relay ipa in the sun

Hello, I Love You, IPA

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, IPAs are a formative beer in the craft beer universe. Still far and away the most popular craft beer style, IPAs are known and loved for their ability to wake up the taste buds with a kick to the face of hops and bitterness. Yes, it’s an incredibly delicious kick to the face, but it’s the reason why many people love, and other hate, the mighty IPA.

IPAs are King

First, let’s get into the fact that Americans love IPA. In fact, they love IPA so much that the dollar shares of IPAs are nearly double that of the next most popular beer style on the list, Seasonal Ale. What’s interesting about this graphic from the Brewers Association is that Pale Ale is so far behind IPA on this list. It’s been a conversation in our brewery as well as many others as to what defines a Pale Ale vs. a Session IPA with different opinions coming from different brewers. In the end, it seems to be a naming choice that the individual brewer makes. While Pale Ales generally have a slightly maltier backbone than many session IPAs, this difference tends to disappear more when you get into the category of West Coast Pale Ales, which to many can seem like lower-alcohol but just-as-hoppy IPAs. This graphic highlights the reason why so many brewers decide to call their lighter IPAs “Session IPAs” because when it comes down to it, IPAs just sell better than Pale Ales.

What’s With the Origin Story?

We’ve all heard the rumors: IPAs were invented by a brewer named George Hodgson, they were high in alcohol to survive the long journey across the seas and were made for British troops to enjoy while overseas. While none of this is far off, it isn’t exactly correct either. In the late 1700s, the East India Company was shipping supplies to British forces overseas, in India, on their way to fill their ships with spices, silks and other valuables from the Far East. Here is the first inaccuracy. Even though the beer was on a boat shipping supplies to British forces, the beer wasn’t really favored by the troops, who in fact still favored porters. The beer was consumed mostly by middle and upper-class British expats in India who had been consuming Pale Ales since the 17th century.  You also might have read that IPAs came about because stouts and porters of the time were sub par beers to ship across the violent seas and they often ended up stale, spoiled or infected. But all beers ran this risk at the time, including pale ales. While hops do act as a preservative, they were no match for the more primitive means of storage and shipping that beers faced during this time and arrived spoiled just as often as darker beers. In order to expand the market, George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery decided that instead of sending a porter, they would try to send what was called an “October Beer.” This strong, pale beer was brewed at harvest time and loaded with just-picked hops to keep a fresh taste even when it was aged, sometimes for years. Apparently, the rough, ocean journey matured this beer much like it would taste after 2 years aged, so when it arrived, it was at peak flavor. The resulting brew was a hoppy success and popularized the taste for Pale Ale in India as well as back in Britain, though this style of beer wasn’t called IPA until 1835.

Double IPA = Imperial IPA

Being that Americans do everything bigger, it was only a matter of time before we started producing a super-sized IPA. While Imperial Ales, in general, have been around since the 1700s, the term “Double IPA” is quite new. It was first coined in 1994 by Blind Pig brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who was playing around with his IPA recipe and the amount of hops that were usually used in such recipes. What came out of this was a hop-bomb that excited the palates of Southern Cali craft brewers at the time and then exploded nationally.

So what’s the difference between Imperial IPAs and Double IPAs? The answer is nothing, really. Imperial, double and even triple IPAs are labels to connote more hops, more malts, and more alcohol but there is really no standard for when a brewer has to use the term or which term to use. The terms are pretty interchangeable, though double/triple is most often used in terms of IPAs here in the states. Another thing to think about is that the U.S. craft beer movement is heavily influenced by Belgian beer where there are dubbels, trippels, and quads. They also refer to the beer being a bigger version itself, with more hops, malts, and increased ABV. Their origins, like most beer history, are also somewhat murky but one theory is that it has to do with Trappist Monks marking two, three and four X’s on a bottle of beer to denote how strong it was and what number it was in a series.

