Friday, February 15, 2008

A completely hopless situation

Ah, the good old days.
My good friend Christopher - a dedicated habitué of hops, baron of bitterness, cuckoo for beaucoup IBU - is feeling the pinch this season as our good friend humulus lupulus is in short and desperate supply. Still brewing his stable of homebrew favorites but having to substitute AAs from lesser gods of the hop pantheon with previously unknown varieties, he's feeling the pinch like the rest of us. Gone are the Fuggles, the Willamette, the Hallertauer and Hersbrucker, the Cascade and Chinook, the Saaz and Tetnang; in their place one finds Simcoe and Sorachi Ace, Cluster and Centennial, Millenium and Magnum. If they're green and bitter, we're resignedly throwing them in our kettles - even if they do sound like they were manufactured by Monsanto.

So what's the enterprising yet frugal brewer to do? Well, one option is to take a stroll in The Man's Garden and examine some bittering and flavoring options often overlooked in deference to the Reinheitsgebot that most homebrewers feel some sort of weird allegiance towards. If you're the type of homebrewer that decided to first start making a mess of your kitchen for reasons that had nothing to do with the gist of an antiquated set of laws designed to protect the use of winter wheat for use in bread-making, you've probably got a touch of the aleatoric in you. With the global harvest situation looking dire and prices climbing exponentially, it may just be the right time to let your freak flag fly.

There's plenty of reading material out there to get yourself started, too. To get started, The Homebrewer's Garden has an entire section devoted to alternative bittering and aroma herbs. You can also see this as an opportunity to try your hand at some historical styles, like gruit (yes, the beer that supposedly increases sexual drive - enjoy).

If, on the other hand, you're a more risk-averse brewer, you may just want to check what's coming down the pike from your local craft breweries to see if there's a style you'd like to emulate. (I'd bet good money that we're all going to see more low- or no-hop beers on store shelves sooner rather than later, while everyone tries to figure out some slick marketing trick that will allow them to pass the 100% increase in production costs on to us consumers.) The exceptional Williams Brothers brewery in Scotland makes a full roster of delectable historic ales (again with stimulated "animal instincts"!) the that use little or no hops. And big man on campus Sam Calagione has built almost his entire reputation upon some of Dogfish Head's crazy (yet scientifically crazy!) interpretations of ancient beers.

Meanwhile, it might be worth your while to rekindle those friendships of yours that may garner access to their sun-drenched backyards. Perhaps you could even send them a fun, conversation-starting present...

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