North County’s hop master, Tequesta Brewing Co., is brewing up something just about everyone can get behind. In addition to their standard beers fermenting in the tanks, brew masters Matt Webster and Fran Andrewlevich are constantly tinkering, creating some refreshing and complex beers. Seasonal lagers, specialty ales, brooding porters and fruit-infused weizens aside, there are wild weekly specialties.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m., Webster and Andrewlevich tap an exclusive cask. Cask-conditioned firkins are infused with an array of flavor combinations and left alone for two to three weeks, allowing for the flavor to seep in. Heavy doses of hops from points all over make it into some of the brewery’s mainstays like Gnarley Barley, the revolving Julio Weizen and monthly “heavy hitters” like the Session IPA.
For the uninitiated, hops are small flowers that impart bitterness to beer during the brewing process. The bitterness of the hops helps balance the sweetness of the malt, allowing for a more palatable beer. Coincidently, hops are part of the cannabaceae family but contain no THC. Hops also act as antibacterial defenders, warding off bacteria to keep from spoiling; act as a natural filter, helping clear beer; and help with the retention of the head. All said, hops are an important ingredient in the beer recipe arsenal—a key seasoning input. But just as grapes are to wine, a bevvy of hops cultivars, regions and varietals make it into craft beers around the states.
Probably the most commonly known blanket term is that of noble hops, which refers to variety of European hops that originally grew wild and were named for the cities and regions in which they were first found. Stemming primarily from Bavaria and Bohemia (though there are a few additional key regions), these hops have a pretty strong aroma—there is a spicy, herbal nose to many of them—though have relatively low Alpha and Beta acid levels, making them a bit softer on the palate while imbuing a citrusy bite. For the European traditionalist, and those who really dig Oktoberfest, noble hops—Saaz, Hallertauer, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Spalt, Perle, and Hersbrucker—are the floral component of all those pilsners, dunkels and märzens.
And though Germany is still a traditional power as a producer of hops, reaping 20,467 tonnes in 2011, the United States overtook the Rhineland’s top status as world leader, producing a whopping 24,377 tonnes in 2011 (the last year data was available), as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Division of Statistics. This increase in production is in direct line with the popularity of craft beer stateside, which saw an industry-wide increase of 15 percent by volume and 17 percent in sales in 2012 according to the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit trade group representing small and independent craft brewers. Even more enlightening, American craft beer exports have hit a high point in 2012, with a 72 percent by volume increase, roughly a $49.1 million value. The business of small, local breweries is a growing proposition.
On the domestic side, hops grown in the North West take on some pretty robust, forwarding-leaning flavor, as prevalent in the country’s thirst for Indian Pale Ales—IPAs. American hop cultivars range in strength, from understated varieties like Cascade and Sterling, both with Alpha acids in the 4-6 percent range (similar to noble hops), to deeper, more bitter cultivars like Simcoe (12-14 percent Alpha), Mosaic (11.5-13.5 percent) and Centennial (9-11.5 percent). From September 24-29, hops of all shades, from subtle to strong, will be on display at TBC’s second annual Hop Week.
A celebration of the annual hop harvest that traditionally runs from late August through September, TBC is busting out the Hop Gun for this weeklong festival of the conical flower. A celebration of the annual hop harvest that traditionally runs from late August through September, TBC is busting out the Hop Gun for this weeklong festival of the conical flower. Before producers dried the harvested hops for the coming year, TBC ordered more than 100 pounds of six different hop varietals, had them overnighted to treat their beer. The wet hops maintain a level of aroma and characteristics lost when processed and dried, giving whatever beer these hops are added to a major boost in flavor and aroma. Beers with wet and dry-hop treatments will make the rounds, and cask-conditioned hop concoctions will be on tap as well as hop-loaded Randall pours. The second annual Hop Week’s beer lineup, with a primer from TBC brewer Fran Andrewlevich, is as follows:
Tuesday, September 24:
- Enter the Dragon—“We kick hop week off with the release of Red Dragon Imperial Red Ale. To ensure this exemplifies hop week, we used 10 pounds of Chinook Wet hops.”
- 5 p.m. Cask tapped by a Barley Doll, Gnarly Barley with Minnesota Oak and fresh raspberries.
Wednesday, September 25:
- Double IPA hits the taps at noon—“100IBU's of pure hop bliss with wet Cascade and Simcoe hops abound.”
- 3pm Cask tapping of Double IPA with Centennial wet hops.
Thursday, September 26:
- Belgian wet-hopped Barley Wine aged on Hungarian Oak and Centennial wet hops.
- Gnarly storm hitting at 5 p.m.: Dueling casks of Gnarly, one with wet Cascade hops and one with dry Cascade hops.
- Randall Alert: “The legendary hop infusing contraption will be stuffed with TBD hops.”
Friday, September 27:
- “Black Friday! Black IPA hits the taps, brewed with wet Simcoe and Cascade hops.”
- 5 p.m. Cask tapping of Black IPA aged on Hungarian Oak with Simcoe and Galaxy hops.
Saturday, September 28:
- English Double IPA fermented on Simcoe and Cascade wet hops.
- 2 p.m. Cask tapping of dueling Dragons: One Red Dragon aged on Mosaic wet hops, the other aged on Citra wet hops.
- Randall Alert: Making its regular Saturday appearance, “the legendary hop infusing contraption will be stuffed with TBD hops.”
Sunday, September 29:
- “Last but not least, German Alt dry hopped with Tettnang and Saaz hits the taps.”
- 1 p.m. Cask tapping of Double IPA aged on Mosaic and Citra wet hops.
The Randall is an interesting beer-centric apparatus. Developed by Delawarean master brewers at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, the Randall is an “organoleptic hop transducer module,” or a double-chamber filter affixed to a tap. The brewerer adds flavorful ingredients enhance the beer’s complexity. Some TBC concoctions of note: a Baltic Porter poured through toasted hazelnuts and chocolate; Gnarley Barley filtered through pineapple, jalapenos and cilantro; and my personal favorite, the Hoppy Brown (brown ale) poured through coffee and bacon.
TBC pours from the Randall on Saturdays from 5-8 p.m., so if flavor is your thing, it is not a bad time to head to Tequesta for a pre-dinner sip. (Corner Café and Hog Snappers, both in the same plaza, are great spots for a bite following a TBC session.) For Hop Week, expect the Randall to packed to the gills with hops of all varieties.
Come October, the märzen will flow. TBC’s Oktoberfest lager will launch the first week in October, with traditional Mubnich-based noble hops, lending some bite to the brew. Leading up to traditional Oktoberfest—Munich’s 2013’s festivities begin September 21—a German invasion has hit the taps with a Munich Helles, Rye Bock and a German version of the Session IPA. Grab a draught now.