The Constant Evolution

One of the coolest things about the craft beer industry is that it seems to be in a constant state of creative development and experimentation. This idea is front and center with IPAs and the ever-evolving use of hops. While most people know the big proprietary hops including Amarillo, Citra, Mosiac, Simcoe, and Warrior, there are tons of other varieties of hops out there that brewers are brewing with which create exciting new flavor profiles in IPAs. All About Beer published a piece on “Hops to Watch in 2017” that included Idaho 7, Azacca, Cashmere, Jester, and Comet (described as Citra’s little sister) varieties. To push the creativity even further, many brewers have started using Lupulin power and hop oil in their brews which only adds to the complex flavoring that a beer can provide.

In the end, while IPAs aren’t for everyone, they certainly are loved by many, if not most, craft beer consumers. So raise a pint of your favorite IPA in honor of National IPA Day (Thurs, August 2nd) and savor the flavors that evolved over the last few hundred years to get us to the delicious state of beer we are in today.

man in store looking at beer package

It’s All About the Package

While it’s no surprise that consumers, in general, are influenced by product packaging, it was certainly surprising to learn just how much craft beer packaging influences what people choose to buy. Recently, Nielsen released data on craft beer packaging and the role it plays in who ultimately purchases the beer.

It’s All About the Packaging

First of all, we found out that 70% of craft beer buyers make their decision when they get to the store vs. ahead of time. With more than 3,905 new beers on the shelf in the last year alone, it makes sense that most people wait to decide what they are getting until they get to the store and see the selection.  So what steers people to buy a specific beer the most? A nice package.

In fact, 66% of people surveyed said that they were “very likely” to buy a beer based on its packaging and label. Furthermore, 71% say they more likely to try a brand that has bold and interesting packaging. But what do people like when it comes to a beer’s label? Different features such as brand name, logo, color scheme, bottle shape and color, and the box or carrier that hold the bottles were all evaluated. Interestingly enough, the box/carrier came out on top as having the most influence, at 48%. Where the beer is produced came in second at 43%. They also found that more consumers were drawn to illustrations and logos vs. what was actually written on the labels.

Brands On Top

For the study, Nielsen tested 17 different brands that are top sellers with a nearly equal split between East Coast and West Coast beers. The brand that fared the best was Kona Brewing, which came out in the top two designs in both East and West coast demographics. Deschutes and Saint Archer rounded out the top 4 spots, after Kona’s Big Wave Golden Ale and Castaway IPA. What’s interesting is that While Kona and Deschutes are similar in their graphic, illustrative style, Saint Archer is quite different from both of these other brands. Maybe its clean cut, more modern design might help it stand out from those more illustrated styles or maybe it even speaks to a different consumer.

package of craft beer

Coming Soon…

With all of this info in mind, Thorn Brewing Co. is entering the craft-beer-can-fray. We are really excited to announce that in mid-July you will be able to get 6-packs of Thorn Brewing cans in stores and bottle shops throughout San Diego. We are starting with four of our core beers; Relay IPA, Rock the Pale Ale, Foreplay Belgian Blonde, and Barrio Baja-style Lager. Here’s a sneak peek at what they will look like…

Now, it will be even easier to take our beer on-the-go whether you are heading to the park, the beach, a friend’s BBQ or just home to enjoy a cold one. Soon the canning line will be up and running down at our Barrio Logan location and we will be able to can even more of your favorite Thorn beers.

To wrap it up, yes, labels are important when buying a beer, but don’t let that outshine what is actually in the can or bottle. We’ve said it before and we will say it again, the thing you should be the most concerned about on a bottle or can is the freshness date or bottled-on date. The beer’s freshness is likely going to be the biggest influence on how your beer tastes no matter what the style is, but this is especially true for IPAs. That’s why we will be putting freshness dates on all of our cans so that you can make sure you are getting a fresh Thorn beer no matter if it’s here at the brewery or out in stores. And for those people who don’t know just how delicious our beer is yet, hopefully, our packaging will entice them give us a try.

 

four beers in a flight enemies

The Biggest Enemies of Craft Beer

With all the recent talk of big beer attacking craft beer from the inside out, you might think that the four biggest enemies of craft beer would be the big four in macro beer. Nope, the biggest enemies of craft beer are much more subversive, extend throughout the whole industry and in some ways are easier to fight. It turns out, time, light, oxygen and temperature are the four biggest issues facing craft beer and any one of the four can undo all of the hard work the brewers put into making that beer taste delicious.

