beer drinkers are aware of, can pick up in the beers and really appreciate, if they like those flavors anyway,” Holl said.

“Finding new flavors and finding new ways to make hops attractive to beer drinkers … I don’t think brewers are going to stop anytime soon.”

jeff@thesandpaper.net

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