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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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Cape May Brew Co Hits Yakima Valley For Hop Selection

Hops – those perennial, marijuana-related flowering cones – have come a long way in the collective mind of the beer-drinking world. Originally, they were considered an important ingredient largely for the antiseptic properties they bring to the table, while herbs and juniper berries got all of the taste-related glory. But now we’ve seen the light, and modern brewers praise the gods of agriculture for the aroma, flavor, and bitterness brought forth by the humble hop.

Any expert will tell you: Washington’s Yakima Valley is to hops what California’s Sonoma Valley is to wine – a latitudinal sweet spot. And since the hops that were planted here in March are being harvested as you read this, our fearless leaders – Ryan, Chris and Bob – flew west last week for this year’s hop selection process.

“Our visit was amazing,” Bob said. “We rubbed the hops together with our hands, compared notes and decided which we will use in our beer going forward. We also visited the plant that processes the hops into pellets, and spoke with a scientist who creates new hop varieties.”

Now, the guys are off to Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, and while we eagerly await their return, we’ll fill you in on a conversation we had yesterday with hop industry expert Phillip Davidson. His company, Hopsteiner, is one that our guys met with in Yakima, and he’s got the skinny, er hoppy, on all you need to know…

hops

 

Walk us through the hop harvest timeline. Well, harvest happens once a year. It takes about a month, from the last week of August until the first week of October, domestically. This is when we need to get the hop bines down in the field. And I do mean ‘bines’ with a ‘B.’ Not ‘vines’ with a ‘V.’

What’s the difference? Vines climb using tendrils that grab and hold – picture a grape vine. A bine climbs by wrapping itself around something. In this case, it follows the sun up a rope. And, eventually, the hops have to be removed from it.

Then what? You’re separating them from the leaves and the stems, and then you’re kilning the hops, or drying them in a kiln. So you get rid of all the moisture, and make them stable. Next is baling, where the dried hops are compressed into rectangular prisms about five feet tall and 2.5 or three feet wide. There are 200 pounds of hops, give or take, in each bale. These are taken to a storage facility where they are refrigerated until they are purchased either as leaf hops directly from the bale, as pellets or as extract.

How much of this is done by hand, and how much by machine? It’s a pretty labor-intensive industry, absolutely, and not just the harvesting. There are about 900 hop plants to an acre, and there are 40,000 hop acres in the United States. Each plant requires someone tying the top of its rope to a trellis and anchoring it to the ground on the bottom. And every plant has to be trained by hand around the rope to get it started.

"There can be a large disparity in aroma between different lots of the same hop variety. One may offer lemongrass and ginger; another, more citronella or garlic. None is correct, it depends on what you want to achieve." --Ryan, with Bob, Chris and the hop kiln operator.
“There can be a large disparity in aroma between different lots of the same hop variety. One may offer lemongrass and ginger; another, more citronella or garlic. None is correct, it depends on what you want to achieve.” –Ryan, with Bob, Chris and the hop kiln operator.

How many brewers descend upon Yakima Valley this time of year? I don’t have a hard figure, but for me personally, for the company I work for, I cover Maine to Washington, DC and out to the Pennsylvania border to Ohio, and I have about 17 customers coming over three weeks.

And how many brewers depend on Yakima Valley? It’s a worldwide dependency. The raw material is valued by its alpha acid, the bittering component, and every brewery everywhere needs it. The US, which is growing about 35-40 percent of the world’s hops, is making a major contribution to that.

How much creativity is there in hop farming? I wouldn’t call it creativity. It’s science. I will say that hops are dioecious, meaning they are male and female, so breeding and crossing is easy. But to take a seed and turn it into a new breed is a 10 to 12-year process. And if you start with 10,000 seeds, you’re going to have one or two that make it through.

What do the brewers do when they come for hop selection, exactly? We show them our ranch and our processing facilities. We introduce them to the people running our farms and plants and basically develop those relationships. This is a relationship-driven industry.

And how does the actual choosing play out? We give them bale cuts, or brewers cuts, which are sections of a bale that’s been cut out, represented with a lot number, and put in packaging. If we have eight Cascade lots, the brewers see one cut from each. The brewers open those pouches, look at them physically, and look at data on them. There is USDA data here from the state of Washington that gives the total count of leaves and stems, the percentage by weight of seed, the measurement of the alpha acid. The other big part is aroma, so they’ll crush it in their hands, rub them together until they burst the lupulin glands to make sure they smell the right way.

Doesn’t it get difficult to differentiate after a while? There are means of resetting the nose, like sniffing coffee beans for instance. And you’re only picking Cascade against Cascade, and you select in the order in which you want to select, usually moving from fine, delicate aromas all the way to big, pungent hops, toward the end.

