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  • Beer, Food... Together

    Lately, dinner around Juicebox Acres has been an exercise in classy dining with winter season vegetables. Squash, beets, chard, etc, and I have also been very into big, hoppy beers since the weather has turned here in Colorado a couple weeks ago, it's cold and dark outside and some very nice food pairings have been blossoming in my kitchen.

    Dinner from Monday night: a red chard, bacon and rice goulash (thank you Rachael Ray (she calls it Red Chard and Rice (and she also calls it a side dish, we went main course and put our own spin on it with beer and brown rice))).


    Yep, I know goulash is typically a noodle dish but I had no better way to describe this and I didn't like Red Chard and Rice. We fried up five or six slices of bacon that had been cut up into "bits". A few minutes of browning happened and then we threw in some garlic and let that cook up too.  Then comes the chard, 1 bunch, stemmed, rough chopped, dropped into the pan. As the chard is carrying on, take this time to spice the whole deal with a little nutmeg, salt, pepper and paprika (of the Hungarian variety (another reason to call it goulash)). Let this cook until the chard has a chance to wilt and heat through. Before starting the bacon we steamed up some brown rice and put it to the side. Now that the chard and bacon and everything is cooked, throw the done rice in, add some chicken stock and a little hoppy beer just to wet everything down and let it simmer for a little while.  Once the liquid is all soaked up put it in a bowl that also contains a fork and crack a Fresh Hop IPA. The bursting citrus of the hops in the beer go well with the savory nature of this dish. While not the spiciest dinner (typical IPA pairing is with spicy food), the richness of the bacon and chard use the hop oils to their advantage and the bitterness of the beer compliments the earthy nature of the chard. A major dinner success.

    Then we have last nights dinner: butternut and beet soup with a yogurt and cilantro sauce-like-topper.

    We took this recipe from food blogger extraordinaire Foy in her regularly updated- Foy Update. I would normally take this time to explain how we cooked the dish but Foy does that task so well I better leave it to her, so follow the link above and take in her wonderful descriptions and pictures. I will, however, take this time to talk about the Ranger IPA pairing that we served with it. This soup is a bit sweet and a bit spicy. The yogurt sauce has Siracha in it and the beet and ginger in the base soup make for a wonderful juxtaposition of toothsome and hot. This two part flavor plays right into the hands of Ranger IPA. The bitterness in match with the citrus and maltiness of this beer offer the fun two parter as well. The hops play with the spice and the malt plays with the sweet. The citrus flavors compliment the ginger and the lingering slickness of the soup is cut through by the dryness of the Ranger.  Really, a great pair. You should try it (and you should read the Foy Update more regularly, maybe my favorite food blog).

    These hoppy beers and these late harvest veggies are making for a great dinner-time-hours and eating and drinking (at least close) to seasonally is a wonderful challenge. I never thought I liked chard, turns out I do (especially with bacon).


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  • Fresh Hop IPA, Part 2

    Following up Kenny's, Fresh Hop IPA, part one post from Tuesday is going to be a challenge, but I think this is Juicebox's time to shine.  So let's get right after it.

    Let me introduce Fresh Hop IPA, Part 2-

    It was a Sunday Morning, I was sleepy and hungry but alas, duty called.  I had been calling over to the Brewhouse all morning trying to get an ETA for the hops arrival and I was finally told (after much pestering) that the first brew had been mashed in at 10am and the hop truck was south of Laramie, Wy (which, by all mapping standards, is pretty close).  I grabbed the camera and cruised over to the brewery.  The plan was that a few of us would be needed and needing to show up at the designated hour to unload the reefer truck and hand carry the bags and boxes of fresh hops up to the hatch on the lauter tun, which would be used for hopbacking purposes.  When I looked at that truck full of hops my back started hurting and my hands got really chapped (I am, some how, allergic to actual labor) but with the help of some trusty co-workers we started carrying stuff and I felt instantly better, as a box of fresh hops looks heavy, but in reality, it's not that bad.