Time

The fresh-factor is one of the biggest issues facing craft beer when it comes to taste. While there are certainly some beers that are meant to be aged, like barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, and lambics, most other styles of beers are really best fresh. IPAs, pale ales, and ambers are just a few of the beers that fit into the “consume fresh” category. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love so much don’t often age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long and the malty sweetness often becomes cloying in an older IPA. Thorn Street Brewery brew master, Eric O’Connor explains it like this, “Hoppy beers need to be consumed the fastest, as the hops drop out and the lack of specialty dark malts which can lend additional balance lead to a sweet and overly malty out of balance beer.”

So how long is too long? For IPAs, it’s best to drink them in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma, and flavor. After that two-month period, this harmony can fall out of balance. Sometimes the imbalance isn’t horrible or that off-putting, but it’s also not the intended experience from the brewer.

This is why it’s so important for breweries to put “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates on their packaging. Next time you are at your local shop looking for a beer to take home, start checking dates. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your packaged beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are probably good to go. If you are buying it from a random store in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time and it’s best to be wary.

Light

Light is another thing that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.

Oxygen

While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that dreaded “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer.

Temperature

Last but not least, temperature can be a killer of good tasting beer. The 3-30-300 rule has been conventional wisdom in the craft beer world for some time. While who commissioned the research is somewhat hazy (Ninkasi just says “a brewery,” while Mad Tree Brewery says the info comes from macro beer), the science is real and what was uncovered was that when it comes to storing beers, in 3 days at 90°F  you would get the same age-related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

The best thing to do is keep your beer cold. While you can’t control how the beer is stored before it gets to you, and in fact, it’s likely it has already been up to room temperature a few times, you can only do so much when it comes to being vigilant. Some aging of the beer is expected and adjusted for in brewing recipes. Higher temperatures will just speed up that process past the, “oh this taste different but still good” to “WTF happened to this beer?” Just please don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a surefire way to skunk it. Furthermore, be wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits and warms them higher than 70 degrees on a daily basis. Based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! Luckily, for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. There is nothing better than freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was recently kegged.

Likewise, a good rule of thumb when you go to a bar or a restaurant is to ask the bartender which kegs were tapped recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer.

To recap, drink your beer as fresh as possibly, keep cold, buy cans when possible, and if you want the best beer experience, walk down to your local brewery for a fresh pint.

craft beer sign for trends

Year in Review: 2016 San Diego Beer Trends

Recently, the Brewer’s Association put out their Year in Review infographic for 2016 showing national beer trends. Here’s the breakdown of the info that they provided: There are now 5005 active breweries in the U.S. and craft beer has grown 8% year-over-year. IPAs account for 1/4 of sales in Craft Beer making it the most dominant style, though 65% of craft beer lovers say that they drink craft because it offers a wider variety of styles than traditional beer. We are shipping more craft beer abroad than ever before, and Portland was named #1 on the Beer Tourism Index (we already have talked about our disdain of the Beer Tourism Index).

None of this is particularly surprising so we thought we would do our own Year in Review and look at some of the beer trends we saw coming out of 2016 that interest us and how they impact the San Diego craft beer community.

Hazy IPAs

2016 was the year that hazy, New England-style IPAs jumped onto the national beer scene making its way to the West Coast. For years, Vermont breweries like The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead have been brewing these juicy, hazy, hoppy IPAs, with the whisperings of this unfiltered brew making their way to the West Coast. Lucky for IPA lovers like us, the style is now appearing all over San Diego beer menus. From Modern Times’ Blam Blam, to beers from Abnormal, Knotty Brewing and even Stone, New England is making itself known as a distinct style here in SD. Pure Project has some of the best SD examples of this style with their Murklands IPA, a hazy pale ale with Citra hops and Murk of the Beast brewed with Nelson, Citra and Mosiac hops. Both are delicious, juicy (as they say) and a delicious turn in the world of IPAs. Even more exciting, keep an eye out for our recent collab brew with Pizza Port of, you guessed it, a hazy IPA!