Is there much variation in hops of the same variety grown on the same lot of a hop ranch?  There can be. Terroir is a big part of hop growing, as is microclimate. There are slight soil variations as well.

How is the current drought affecting hop production? It wasn’t a problem this year. If it persists into next year, it will be.

What are people most surprised to learn about the hop industry? That it’s so hard. It’s an awful lot of management of land and understanding the dynamics of each variety, and understanding there’s a lot of money involved. This is a niche agricultural product, so the equipment is only used to harvest hops and is very expensive. We have to set trellises up to harvest grow and nothing else uses that. It’s a $10,000/acre investment. It’s logistically and financially demanding.

But the return must be considerable, considering the current craft beer boom? Hops is boom and bust, every time. Where there’s high demand, people start growing. Eventually they have too much and the bottom falls out. Currently hops are in boom – we are closing in on record total acreage. But things are always in flux. We’re experiencing a major market shift between bitter varieties like Columbus and Nugget to aroma varieties like Cascade and Centennial.

What’s the next sexiest? I have no idea. I want to hope it’s Eureka, which is a new variety to us we just released to the market. But

"I was surprised by the climate. Yakima is considered a high Desert and is very dry. Not exactly what you are expecting when you visit one of the most agriculturally productive valleys in the US." Chris Henke
“I was surprised by the climate. Yakima is considered a high Desert and is very dry. Not exactly what you are expecting when you visit one of the most agriculturally productive valleys in the US.” Chris Henke

that’s something I don’t get to really determine, and something I try my very best not to influence. I’m here to support brewers and what the brewers need, and not tell them what’s right and wrong. And as for the next sexiest hop, the work going into making that starts 10 or 12 years before it hits the markets, and we’re talking 10 or 12 million dollars worth of research. The fact that it smells good is not the only important thing. A hop needs to grow well, it needs to yield per acre well, and it needs to be resistant to diseases and easy to pick.

And it’s that research that takes 10-12 years? How much of that time is simply waiting for the plant to mature? Well, hops do not produce a crop their first year. Everywhere else, it take three years for a hop plant to mature. In Yakima, it takes two. So to even be able to look into a plant to determine what’s good and not, that takes time, at least two years. Even then, you don’t scale up from one plant to a thousand acres. You scale up to four plants, maybe.

What do we say to people who call this a one-dimensional – ie, beer only — crop? There is development of alternative uses. Potentially, it could be cultivated for phytoestrogen for human hormone therapy. And it’s antiseptic, so it can used to supplant antibiotics in animal seed.

Can I ask what drew you to the hop industry? I was a professional brewer before this, and I was looking for an opportunity to… what’s the right word? Specialize myself, develop a knowledge base about a particular important aspect of all beer, but especially craft beer.

Does it bug you the brewers seem to get all the craft beer glory? Me, personally? No. There are hop growers who command a particular status in the brewing industry. But generally speaking, we are talking family businesses, and I don’t know if they want the fame. You should ask the barley growers. It takes a lot more barley to make beer than hops!

Any reason you’re especially excited to be working with Cape May Brew Co? Oh, absolutely. You’re definitely a brewery that is growing and maturing in a marketplace, Jersey, that has a lot of opportunity for growth. And you’re making really good beer.

 

Fill In The Blank With: Tour Guide Mark Garland

When we called Mark Garland, he was holding a monarch butterfly in his hand at Cape May Point State Park, about to put a tag on it. That’s because Mark is a freelance presenter of nature-oriented programming. On his roster are two-week tours in Costa Rica, Cape May’s own Road Scholar Birding program, and yes, the island’s very important monarch monitoring program.

Leading nature tours, Mark says, has informed his work at the brewery, where he’s been a leader of walking tours since last spring.

“Whether it’s birds or beer,” he says, “it’s all about balancing entertainment, information and pace. You don’t want to overload on any of that.”

What we DO want to overload on today? A little more info on Mark. Presenting: the guy with all of the answers to your brewery (and nature!) questions…

mark

 

I am from… Maryland.

My favorite CMBC beer is… Coastal Evacuation.

The best CMBC after a long day of birding is… In the dead of summer, I’d say The Bog, and I don’t even like fruit beers, usually. Otherwise, I’d say Take Five. I’m an IPA fan, and sometimes it’s nice to have more than one. But my days of wanting to get really buzzed are behind me, so that’s a good one because it’s lower in alcohol.

The greatest adventure I ever had was… hiking 150 miles through the Cascade Mountains in central Washington.

The superpower I’d like to have most is… eternal life.