    The fresh hop bill went like this, a whole bunch of wet Amarillo, then a mess of wet Centennials, and finally a large helping of wet Cascades.  As we carried we had to make sure that the boxes that were being pulled off the truck were, in fact, the right boxes.  We had enough fresh hops for four brews, but we wanted to leave the hops for the later brews in the cooling air of the reefer truck, so planning as we were lifting was required.  But no big deal, Alex (the maiden of fresh hop logistics) was on hand, she directed and we carried.  Upon getting all the boxes up to the top of the lauter it was only a few minutes before the dumping had to commence.  The 6 of us lending a hand started to goof off (as expected) and we decided to fresh hop a few Blue Paddles to sip on as we were waiting.  Now Blue Paddle is one of my favorites.  It's a pilsener with the nice refreshing bite of hops, not to much, just a subtle bitterness.  Someone thought it a grand idea (it may have been me) to unload a couple wet hops from the boxes and toss them into a globe glass of Paddle.  Now I understand that no heat was going to be applied for alpha-acid extraction and the time frame of stuffing a couple hop cones into a beer and then drinking said beer would not be enough time impart much hoppiness in a cold environment either, but I figured it would at least make a good picture and then we could drink the beer (a win-win in my book).  And look, the picture came out pretty cool and almost everyone finished their hop-floating Blue Paddle during our goof off time. 

    As we were tipping back the final sips of our first beer break we got the charge. Someone yelled "pour them hops into that hatch" and everyone jumped into action.  Bag after bag, box after box of fresh, 18 hour old Yakima-born wet hops were poured right into our Colorado-located lauter tun.  Again, as Kenny described in part one, the brew would be mashed in, lautered, boiled and then sent back to the lauter tun where a bed of fresh hops would be waiting for the hot and steamy wort.  We were pouring these hop flowers in the lauter tun just as the boil was just finishing.  It was only going to take 10 or 15 minutes to soak in that hoppy flavor in the lauter (turned hopback) so our window (as with the rest of this project) was pretty small.  We were dumping as fast as we could to build that beautiful (and comfortable looking) bed of fresh hop flowers.  The lauter tun has a big rake in it that is normally used to keep the grain bed level during right when the rake got firingits normal duties, but during the fresh hopping segment of the brew the rake was employed to level out the hops and it worked great. The rake was spinning and the final couple of boxes were poured in and we locked the hatch.  Soon after the hatch was closed and lock the freshly boiled wort came flooding in.  It was a sight to see, all steamy and green and awesome.  It was also really funny to step back and watch six grown adults all fighting over the view into a very small window, it was like a bunch of kids at Disney World shoving at each other to get a better look through the glassy bottomed boat.  It really was beer making at its finest and I was happy to be there. 

    As soon as the hop soak was done and the wort left the lauter it headed for the chiller before going straight into the cellar for the yeast pitch and brew one was done.  We all high-fived.  As the high fives were going off the unmistakable sound of barley filling the wet mill filled our ears.  That sound meant the next brew was starting and it was only a few more bits until the next load of boxes needed to come upstairs for the fresh hop dumping and the reality hit... we were going to be doing this all day.

    The time frame dubbed "several weeks later" is now upon us and Fresh Hop IPA is on tap towers and store shelves in markets abound, but what does this beer taste like.  Well it is an IPA, and a bold one at that.  The nose is full of orange peel and a fresh, woods-i-ness that can only come from American hops.  It has strong, sharp bitterness in flavor and a bold, enjoyable bite on the tongue.  This is a great beer, and  very drinkable at 70 IBU's. Fresh Hop IPA is strongish at 7% ABV and has that wonderful greenness of a good fresh hopped beer.

    Overall the process to make a fresh hop beer on a big scale in Colorado is difficult, but not impossible.  Inspiration, hard work and the love of hoppy beers were all driving forces to bring this beer to you.  Was it worth it?  Drink some, and you tell me...


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  • Let Me Introduce Fresh Hop IPA, Part 1.

    The newest Lips of Faith, Fresh Hop IPA is here, packaged up and ready for you to drink.   This beer took a lot of work, timing and logistics from a lot of people.  My New Belgium co-worker, Kenny Bloggins, lives and works up in the Seattle area and when he heard that a fresh hop beer was in the works he called me up with the idea of a co-blog-eration (that's a pun on collaboration (get it?)) with the fresh hopping of Fresh Hop IPA.  Kenny's idea was that he would head down to the hop harvest, shoot some photos and write up a report.  Then I would be at the brewery when the hops showed up (for the beer making) and I would shoot some photos and write up a report from this end, a two piece blog-extravaganza (like the White Stripes (but beer writing not music making))!  So today is part one- the harvest and hop story as told by Mr. Bloggins.  Part two will be the brewing and drinking of Fresh Hop IPA by yours truly, and it will follow this coming Thursday. 


