Friday, February 27, 2009

Mining Michael Jackson

Here's an article that I had just saved for a rainy day. Sorry, I was out a little late last night; damned Black Albert (and Don de Dieu; and Capital Amber).

As a nascent beer writer, and a lover of beer in general, the master is, of course, Michael Jackson. So, I love going back through his library of articles and reading what he had to say. As I was perusing the list, one title jumped out at me: "The Glass of '93 Blossoms Early." Based on the title, I had no idea what it would be about, but I graduated high school in 1993, so I thought I'd click through (funny how the mind works, eh?).

What I discovered is what may be the first article ever written about what we now call "Fresh Hop" beers and what Mr. Jackson called "Green Hop" beers. I wanted to point some things out that I thought were interesting, 15 years later.

"Their farm, with medieval looking buildings, is hidden behind hawthorn hedges at Risbury, north of Hereford and west of Worcester, England. They grow Goldings, a classically English variety of hop, and they also cultivate some extremely traditional sub-strains."
Knowing how the article ends, I think it is awesome that these fresh-hop beers were made with Goldings. The Golding is a mild, traditional hop with an Alpha Acid somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5% to 5.0. Brewers today couldn't be bothered.

"Trevor Holmes, head brewer at Wadworth, of Devizes in Wiltshire, was inspecting the harvest a year or two ago when he began to wonder how beer would taste if it were aromatised with hops fresh off the vine. Most working brewers love hops, and would use far more in their beer if they, or their marketing colleagues, were not worried about frightening the drinker with the flower's assertive aromas and flavours."
I love that brewers were concerned about frightening drinkers with too much hops. But there's another point here too - the Golding is so mild all they really considered was its "aromatizing" impact; there doesn't appear to be any concern for the bittering that it would impart!

"Because hops are a condiment, less than a pound of them are used in a barrel of beer."
Pay attention folks. Hops are a condiment. Less than one pound in a barrel of beer. Ha! Americans, for our IPAs, use over seven pounds per barrel.

"I can think of only one other brewery that has tried making such a 'biere nouvelle,' and that is in the far West of the United States."
This would be Sierra Nevada. I love the "biere nouvelle" - literally "new beer" or "young beer" - the Fresh Hop style, at least as made by this particular English brewery, also used malts made from winter barley which would first be available in late summer.

"The possibility of hazy beer is only one of the difficulties encountered when working with newly harvested barley and hops."
This is something that modern brewers don't seem terribly concerned about. Some at MBR HQ call this beer with "floaty bits" and it almost seems like a badge of authenticity - of rusticness. But in 1993 haziness was very definitely not a desirable trait.

"There was the lightest touch of malty sweetness to start; then a surge of cleansing, refreshing, resiny, almost orange-zest flavours; and, finally, an astonishingly late, long finish of fresh, appetite-arousing bitterness."
Or, in the case of American Fresh Hop beers: "bitter; very, very bitter; seems to be lacking any malt at all actually - faint sweetness pokes out, but the peppery bitterness is overwhelming; after the first shock, some of the citrus juiciness pokes through and provides a pleasant diversion from the mouthpuckering tartness."

By the way, where the English green hop ale was a paltry 4.5% ABV, the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale kicks in at 6.5% ABV.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I contacted you a few months ago about a cigar bar that had a bunch of breweriana. We finally launched beer week this week, so I figured you'd want to check it out:


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