My favorite non-CMBC craft beer is… That varies but right now I really like Stonefly IPA from Pennsylvania’s Saucony Creek.

My favorite cartoon is… Rocky and Bullwinkle. I blame that for my terrible fondness for puns.

My biggest fear is… disappointing people I love.

The question I hear most frequently while giving a CMBC tour is… ‘Are you one of the owners?’ People don’t realize how many people are involved now.

The most famous person I’ve ever met was… Ryan Krill.

My karaoke song is… anything instrumental.

My biggest pet peeve is… people who don’t do their jobs.

The sports team I follow is… I’m pretty casual about sports, although I do follow the Tour de France, and I root for the American riders.

If I could, I’d splurge on a… trip around the world.

Something few people know about me is… that I started my career as park ranger for the National Park Service. I spent most of my time in Olympic National Park in Washington State, but I also worked in the Everglades, and in DC. I joke it’s the only job I ever had to wear a tie to everyday, because we wore those green ties and Smoky the Bear hats. I loved what I did.

The best advice I’ve ever received was… follow your heart.

If I were an animal, I’d be a… Hmmm, that has to be a bird. Let’s go with the Resplendent Quetzal, a gentle creature that was sacred to the Mayans.

The best pick-up line I ever used was… I’m an old married guy, I don’t remember. I’m double the age of mostly everyone who works at the brewery!

My hidden talent is… Whatever talents I have, I don’t try to hide them!

I was drawn to CMBC because… I love craft beer, there was no other craft beer nearby.

If I had to name a CMBC beer tomorrow, I would call it… Migration. It would be a beer that really moves you.

What’s In A Name: Turtle Gut Edition

It’s been aging for a solid two months, but our Turtle Gut American sour is finally done with its secondary fermentation — thanks to the rogue yeast strain we wrote about here — and it’s ready for tapping. This earthy, funky, malty-sweet wild ale will be available beginning Thursday, September 24.

In the meantime — given the intellectually curious beer fan you are — you’re going to want to know how we came up with the name Turtle Gut. Truth is, we didn’t. We reappropriated it.

Turtle Gut is the name of a former inlet in present-day Wildwood Crest, where the county’s only Revolutionary War battle was fought. Theturtle year was 1776, and the Brits were blocking the Continental Army access to the Delaware Bay. This was a problem for colonial merchant ships trying to deliver much-needed supplies to the oh-so-important port of Philadelphia.

Many tried sneaking past the Red Coats, but to no avail. Often, thwarted captains were forced to retreat to the clandestine marshes of Cape May County, where they might regroup. Finally, a guy named Robert Morris decided he’d had enough. He chartered a brig called Nancy, intent on steering her straight to the City of Brotherly Love. He stocked her with ammunition (and rum because, well, war is hard), and on he went.

This was  a courageous move — Nancy was a relatively tiny ship with only six cannons on board — and it didn’t take long to see just how courageous. On June 28, Nancy was spotted by the HMS Kingfisher, one of the blockade’s leading ships. The captain, who carried 16 cannons on board, began chasing Nancy, and his sister ship HMS Orpheus (32 cannons!) followed for backup.

Nancy’s crew knew they were in trouble, so they called for help via flag signals from three other colonial ships: Lexington, Wasp and Reprisal. Each sent soldiers who, we’re sure, struck fear into the hearts of the British whey they showed up to battle in… rowboats.

In the wee hours of the next (very foggy) morning, Nancy slipped into Turtle Gut and purposefully ran aground. Because her British pursuers were manning much bigger ships, they couldn’t traverse the shallow water of the inlet, so they opened fire from afar. For most of the day, the Americans unloaded cargo, getting it safely to shore with the help of Cape May County locals, and they watched their ship take barrage after barrage.

Finally, the men left a beaten Nancy behind, intent on making it to shore alive themselves. John Barry, the captain of Lexington, ordered the remaining gunpowder be wrapped in Nancy‘s sail and exploded on deck with a long fuse. One especially dedicated man stayed behind to climb the mast and take down the American flag. When enemy ships saw what was happening, they assumed surrender was underway, so they began to climb on board. Unfortunately for them, that’s right about the time this long fuse ran out.

The blockade broke up shortly thereafter, and John Barry went on to be known as “father of the American Navy.” Today, a memorial in Wildwood Crest — and a tasty, sour beer — are what commemorates the battle.

 

 

High Time For Ebb Tide

Last year, we conducted a little brewing experiment.

The ingredients: Water, hops, yeast, malted barley… and a ton of grapefruit peel.

The hypothesis: This could taste great! (Or not great.)

