About the Episode
How long can two people possibly talk about hops? Why are so many famous authors also famous dipsomaniacs? What do government-funded scientists have to do with the modern India Pale Ale? The answers to these and other irrelevant questions can be found in March’s episode of Talking Pints, featuring beer writer and librarian Peter Bailey.
Yeah, San Francisco, right?
Anchor Steam in San Francisco– they put on a seasonal, reinventing IPA, taking this old English style and adding Pacific Northwest hops to it. So Liberty Ale was the first real American IPA, sorta punched up, more aggressive, full bodied beer.
[CLINK] So, Lagunitas, or Hops Stupid, I should say, talks a good deal on the bottle about how it uses hop extract, and I know very little about the difference between dry-hopping and hop extract and hopping to it, and whatever else, but my impression from this is that it’s kind of a –
Yeah, it’s unusual for a craft brewer to use a hop extract. What do you know about its difference from traditional hopping?
It’s interesting, because some of us have maybe a romantic view of beer and the production of beer- especially craft beer. It’s, you know, one guy in a room making it as a- you know, really hand-crafted. Or, like wine, you know, you’ve got these rolling fields of grapes, that- it’s very romantic, but- really, beer is an industrial product, so it’s more often made in factory-like settings.
So, when people come up with innovations like hop extract, you have to think twice about- before rejecting it. I mean, it goes against my sort of romantic view of craft beer, but I know there is a quite a few, you know, very well respected breweries- well Lagunitas – a well respected brewer that are using it.
What is it?
You- you’re essentially taking the oils, the bitter aspect of hops and, uh, extracting it. So, you’re taking the essence of it and making it into an oil- or like a powder? A solid? It’s a way of bringing the bitterness from the hops into the beer, without all the baggage of all the hops you’d have to put in?
So instead of having to strain the beer afterward and the- the hops eat up some of the wort as its going along, so hop extract is a way of getting the good out of the hop without getting all that extra baggage.
So it’s kind of industrial and large-scale and therefore frowned upon by true beer hipsters, it that right?
It is, it is industrial- it is industrial. I was talking to a friend- a fellow beer geek- and he was saying we should all carry hop extract or hop oil with us- you know, if you’re at a wedding, or a bar, even, where you’ve got some sort of terrible beer presented to you! You know, I was at a fundraiser the other night, and- I was actually the bartender, and- so I didn’t pick the beer, though– and it was two– two terrible beers that- one of them being Alexander’s- Alexander Keith’s IPAs?
Sort of the bête noire of most beer geeks, and, at those times, wouldn’t it be good if we could just add a couple drops of hop extract to some sort of terrible, bland beer and, you know, instantly make it great. Yeah, maybe I’ll try that.
Would be interesting- no, no beer geek leaving home without it- right after the cell phone and car keys, I suppose.
Yeah- I mean, the most recent innovation with hops is wet-hopping. So, usually with hops- they’re dried out first- they’re dried, and they’re either used as whole hops, you know the cones themselves, or they’re put into pellets. You know, either way, they’re used- so wet-hopping is using the hops before they’re dried- basically fresh off the vine, and putting them into the beer. Of course, everybody say it makes it fresher-tasting and great.
Well, on the subject of multiple hops, and things of that nature, I have a second IPA here- this is Dechutes Inversion. Dechutes of course, is a extremely… famous, I would say? Well-regarded brewer based out of Bend, Oregon, and their Inversion IPA has, I believe, six or seven different kinds of hops in it.
Wow, I’ve never- I’ve never had this one.
Well, I’ll be curious to hear what you make of it, then. I enjoy IPAs a good deal, but I have some trouble- I like the taste of IPAs and I can distinguish hoppy beer from non-hoppy beer very easily, but I feel like IPA enthusiasts, and there are a lot of them, often say, “Oh, this one has, you know, notes of citrus, and this one has notes of pine nuts,” or something, and I’m just going, “It’s pretty hoppy to me,” so-
Well, having, uh, written about beer for about five years now, I can tell you I’ve ran out of ways to say, “this beer is really hoppy,” or, “this beer is really malty.” Those are essentially the yin and yang of beers. In terms of IPA, if it’s an American IPA, it’s gonna have that citrusy, piney nose to it. Because that comes from the centennial, the Cascade hops, the Pacific Northwest hops, that are used in American IPA. If it doesn’t have that citrus-pine, it may be an English-style IPA. A lot of Canadian IPAs are more English-style- Yukon, or Nelson – Paddock Wood. Um, Western Canadian beer brewers, they make more of an English-style IPA. Malty-er and, uh, using less of Pacific Northwest hops.
On the subject of flavours of hops: are these Canadian, British-style IPAs in that vein because of geography or because of choice?
