Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Master Brewers International Hop Symposium

"When you drink the water, remember the spring." ~Chinese Proverb

August 8-10: At the end of his workday, Jon drove me to Corvallis, Oregon to attend the MBAA (Master Brewers Association of the Americas) International Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma.

Of course I had to open this post with an impressive hop photo (above). Our symposium visit on Saturday to the Goschie hop farm allowed me to take this picture of long, ripe hop cones backlit by bright late-afternoon sunlight. This year represents the 103rd year of harvesting hops at the Goschie farm in Silverton, Oregon.

After receiving our name tags from registration, Jon and I connected with some of our brewing friends at the Welcome Reception at the LaSalle Center on the Oregon State University campus. Photo above, L to R: Garrett Oliver, Teri, John Harris, Alan Sprints, and Darren Gamache, a hop grower from Gamache Farms. He may be the first hop farmer I've actually met, which is very cool.

The presentations of the conference were held in a large university lecture hall with tiered stadium-style seating. An experience typical of the conference is shown in the photo at right.

This was the first of perhaps many special-topic symposiums that the MBAA plans to host on a bi- or triennial basis.

My home MBAA district, District Pacific Northwest, worked very hard on this conference. I'm sure I am not listing everyone I should, but I know that Tom Shellhammer, Karl Ockert, Larry Sidor and plenty of others put in many hours of Herculean effort to bring it about. The symposium/conference went very smoothly. Tom kept us moving along toward the next presentation with well-timed chimes on his handheld xylophone. The weather was beautiful as only Oregon can be in the summer: Sunny, dry, pleasant but not too hot, and no moquitos. Gee, I love Oregon!

However, the conference was not quite what I expected: I understand that the unique requirement of attracting an international clientel dictated an extremely scientific bent. But I was disappointed in the near complete lack of practical information on specific hop varieties as concerns flavor and aroma. Especially the newer hop varieties developed for commercial production with the last 3-5 years.

None of the hop suppliers even had a hop catalogue on them. I'm a brewer. I just wanted some serious information on the names of hop varieties available commercially today, and what flavor and aroma profiles I could expect when brewing with them. That's what I attended the syposium for, but that's not what I got.

What I did get was an opportunity to attend a major professional beer event so that potential employers would remember that I am looking for a job in October when this trip is completed. I also got to connect with brewing contacts I hadn't seen in a long time, meet new brewing contacts, and reconnect with brewers I have met on this trip or will meet later on this trip. I also got a few small hop gems; I plucked them right out of the air wherever I could find them.

My favorite hop gem and the most practical of all the presentations was put on by Tom Nielsen of Sierra Nevada. His topic was entitiled, "Character Defining Aromatics of Key Hop Varietals." The highlight was tasting about ten different versions of Sierra Nevada Pale ale that were bittered with German Magnum, then flavor and aroma-hopped with various specific hop varietals. It was enlightening to taste the different beers, and represented exactly what I wanted to find at this symposium.After two days of mostly scientific yawners (sorry, I'm a practical brewer!), we hopped on the Hop Bus and headed north to visit OSU's own test hop fields, and then the hop fields at the Goschie farm. The Goschie family and friends put on a heck of a BBQ feast for us, which included a roast pig and some of the sweetest, freshest corn-on-the-cob I've had in Oregon. I continued to meet new brewing industry contacts and some of those folks invited me to visit them while on my Road Brewer journey.

Photo at left shows brewers Brian Hunt, Garrett Oliver, and Colin Kaminski inspecting hop cones at the Goschie farm. Photo at right shows me smelling an experimental hop with a very long number instead of a name.

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