    So here is Part One.  Take it away Kenny-


    For the second year in a row, I’ve been fortunate enough to join some of our production & raw materials procurement staff for hop selection in Yakima, WA. From Seattle where I live, it’s an easy jaunt over Snoqualmie Pass to “the East Side” where nearly all of North America’s hops production & hops-related business takes place.  This year’s trip was a little different than last year’s however, as the impetus for this visit, which happened right in the heart of the harvest, was to select batches of as yet un-harvested hops to be used in a new Lips Of Faith beer, a Fresh Hop IPA.  A big group of NBB folks are still slated to come out to Yakima for the “normal” selection in a couple weeks, once harvest of all the varieties is complete, but this particular trip was all about the Amarillo, Centennial & Cascade varieties, all of which had just come into maturity & were ready for harvest. 

    NBB raw materials buyer, Alex Jesse, had the awesome – & awesomely difficult – task of coordinating with two suppliers – Roy Farms & Gamache Farms – as well as with logistics folks & our production team to fine tune the whole process of selecting, harvesting, transporting & ultimately baptizing these beautiful, fragrant flowers into an in-process brew.  Joining her on this adventure was our assistant brewmaster & main beer-builder, Grady Hull. Together with the growers, we would hand-select the best lots of these three varieties to be harvested & sent back to the Mothership for our Fresh Hop IPA.

    As I left Seattle under a cool, gray marine layer & made my way eastward, it was impossible not to reflect upon the unique geographic & climatic conditions that make the PNW such a productive & dynamic agricultural region.  Climbing up the west side of the Cascades, the Pacific moisture clung in dense masses to the steep fir & cedar-studded slopes of the surrounding mountains.  As I topped-out at the pass, shafts of sunlight began poking through the cloud cover, revealing bright blue skies to the east. Such is the way of the rain shadow.  The Yakima Valley is a 6,000 square mile expanse of high desert known to beer lovers for its hops production, but to Washingtonians it’s also synonymous with wine grapes, apples, cherries, apricots, peaches & corn, among other delights (such as applets & cotlets).  Driving through the Valley this time of year, you see all of these as far as the eye can see, but your olfactory sense is dominated by the pungent aroma of hops.   A combination of excellent arable soil, a fortunate situation in the rain shadow of the Cascades, a northern latitude that provides super long summer days, & it’s proximity to the Yakima river for irrigation, is the reason the Valley is such an agricultural powerhouse.

    Our Amarillo supplier, the Gamache Family, has been farming in the Valley for 5 generations.  Pulling up to the farm can feel a bit like stepping back in time, as I’m sure it looked much the same fifty or a hundred years ago, with it’s neatly cropped lawn, vintage farm trucks & whitewashed barns & production buildings.  And man, that beautiful aroma is so intoxicating!  For the most part, anyone working in the fields or at the picking facility would be covered in a thick, fragrant layer of bright green dust.  On the day I arrived, we spent most of our time with Darren Gamache, who’s currently at the helm of production on the farm.  He’s not only a brilliant agricultural technician with a PhD to prove it, but he’s also extremely passionate about craft beer & the role his product plays in our labor of love. As a beer lover, homebrewer & lifelong hops farmer, he has a unique and intimate understanding of what the hops consumer is looking for, & said without the slightest trace of humor or irony, “I just want to help people make better beer.”  Much like brewing itself, there’s both an art & a science to farming. Darren clearly relies on both.  From the design of his state-of-the-art custom-built production facility, to countless hours spent on futuristic hardware & software in the lab examining materials samples from his crops to parse out all of the compounds & their associated properties, Darren is very devoted to the science of hops production.  While you & I might say, “Cascades tend to be grassy, citrusy & a little bit like grapefruit,” Darren would talk about Cascade’s inherent polyphenols & concentrations of myrcene & other compounds, how they differ from, say, Centennials or Citras, & exactly what they all contribute to its aromatics.  On the other hand, where the rest of the hops production industry relies on “dry matter analysis” of hops to determine harvest readiness, Darren says with a smirk, “I just use my nose.”  His love for the craft beer industry drives him to propagate & keep alive varieties that are not in demand & will not make money, but due to slumping production trends in the UK, could foreseeably be lost forever to the American brewer.

    Amarillo hops are a hot domestic variety whose flavor/aroma profile usually contains descriptors like “citrus”, “orange”, “grapefruit”. Lesser known is the story behind the development of this variety – it was a total fluke.  A rogue plant was found growing in one of the Gamache fields. It looked different, & upon further inspection it certainly smelled different.  This can happen when a random male plant growing as a weed nearby to female crop plants accidentally pollinates a female, yielding an unintended hybrid.  Darren’s sensory perceptiveness is so astute that he recognized this variation immediately & he really liked what he smelled. Lab analysis confirmed it actually was different.  It takes time to build up a crop from one plant, but that’s exactly what the Gamaches did.  Now Amarillo is a trademarked variety & a household term amongst commercial craft brewers & homebrewers alike. 