If you wanna make an American-style IPA that’s, you know, punchy, and aggressive, and really, uh, very centred on bitter, rather than malt, you’re gonna use the Cascade- the Centennial. Yeah.
So, if I had a patch of land outside Edmonton and I went and bought, or stole, some Cascade hops from Washington, and then I planted them here and cultivated them, would I have- would my Cascade hops be Cascade-y, or would they be British-style IPA-ish?
No, no it’s the – it’s the variety of hops- or it’s… you may have heard of the Noble hops?
I have not.
Well, the Noble hops are, sort of, the- the first hops that were cultivated- or discovered. The Noble hops are wild varieties. Nothing’s been done to them, they’ve just been identified, over the years as- this is a great hop. These are the ones from Czech Republic and Germany-
Saaz hops is the classic one, so Pilsner Urquell is the classic Saaz hop– the crisp taste to it and, uh, a little bit of a nose to it. So, those are the Noble hops. Britain has its own varieties- hops were banned by Henry VIII in the 1500s.
Britain, over the years, hasn’t liked things from the continent, right? So, the hops were seen as a continental innovation, you know- terrible- what are those, you know, Belgians doing over there? It was called “the melancholy weed.” Apparently, it created melancholy, and depression, in people. Also, uh, it was an aphrodisiac. Or it was considered to be an aphrodisiac by Henry VIII’s people.
[LAUGHTER] So it gave people melancholy while putting them in the mood.
Mixed combination of characteristics.
Interestingly, the hops from- the latin name is “humulus lupullun,” or something- it’s from the same family as cannabis.
So, somewhere back in the family tree, they’re, uh- marijuana and hops are in the same family, so-
Well, no one tell Steven Harper for goodness’ sake.
[LAUGHTER] Right- goodness, if we banned hops- that would be a terrible thing.
So, it’s my impression that hops are kind of the flag-ship style of craft-brewing, certainly in North America. They’re the gateway beer, I would say, for many people who are starting to get interested in beer that’s not just made by most of them and what-not. Is that the case and, if so, how did it come to be the case?
The whole history of the, micro-brewing revolution in North America is, it’s an interesting story. So there’s the tradition of the, sort of, inspired American inventor, you know, working in his basement to invent something. But there’s also an really cool story that involves the American hops- you know, Cascade and Centennial- which were invented by government scientists in the U.S.
Why are government scientists trying to invent hops?
Well, after the war, in the Pacific Northwest- Washington, Oregon- the government was trying to figure out, you know, what grows here? You know, it’s a difficult climactic zone- you’ve got basically desert- dry areas. You’ve got the Acma Valley, which is particular climate, uh- you know, what is it good for growing? Hops were identified as a good thing to grow, so the U.S. department of Agriculture sponsored scientists at the University of Oregon to come up with hardier, different varieties of hops. One of the ones they came up with was Cascade and it was released in ’75. It was right when, you know, Fritz Maytag and New Albion Brewing was starting up in early ’70s, and they looked to those new hops as, uh, something that was specifically local, and American, and more in tune with what they wanted to make. I just love the idea of, you know, the government being involved in creating, uh, not just new hops, but, like, really instrumental in creating new beer and really a new, bigger industry for the U.S. and Canada.
Are hops used in anything other than beer?
[PAUSE] I don’t know. [LAUGHTER]
What’s- just out of curiosity- what’s your favourite IPA ever? What the greatest IPA in the world?
Well, the best beer is the one in your hand, right?
Of course, yes.
[LAUGHTER] Or the- or the one you’re going to get. Uh, it’s contextual for me. Do you know, uh, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity?
Yes, of course.
You know, where the characters always making lists of, you know, top five Elvis Costello side one songs.
Stuff like that. To me, beer is kinda like that, you know, you’ve gotta say, you know, “What are your top five American IPAs produced in Canada?” Or something like that. I guess my favourite right now is Central City’s Red Racer IPA.
So, to shift from IPAs to your relation to beer more generally, a little bit- You are, of course, the chief librarian at the public library in St. Albert. Does your work drive you to drink?
[LAUGHTER] It’s funny, I did try to, you know, cross the streams of my two lives a while ago and I had a beer tasting at the library. Which was interesting. The St. Albert Library is in St. Albert Place so it belongs to the city, so I said, “I guess we’ll need a liquor license to do this beer tasting.” I found out that I needed seven different signatures- there was the, uh, the city manager, there was the risk analyst- I had no idea the city had such a thing- the insurance person, the manager of the building itself, couple other more signatures I can’t remember.
Probably- Wayne Gretzky, I would think. These people need to know about this, yeah.
