Spanish Sojourn: Tapas, Vermouth, Cider & More

I was honored to be invited by ACCE (Asociación de Cerveceros Caseros Españoles, Spain’s homebrewing association) to give a presentation at their annual convention in Bilbao. Of course I accepted and used it as an opportunity to explore Northern Spain a bit. The homebrew conference was like they all are: lots of thrillingly geeky and enthusiastic brewers looking to exchange information and enjoy each other’s company—and beers.


Quest for Local Flavor in Mexico, Part 2

The purpose of the trip was to judge Slow Beer, a specialized competition highlighting ingredients of interest to the Slow Food organization, many of which are important in its ongoing programs. Ingredients ranged from seemingly commonplace items like coffee and vanilla, but often sourced from special regions or involving unique varieties, to much more exotic items like xoconostle, black sapote, chapulines and more.


Slow Beers in Mexico

In 2016 I was honored to be invited to judge at the Slow Food Beer competition in Celaya, Mexico. Its state—Guanajuato—had been declared to be the least gastronomically developed in Mexico, but despite that, there are some thrilling bright spots. Celaya is the heart of Mexico’s dairy goat industry, famous for its cheese as well as cajeta, a creamy caramel made from goat’s milk. More on that later.


Hop Trek Part 1: Yakima

I am standing on the base of an upturned tree, on a ridge overlooking the jagged tips of the Cascade Range of northern Washington. It is dark, save for the blue illumination of a new moon. Around me, the ancient sun-baked roots of a toppled spruce tree fan out mechanically in all directions forming a throne Ralph calls the “Starship Enterprise.” For HopUnion’s gregarious leader Ralph Olson, this is a retreat from the high-pressure world of hops down in Yakima, just an hour to the east. The fact that he has bestowed this imaginative fantasy on a dead tree speaks worlds about those who spend time in the hop trade.


Hop Trek Part 2: Saaz

I am met in the Czech Republic by Richard Mattas, Managing Director of Czech Hops Worldwide, the HopUnion affiliate there. As he whisks me off toward the hop region, we first stop at Plzen, about an hour south of Prague. At the Pilsener Urquel brewery we quickly ditch the tour and duck into the brewhouse. There’s a cart near the kettles holding a can of tarry hop extract and a bag of sharp-smelling pellets next to the more traditional Saaz aroma hops.


Hop Trek Part 3: Hallertau

Change is occurring in all of the world’s hop regions, but is most dramatic in the largest of those, the Hallertau of Bavaria. Hops are still grown in “gardens” here, with an average size of about 15 acres, despite the fact that there are over 43,000 acres in cultivation. Today there remain just one-eighth the number of farms as in 1900, despite the ten-fold size of the harvest. This consolidation, which will continue into the future, is having a dramatic impact.

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