The results: A beer with a whole lot of pithy bitterness.

The conclusion: This needs some tweaking.

But… how to fix it? There are two ways to cut down on the bitterness of a beer. One method is to shandyize, which is what we did when we added lemonade to our too-tart cranberry wheat, resulting in The Bog, a summer favorite. But for fall, we already have a shandy on the menu: our pumpkin pie-flavored brew I Know What You Did Last Shandy.

So we went with option number two: adding  ingredients which aren’t sweet, but which are perceived as sweet. In this case, orange and vanilla. The result was Ebb Tide, a 5% American Wheat Pale Ale that tastes, every so slightly, like a creamsicle.

People loved it.

Too popular not to bring back, this desserty beer is going on tap tomorrow, beginning at noon. Our 10th grade science teachers would be proud.

Overheard At The #YOPO Release

Yesterday was the big day — we tapped #YOPO. Doors opened at noon, and by 12:22, we’d kicked the first keg. By 12:53, we’d kicked the second. People on site — who were lined up and waiting for us to let them in — described the beer as “light and citrusy,” “delicious,” and “HOLY GUACAMOLE, THAT’S GOOD!” Here’s what else we overheard:

“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about the amount of people about to descend upon the brewery; we’ll bust through it! I  just hope they know they’re only allowed to have one each…” –Tasting room associate Courtney Gingrich, far right, Litiz, PA:

court

“If you can’t get to Philly to actually see the Pope, having #YOPO is the next best thing.” — Ginny Murray with husband Hugh, North Cape May:

ginny
“The brewery’s next topical release? Well, it’s fall, and Trump’s running for president. How about, instead of a Pumpkin beer, a Trumpkin beer?” –Phil Szczur (right), Cape May County:

phil

“I first heard about #YOPO by surfing the local internet.” — Renee McComas, Goshen:

oldd

“This isn’t at all sacrilegious. #YOPO honors the Pope’s visit, and shows the diversity of his appeal.” –John Cooke, Cape May, with CMBC blogger Diane Stopyra:

john

“If we could ask the Pope one question, it would be: ‘What kind of beer do YOU drink?'” – M., L., A., R., and M., Cape May County:

b

“It feels fantastic!” — Donna Wicker, Philadelphia, on being the first in line for a #YOPO growler:

donna

“I had to wear a Dallas jersey today… they won last night!” — Troy Boone Jr with Amanda Angjelo, Atlantic City:

dallas

“Yep, this beer definitely lives up to its tagline, “unholy amount of hops”… and it’s great! — Jim and Lindsey Zolna, Kim Bare, Patty Cullen:

jim

Thanks for coming out, guys. Now go in peace.

(Big thanks to Aleksey Moryakov and Exit Zero magazine for snapping these photos.)

Keg Washer: Complete

Remember when we outgrew our original, 12-gallon brewhouse, and we turned it into a keg washer? Well, it didn’t take long for us to outgrow that keg washer. This was a problem, because our kegs aren’t going to clean themselves. Thanks to Chris “Hank” Henke, our Chief Operating Officer/resident engineer, they don’t have to.

He’s been working all summer, in his spare time, on building a new and improved machine, complete with scrap parts and clever eBay purchases.

The process – which Hank says is loosely similar to that of a washing machine — works like this:

  1. Four kegs are mounted on the washer at one time.
  2. Compressed air is pushed through each in order to purge the containers of any lingering beer or yeast.
  3. The kegs are rinsed with hot water.
  4. Compressed air is pushed through each in order to purge this hot water.
  5. A non-caustic, alkaline brewery cleaner is run through all kegs.
  6. Compressed air is pushed through in order to purge this cleaner.
  7. The kegs are rinsed with hot water.
  8. Compressed air is pushed through again in order to purge this hot water.
  9. Sanitizer is pushed through.
  10. The kegs are purged again, but with CO2 – not air – this time.
  11. The kegs are pressurized with CO2. This way, oxygen is kept out of the containers, so that it won’t spoil the next batch of beer.

The fully-automated cycle lasts seven minutes. And in case you’re lucky enough to catch it in action on your next tour of the brewery (or even if you’re not), here’s your key, which will get larger if you click on it:

kw2

Cape May Brew Co Supports Wounded Vets

Erick Foster — who played football for the North Allegheny High School Tigers, enjoyed card games, and graduated with a degree in business from Duquesne University – was killed in 2007 by insurgent fire while serving the US Army as a company commander in Iraq. He was 29 years old.

Purple Heart recipient, Captain Erick Foster.
Purple Heart recipient, Captain Erick Foster.