    We spent most of our time touring the fields & the facility with Darren, smashing hop cones in our hands & inhaling the delicious vapors through our noses, trying to suss out which lots were the best for our beer.  A damn fine way to spend a day! 

    …which brings us back to the whole reason for the visit – the Fresh Hop IPA.  So, what’s so special or  different about harvesting for a Fresh Hop (or “wet hop”) beer? Unless you’re making a Fresh Hop beer, you are sure to be working with hops that have been conventionally harvested & processed for storage/use at a later date – they’re cut, separated, dried & processed in any number of ways, including whole-cone, pelletized, turned into extract, or made into other “downstream” products.  Fresh Hop beer, on the other hand, presents a unique opportunity for brewers to use un-kilned, unprocessed hop cones fresh off the vine.  These hops still retain all of their moisture content (hence “wet”) & can begin to oxidize, degrade or spoil within 48 hours of picking.  Using them presents an amazing opportunity to the brewer, but also a tremendous challenge in timing beer production to the very narrow window of harvest. Typically, growers can’t offer much lead time & won’t know the actual harvest day until just a couple days out. Fields will be cleared of ready varieties in a matter of a day or two.  For Fresh Hop beers, we look for hops that are at their absolute peak of essential oil content & freshness. This means minimizing the time from when the grower deems them ready for harvest until the time of their eventual immersion in the wort that will become beer.  Because of this, Fresh Hop ales have been mainly the provenance of those brewers within striking distance of the Pacific Northwest.  For most other brewers, the time & expense associated with distance, in combination of the greater volumes needed, can be a deal breaker.

    We dabbled with our first Fresh Hop IPA last year in a small batch made in collaboration with Elysian Brewing in Seattle, for our “Trip Series” of draft-only, Northwest-only beers.  Trip VI, as it was known, was one of the best things to come out of that series.  The judges at the only Fresh Hop beer festival approved of it too, giving it the silver medal at Yakima’s Fresh Hop Ale Festival.  This year, we took that same recipe & scaled it up for production & inclusion in our Lips Of Faith line.  I’d say Fort Collins is right on the cusp, at about a 15-hour trip from vine to kettle.  Of course, small batches can be taken by air, but for larger production beers, such as the one we’re making, a refrigerated truck is the only way to go; remember these hops haven’t been dehydrated, so they’re much more voluminous & heavier than what’s normally used in the brewhouse.

    Once selected & picked, our fresh hops would be sorted, scaled & then wrapped & loaded into a reefer truck.  For part of our total selection mix, we actually got to use a makeshift wooden skid to redirect the flow of Amarillo cones, which were on their way to the kiln on a giant conveyor, into bins for our own use.   Once loaded, the hop truck would leave Toppenish, WA, on Saturday, on an overnighter bound for Fort Collins. The truck was outfitted with a GPS unit which was in turn linked to Alex’s computer, so she could monitor progress in real-time. At T-minus 3 hours to arrival, we would mash-in our first batch, such that the expected arrival of the hop truck at the brewery would coincide with the timing of the first fresh hop addition. That would kick-off 20 straight hours of brewing this Fresh Hop IPA.  It takes a lot of time to make four 180-hectoliter batches! 

    The point of using fresh hops is to capture the purest essence of the hops when they are at their peak readiness, to showcase the aromatic compounds found in the flower’s resins. The process we use for extracting what we want from the fresh hops is to use our Lauter Tun as a giant hopback.  The Lauter Tun is normally used to separate the solid matter (grain) from the wort after mashing & before the boil.  In this case, we would have already mashed, Lautered & boiled before refilling the Lauter Tun with the wort & then adding the fresh Amarillos in at that time. The good stuff we’re after within the hops dissolves quickly when exposed to hot water, so it only rests for 10 minutes before being run-off, rapidly chilled & piped to the cellar. Thinking back on all of Alex & Grady’s planning & travel, it really seems like an awful lot of work for only 10 minutes of hops addition!  But the proof will be in the pudding, or, make that beer.  And the process of hand-selecting in the field hops that will go into our beer is a priceless opportunity & a reminder that, after all, beer is very much an agricultural product tied to the whims of climate & geography. 


    Stay tuned for part two (Juicebox's time to shine), and we'll see you Thursday!

    _Juicebox and Kenny

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