Yeah, Melville Dewey- somebody, somebody. So, it was- it was a great success. Um, you know people were sort of taken aback that the library would be doing something like this, but- you know, it fit into where libraries are going these days, which is, you know, community gathering places- they’re about teaching and learning in different ways other than books specifically.
Beer and writing, or at least booze and writing, have a somewhat storied history, I would say, I mean, we can think of famous drinkers who also did a bit of writing, like Earnest Hemingway, and Edgar Allan Poe, and W.C. Fields, and Dorothy Parker, and on, and on. Why do you think that is, as someone who sits at that nexus of ethanol and literature?
That’s interesting, yeah. I saw- I noticed the other day a new bar has opened in, uh, Toronto called Hitch, and it’s named after Christopher Hitchens. They were asked, “Why Christopher Hitchens?”, and, of course, he was a big drinker. You know, well known-
Johnny Walker, whatever the expensive cover is, I believe-
Was his favourite-
If my memory serves. It’s been known to mislead me in the past- anyway-
So, one of my, uh, favourite novels in the world is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amos. And, of course, Kingsley was a famous drinker. He wrote a book called Everyday Drinking, with, uh, great essays on various ways to drink. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know- I mean, alcohol’s a depressant, so maybe it goes with the writer’s temperament of being depressed and apart from society.
You are fairly active on Twitter, I would say- you have sizeable following. Tell me, how do you think social media changes the way people find and talk about beer? I mean, I assume Twitter didn’t exist when you first became interested in India pale ales.
Neither did the internet when I first started getting interested in beer. I used to live London, Ontario, and there wasn’t much happening in terms of, you know, the beer revolution- I could hear something- I could hear hoofbeats from the west, but there wasn’t much going on that part of Ontario. But the internet was just starting to get going- you remember there was Pine e-mail- like user groups and things, and I think one of the first old interest groups on the internet- you could subscribe to it and get e-mails- it was beer. You know, beer enthusiasts. I think what it was was a community of interests, so- that what the internet, and what social media, is good at. It doesn’t matter your geography- where you are- it’s people interested in the same thing- a community of people interested in the same thing, built up, you know, over the entire Earth- that’s what it does for me. You know, I can tweet out something and engage in a conversation with somebody, and- I’ve got a follower in D.C. who’s also a, you know, beer nerd and, you know, we’ll talk on Twitter about it- so, it makes the world smaller. You know, there’s only some of us in communities that are interested in one thing in particular. I think it’s helped bring niche interests forward a bit.
Do you think the ability to form these connections with people so far away is, in any way, antagonistic to cultivating connections with people closer to you- I mean, there’s a new bar that just opened in town, on 109th, I believe, playing up this whole, you know…
Yeah. Put down your cell phone-
Your social network is the people who are sitting at your table and all this jazz- do you see any kind of opposition here?
My wife would agree with you- she, uh, never had a cell phone. She’s a total luddite and, you know, she’s always saying that very thing- that, you know, the time spent on a screen is time not face to face with somebody. I suppose you need to step away from the screen sometimes, as loathe as I am to admit that.
You mentioned the craft beer revolution that began, I don’t know, thirty years ago, or whenever it was. Do you think there’s any risk that this is a fad- that this will all blow over next week?
Well, the internet’s a fad too, right?
No, I don’t think so, I think it’s growing. Growing and growing. You know, it’ a part of the general food movement- the focus on better eating. You know, there’s a thing in the New York Times a while ago talking about how talk about food and beverages has replaced talk about books or movies, you know, it’s become such a primary focus in a lot of people’s lives. You know, if you went out to a bar twenty years ago, maybe people’d be talking about the book they’d read, or something like that- now, invariably, people’ll be talking about the last meal they had or something- which is unfortunate in some ways, certainly for a book guy, but, uh, you know, I ‘m also a beer guy,
I’m also a foodie, so. It’s certainly part of that wave to, you know- local eating. When I go to a bar now- like the Sugar Bowl is a favourite place to go in town- I look around and it’s, you know, it’s a younger crowd, and one of the cool things is, it’s 50/50 men and women. That’s one of the things that’s been missing for quite a few years as beer is growing- as craft beer is growing- is women. So it’s really exciting to go to the Sugar Bowl and see lots of women enjoying beer as well. I just have to convince my wife beer is a good thing. The one thing I’ve found is, uh, Blanche de Chambly, the white beer, yeah. She says it’s not bad, so maybe- maybe I can make a break-through with that one of these days.
Well, good luck- thanks so much for your time, I appreciate you coming out.
Oh, it was great to talk to you.
Well, that’s it for Episode 2 of Sherbrooke Liquor’s Talking Pints. Tune in next month for more on what’s new in Edmonton. This is Lewis Kelly reminding you that people in glass houses should drink quality beer.