“Erick was a fun-loving guy,” says Erick’s dear friend and Army buddy Nick Liermann. “No one worked as hard as he did, or was more passionate about being a soldier… But Erick wasn’t afraid to kick back, have a few drinks and a few laughs too. That’s one of the things about Erick that was so inspiring and contagious. He showed everyone around him that you could be intensely devoted to your career and country… and you could also have a good time doing it.”

Last year, Nick and five friends cycled from Philadelphia to Wildwood in honor of Erick. Via an informal campaign, they raised $5,000 for wounded combat veterans. The annual Captain Erick Foster Memorial Ride, or the Foster 100, was born.

Since then, the group has incorporated as a non-profit organization, and grown to be 26 riders strong. This Saturday, they’ll cover another 100 miles, this time from Philadelphia to our tasting room.

“Cape May Brewing Company is a phenomenal local organization, invested in giving back,” Nick says. “Plus, they have great beer, so it seemed appropriate.”

So far this year, the team has raised nearly $15,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which provides financial support to wounded veterans, and to the families of injured or fallen military personnel. You can learn more — or make a contribution — by visiting fostermemorialride.com, or the official Captain Erick Foster Memorial Ride on Facebook.

Then, raise your next pint to the men and women who serve.

 

 

5 Things To Know About Oktoberfest Beer

1. Ours goes back on tap this Friday. Cape May Brew Co’s first lager, this 5.4% brew has a deep body, a dark copper color, a malty sweetness and some mild bitterness.

2. But it’s not *technically* an Oktoberfestbier. Kind of like true Champagne — which only comes from the Champagne region of France — true Oktoberfestbier is only brewed within the city of Munich. All anyone else can do is mimic the traditional style: toasty, rich, dark, medium to high alcohol content, clean finish.

3. The style can also be referred to as Marzan, meaning “March,” or the month in which this type of beer was originally brewed 500 years ago in Bavaria. Because beers made in late winter tasted better to Bavarians than beers made in the summer (cold weather killed off beer-spoiling microbes), the Oktoberfest was made in March and meant to last through summer. It was kept on ice in mountain caves and by October, ironically, medieval peeps were usually finishing off the last of it. Nineteenth-century advancements in brewing (hello, refrigeration) meant that March beers could now be made any time of year (hello, fall).

4. Annually, more than 6 million people attend the 16-day Oktoberfest beer festival held in Munich, a tradition since 1810, making this the largest beer festival in the world. Event goers drank 7.7 million liters of Oktoberfest beer at last year’s event alone (although only 6.5 million liters were reported, creating quite the scandal). Fun fact: it takes the festival’s most skilled bartenders only 1.5 seconds to fill up a stein.

5. The city of Cape May will hold its own Oktoberfest beer festival from 10am to 5pm on October 3, and we’ll be pouring. In the meantime, you may want to bone up on your German:

 

Pumpkin Opinions

As of yesterday, our I Know What You Did Last Shandy beer is on tap in the tasting room. The 5% brew is last year’s Pumpkin, Pumpkin Shandy reincarnated. And while it doesn’t have any actual pumpkin in it — because the gourd itself is pretty flavorless — it has the taste of pumpkin pie thanks to cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar.

Ah, pumpkin. The most divisive flavoring of the craft beer world.

In one corner, we’ve got liquid pumpkin haters, who see the style as silly and superficial. We’re talking about folks like Orr Stuhul, who wrote in an article for the Washington City Paper:

“This is the one time of year when ordinary, appreciative beer drinkers devolve into squealing Starbucks fanatics, leaping at the opportunity to try the latest approximation of some misguided confectionery fantasy. How did cinnamon and nutmeg become such an invasive species of flavor? You’ve already taken our cakes, our lattes, our sweet potatoes. For God’s sake! Spare us our beer!”

In the other corner, we’ve got the pro-pumpkin peeps. They see nothing wrong with tapping into the spices of the season, as long as it’s done right. We’re talking about folks like Don Russell, who wrote in a recent Philly.com article:

“People who say they hate pumpkin beer remind me of people who say they never watch TV, as if they’re too good for something so unsophisticated. They stick up their noses and piss all over the spicy brew because it’s a gimmick, because it’s crass, because they’re oh-so-busy rereading War and Peace.”

Regardless of which you are  —  vehement derider of all things liquid pumpkin, or fanatical pumpkin brew groupie — you cannot deny the numbers. According to  Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, the release of pumpkin beers in 2013 meant that seasonal beer sales overtook IPA sales — always the front-runner — by 300,000 cases. We have no reason to believe the same won’t be true for 2015.

Until next time, happy fall.

Credit: rozis.com.
Credit: rozis.com.

 

 

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