SD Loves It In The Can

Cans have made a big impact on the SD beer scene this in 2016. Many breweries are choosing to add cans to their offerings or (like we will be doing) going to canning altogether. Coronado Brewing, 32 North, Novo Brazil and Stone are just a few of the breweries who have gotten in the can-game this year. Why cans over bottles? First, they are better for the environment. They are lighter and more compact to ship than bottles, allowing for more to go in each shipment and requiring less fuel to move them. This lowers transportation costs as well as their impact on the environment. Also, cans are recycled at a much higher rate than bottles with cans containing on average 40% recycled material compared to the 27% average in bottles.

Another reason why many breweries have moved to canning is that cans are a superior package to bottles when it comes to preserving the quality of beer. Head Brewer here at Thorn Street Brewery, Scott Smith, explained it simply, “No air, no light…cans are just better for the beer.” Light and oxygen are two factors that play a crucial role in the flavor of the beer, so if they are better controlled with canning, then that means less waste and less of a chance that someone’s going to get a skunked beer.

Slow Growth for Big Craft Beer

San Diego was not immune to the reported slowdown in craft beer sales that we saw this year. While 8% growth is considered quite good in most industries, it’s down from the double-digit growth the industry has enjoyed for the last number of years. Nationwide, Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co.) is struggling, with sales falling from 5% in the first two quarters of 2016 to 8% in the third quarter. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have also experienced their sales dropping this year and Stone Brewery had to lay off 5% of their workforce recently because of less-than-projected-growth.

This is a case of bigger is not always better. In fact, if you removed the biggest craft beer breweries, Boston Beer, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada from the data set, craft sales would actually be up 16% mid-year according to Brewbound. People are turning to more local, more independent beers. Even in the case of Stone, which is local to San Diego, they are getting hurt by people turning to hyper-local breweries to get their craft beer fix. People want the beer that was brewed in their hood, which brings us to our next point…

More Neighborhood Breweries

We love a good neighborhood brewery. Neighborhood breweries are walkable, bikable and surrounded by great restaurants, shops and other things that you can’t get in a business park. 2016 saw more and more breweries in San Diego opening their doors closest to your front door! Barn Brewing in North Park and the long awaited North Park Beer Co. both opened in 2016 along with Burning Beard and Finest Made in El Cajon and Santee respectively. While it’s completely understandable why business parks are the homes of big breweries pushing out thousands of kegs a year, we love the trend of neighborhood breweries opening too. A closer UBER ride is always a good thing!

What beer trends did we miss? Let us know on FB or in the comments here!

embroidered sign that says Be Hoppy to make you happy

Happy Thoughts About Craft Beer

The presidential election is finally over and boy was it was a doozy. No matter how you voted, many people are left today with what we like to call an “election hangover.” Well, we have the perfect panacea. While there might be a lot of fear and negativity in your Facebook newsfeed, here are four big reasons why you should feel good about craft beer.

Tap Rooms Everywhere

With more than 4,269 craft breweries in the U.S., chances are there is a brewery not that far from where you are right now. In fact, 78% of adults live within 10 miles of a craft brewery! That means more than 2/3 of the American people (of drinking age) live withing a short drive or UBER ride away from craft beer bliss. That’s certainly something to celebrate.

More Choices Than Ever

There are more than 155 beer styles documented by the Brewers Association. Before the craft beer movement, the number of available styles was much more limited. American beers were typically lagers and light ales with a stout thrown in for good measure. But with the incredible number of breweries listed above, the competition for market share is fierce and competition drives creativity. Small, independent breweries have not only brought back older European styles that haven’t seen the light of day for years, but they have created their own (hello, modern IPA!) styles that show the true innovative spirit of craft beer.

Craft Beer Supports Local Communities

Craft breweries are often deeply embedded within their local communities. This is evident in the 2014 stat showing that craft breweries donated $71 million to charities, most within their own communities. This adds up to $3.35 per barrel produced going to charities. That is no small number, especially when compared with the reported 35 cents per barrel that AB InBev donates to charity.

Craft Beer Boosts the Economy

While it may seem obvious that craft beer has helped to boost our country’s economy, the numbers are really staggering. Craft beer has contributed more than $55 billion to the U.S. economy and put 424,000 people to work. Not only that, but craft beer is an integral part of many community’s tourism. San Diego Beer Week is a perfect example of this as we see our city flooded with craft beer lovers from other cities, states, and even countries. This brings in much-needed money to our local economy when they stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and drink at our bars and breweries.

So turn that frown upside down…or keep on celebrating. Either way, craft beer will be there for you.

Cheers!

Picture of a goblet of Fornication Golden Strong Ale sitting on a wood table in a brewery

Craft Beer’s Fresh Factor

Craft Beer’s Fresh Factor

We’ve all been there. You get home after a hard day at work, looking forward to cracking open a cold beer and settling into the night. Reaching into the fridge, you grab your favorite beer and take the first swig, realizing something’s just not right. The flavor is off and maybe a dull sweetness is coming through. Unfortunately, your beer has got that ‘not-so-fresh feeling.’

In previous blogs, we have talked about how age, heat, light, and oxygen are killers of taste when it comes to beer. Today, we are going to look at freshness and why it’s important in craft beer. First of all, there are many beers that are meant to be aged including barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, lambics and more. Though aging conditions are pretty strict in order to get the proper taste, these aren’t the beers we are talking about today.

IPAs, pale ales, ambers and lagers are just a few of the beers that are best consumed fresh. As a general rule, beers around 5% or under don’t age well unless a secondary fermentation is going on. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love them for just don’t age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long. A malty sweetness of IPAs often becomes cloying in an older IPA.

What’s too long?

Here’s a good rule of thumb: IPAs are best in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma and flavor. Simply put, after that it falls out of balance. Sometimes that imbalance isn’t horrible or that off putting, but it’s not the intended experience. When people pay top dollar for craft beer, they should be getting a delicious beer.

So what can you do to make sure your beer tastes the best it can? Here’s three things to keep in mind when selecting your beer of choice…

Check Dates

For those beers that are bottled and canned, many breweries are now putting on “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates. Check before you buy. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have  freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your bottled beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are good to go. If you are buying it from a random 7/11 in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time.

Drink at the Source

Luckily for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! There is nothing better than a freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was just kegged. They will always be the most delicious and you will be able to taste the intricacies and notes that the brewers worked so hard to put in the brew.

A good rule of thumb when you go to a bar is to ask the bartender which kegs were just put on recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer. Luckily, most bars go through beer fast enough to where a keg is pretty much always going to taste good, as long as their lines are clean.

Keep it Cold

Have you ever heard of the 3-30-300 rule? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. Basically, it’s been found that in 3 days at 90°F  you could get the same age related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

Simply put, keep your beer cold!! Sure, by the time you get the six pack of beer home from the store, it’s probably already been up to room temp a few times and it’s going to taste just fine. Just don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a sure way to skunk it. Furthermore, be VERY wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits them and warms them higher than 70ish degrees. Now, we aren’t suggesting that as long as you keep your beer refrigerated it can keep for almost a year. However, based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Happy hunting for the freshest beer around!


Say Yes to Craft Beer in the Can

ShowImage

Photo from Comacgroup.com

Whether or not beer is better in the bottle or the can is a hotly debated issue among craft beer enthusiasts. There is no denying craft beer in cans have been sweeping the industry since they broke out of their mass-produced, beer rut after being seen as lower-brow than bottles for years. More and more breweries are offering their beer in cans along with bottles, and many breweries are choosing to only can their beer. With so many “can” puns available to us, let’s take a look at some of the real reasons why getting it in the can is better…

First let’s break down the love affair that many breweries have with cans. There are two main reasons why canning might be chosen over bottling for a beer. Cans are better for the environment for a few different reasons. They are lighter and more compact to ship than bottles, allowing for more to go in each shipment and requiring less fuel to move them. This lowers transportation costs as well as their impact on the environment. Also, cans are recycled at a much higher rate than bottles. Cans contain on average 40% recycled material compared to the 27% average in bottles.

Another reason why many breweries have moved to canning is that cans are a superior package to bottles when it comes to the beer. Head Brewer here at Thorn Street Brewery, Scott Smith, explained it simply, “No air, no light, cans just better for the beer.” Light and oxygen are two factors that play a crucial role in the flavor of the beer, so if they are better controlled with canning, then that means less waste and less of a chance that someone’s going to get a skunked beer.

Consumers have been embracing the craft beer in a can trend because they are lighter, stronger, and can be taken places like beaches, pools, golf courses, and parks with less of an issue than bottles. But does the beer taste the same? Smith says, “Yes. It tastes exactly the same.” Blind taste tests that were done pretty much agreed, but when the tests were not blind, some drinkers tended to perceive a bottled beer tasting better than cans.

duff-beer

Here at Thorn Street Brewery we will be canning our beer within the next year because it’s better for the beer, better for the brewery and in the end, better for you guys, the beer drinkers.

Tell us what you think about beer in cans vs. bottles? Do you have a preference? Do you taste a difference and are you ready to take it in the can?

Anna Brigham

5/25/16


All About the Hops: Hop Shortage on the Horizon

7964387124_6db8248822_z

Hops are a hot commodity these days. With the hop-heavy, craft beer industry booming world-wide, hop farmers are feeling the pressure. Not only are there more breweries than ever, with 620 hop-seekers opening up in the last year alone, but IPA, the most popular  style of craft beer, uses up to six times the hops that other beers use. As if that weren’t enough, according to the International Hop Growers Convention, due to the extreme heat and dryness of last summer, the European hop market shrunk by 27%. Hops thrive in lots of sunlight, moderate temperatures and moisture. With two of these factors being insufficient, it caused what many industry insiders are calling “the worst crop for the central European hop industry within decades.” It’s feared that if the European hop market doesn’t get at least an average harvest this year, there could be a serious global hop shortage on the horizon.

With the rise of demand, hop farming is sure to expand, but since a hop crop takes 3 years to mature for harvest, there will likely be a pinch in the market the next couple of years. Furthermore, areas like New Zealand, responsible for the delicious Nelson Sauvin and Matueka hops, have no more room to expand their hop farming industry, further limiting the already tight hop market.

So hops are hard to come by because of poor crops and a sharp increase in demand, but was does this mean for the average craft beer consumer? Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom…

1. Hop Contracts Are King

Most breweries have hop contracts which are generally set out for several years. Even small breweries like Thorn have hop contracts, so the pinch is really going to be felt at brand new breweries and brewers looking to get in the industry. Ideally, if someone is thinking about opening a brewery, they are procuring their hop contract 3 years before they even open. When they can’t do that, then they have to beg, borrow and steal to get the hops they need for their brews, while building relationships with new and existing hop farmers to get a hop contract when the supply allows for it. Higher demand means higher prices and for those breweries that don’t have a hop contract that can translate into a higher cost that will likely be passed down to consumers.

2. No Hops? No Problem

The silver lining with this looming hop shortage is that brewers will get have to get creative to fill their brew schedules and taps. Sure that means seeing less IPAs at your local watering hole, but it also means seeing and increase in different styles. Look for more cask beers, wheat beers, lagers, porters and pilsners to make an appearance. Here at Thorn Street Brewery our beers using the lowest amount of hops are Foreplay Belgian Blonde, which derives much of its flavor from yeast and Castaway Coconut Porter and Santos Coffee Stout, which both lean on their dark and toasty malts for flavor. On the other end of the scale, our hoppiest beer, The Menace IIPA, uses an immense amount of hops, clocking in at around 4 lbs of hops per barrel. One barrel is equal to two 15-gallon kegs, so in a 7-barrel batch, yielding 14 kegs, our brewers are stirring in more than 28 lbs of hops per brew of The Menace. This is part of the reason why this beloved beer isn’t available all the time; it’s expensive!

3. The Rise of the Sours

Sours have always been popular with hardcore craft beer connoisseurs, but we expect them to become even more prevalent on beer boards across the industry. This is because casked beers like sours derive flavor from the aging process. The acidity and bitterness that is often brought into a beer by hops is instead aged into the beer, giving a depth of flavor and a delightful tartness. Also expect to see more fruit beers like lambics along with yeast driven beers like many Belgian styles to make regular appearances on craft beer boards.

When it’s all said and done, for many small and emerging breweries without hop contracts, the forecast for hops looks bleak. However, even breweries with contracts can fall victim to poor harvests from increasing global temperatures. We aren’t worried though…even though the next couple of years might be light on hops, we expect them to be rife on creativity and exciting new brews that use different means to impart flavor and bitterness.


Celebrity Brews: Famous Faces in Craft Beer

It seems as though the celebrity products are popping up everywhere these days. They offer up their names to endorse all sorts of products from make-up, to clothing, to restaurants, to fitness regimens. It only seems fitting that they would get into the craft beer industry too and who can really blame them? They like drinking good beer, they want to learn more about the process and they have lots of money…seems like a solid plan. Here are five celebrities with skin in the craft beer game along with average beer drinkers opinions on the whether or not the beers are worth trying…

1. Hanson Brothers – Hanson Brothers Beer Company

1379106310-hanson

Sure these three count for one on our list, but they seem to operate as a unit both in and outside of music. This trio from the 90’s is responsible for the infectious pop song, MmmBop which was stuck in your head pretty much all of 1997. Though they never found that same sweet success of their first album, in more recent years these brothers have been trying their hand at brewing. Hanson Brothers Beer Company is based in Tulsa, OK, and the boys take their brewing seriously. Their flagship beer is beautifully named, Mmm Hops Pale Ale, has been around for a few years now and they are recently expanding their beer line to include Inland Porter.

The Skinny:

According to Beer Advocate reviewers this 7.2% American Pale Ale scores a 79 and receives an “Okay” rating. For comparison, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale received a 91 on BA. Comments include, “Tastes of sweet malt, slight hops, pale malt, and a hint of yeast. Overall, poor appearance, weak aroma, weak body, and poor blend.” and “If you don’t like the flavor of IPAs but want to drink them anyways, this is the beer for you. Super malty–hits the mouth like a bottle of soy sauce.”

2. Adrian Grenier – Churchkey Can Company

Churchkey_beer

Best known for his role as Vincent Chase in HBO’s Entourage, Adrian Grenier branched off into craft beer in 2012 when he founded brewery, Churchkey Can Company with a good friend and they tapped a couple of home brewers to bring their beer vision to life.  The whole deal there at this Seattle brewery is that their beer comes in a flat-top can which has to be opened with a metal component called a churchkey. This uber-hipster opening method is definitely something that fell by the wayside once can pop-tops were invented, but Churchkey Can Company is intent on bringing it back with the tagline, “It’s worth the effort.”

The Skinny:

Their flagship beer (aka the only beer they brew) is called Churchkey Pilsner Style Beer and it received a 81 on Beer Advocate, garnering it a “good” rating. Comment for this beer include, “Overall kind of an average pilsner out of a novel can.” and ” Taste is smooth clean and very straightforward. Very decent for a pilsner. And loving the church key open method.”

3. Wil Wheaton – Stone Farking Wheaton W00tstout

2015_w00tstout

Wil Wheaton is best known for his late 80’s role in Stand By Me and a bunch of movies/TV after that you probably don’t remember. He’s always held a certain fan-boy style fame, wielding his nerd crown all around cyberspace, interacting with fans on sites like Reddit, regularly. Let’s get down to the beer though. This self professed “beer geek” partnered together with Drew Curtis and Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and together they came up with Stone Farking Wheaton Wootstout. This beer has been brewed every year since 2013 with the 2015 batch being a barrel aged version.

The Skinny:

This 13% ABV beer gets rave reviews on Beer Advocate, getting a sweet 90 rating from beer reviewers. Comments range from, “A flavorful and powerful stout, although the very high ABV is evident throughout, at least until it kicks in and you go numb,” to “Simply bitter and sweet together in perfect harmony. Full coating of gorgeous black tar. Too bad it isn’t an every day brew.” The moral of the story for other celebrities looking to get into craft beer is to start out partnering with a great brewery and move on from there.

4. Tom Green – The Tom Green Beer

is-the-world-ready-for-tom-green-beer

We might be really stretching to call Canadian talk show host, and former Mr. Drew Barrymore a celebrity, but we still have love for this weird dude. Green collaborated with Canadian brewery Beau’s to bring you this namesake milk stout. This quote pretty much tells you everything you need to know…

‟This is The Tom Green Beer,
It’s not The Green Tom Beer,
This is my favourite beer,
Because it is my beer.”

– Tom Green

The Skinny:

This milk stout receives a solid 84 on Beer Advocate with critics saying, “Good creamy stout that showcases a dark velvety foam, chocolate coffee flavor balanced by the lactic sweetness,” and “Overall, I like this beer. Worth checking out, maybe even getting a twelve pack of, but not a case; unless that case is cheap.”

5. President Obama – White House Honey Ale

Yes, we consider President Obama something of a celebrity. With those dazzling, pearly whites being flashed all around, one might forget that he is, for the moment, the leader of the free world who is also the first president to brew beer in the White House. White House Honey Ale was brewed with honey from the White House hives, in their kitchen with a home brew kit that Obama bought in 2012. He hasn’t wasted any time with other styles either, and has brewed two more styles with his home brew kit, White House Honey Blonde Ale and White House Honey Porter.

The Skinny:

Since this was never commercially produced we don’t have a Beer Advocate score to go by, however we do have the recipe for you here if you want to try out this presidential brew yourself…

wh_beer_recipe_honey_ale_2


Sake to Me: Not rice wine…rice beer!

Sake is an ancient, fermented beverage, known throughout the world as the perfect accompaniment to sushi and other Japanese fare. When asked about sake, most people will tell you it’s a “rice wine.” Well, most people happen to be wrong, because sake is not technically wine and, in fact, is much closer to beer. Simply put, wine is made by converting the sugars naturally found in grapes to alcohol through the process of fermentation. Beer is made by converting the starches found in grains into sugar, and then fermenting them into alcohol. Sake uses this same method of conversion, using rice that has been polished to remove the bran, instead of barley or wheat which is most often used in beer production.

b9b84c2e-6162-491d-ac5f-cc3aae3bfbb7

There is a difference between how sake is made vs. how beer is made, however, and it has to do with an enzyme called, koji. Koji is a very special fungus used throughout asian cooking to ferment things like soy sauce, rice vinegars, fermented bean paste and alcoholic beverages. This enzyme allows the conversion from starch to sugar as well as the fermentation to happen in one step, rather than the two steps used when brewing beer.

So why does everyone call sake, rice wine? It has more to do with the countless different styles and types of sake than anything else. Also, many sake flavors are more similar to wine than beer because of their sugar content and taste. Overall alcohol content also plays a part in the perception of sake. There is a reason why those teeny-tiny cups are used to consume it. Whereas the average ABV of most beer is somewhere between 3%-10%, the average ABV on sake is much higher at 18%-20%. Wine ABVs are usually between 5%-16% so they are much closer in strength to sake.

Often, when the sake is bottled, water is added to the brew to make it more palatable. Speaking of taste, one of the crucial factors to how sake tastes is in the amount of rice milled to make it. The more milled or “polished” the rice is, the more delicate and clear the flavor of the sake is. Polishing the rice takes time and therefore costs more man-hours when making certain types of sake, raising the their quality and price.

What does all of this have to do with beer? Well, sake and beer are perfect companions and here at Thorn Street Brewery we are super excited to be offering a Sake and Beer pairing coming up on April 10th. Saiko Sake and Sushi Bar in North Park collaborated with us to bring you three different sake and beer pairings. The complex flavor profiles of sakes vary just as much as beer flavors do, so the opportunity to pair the two is truly endless. Here are the pairings we have so far…

Relay IPA with Chrysanthemum Meadow
Castaway Coconut Porter with Cranes of Dewa Kimoto
Abbey Wall Belgian Style Dubbel with Tears of Dawn

There is also a very special sake bomb made by the mad-sake-scientists at Saiko called the Saiko Bomb. They somehow wrap Beautiful Lily Honjozo sake in a gelatin bubble and when you place it in the Tropic Daze IPA and drink it, the sake bursts in your mouth like a delicious piece of fruit. You need to be on the 50 person list to get one of these, but if people who reserved their bomb don’t show up within the first hour of the event, we are releasing them to the general public, so make sure to get on the waiting list when you get here! Here’s a link to the FB event for more info…Kampei!

22fb52d2-c316-4dc2-9f35-04121a7cf62d