Hop To It



Think about the last time you drank a beer. What did you notice about the flavor? What stood out? Was it the sweetness of the malt? Or the bitterness of the hops? Chances are, you noticed the hops before other flavors hit your taste buds. Beer just wouldn’t be beer without the bitterness imparted by the humble hop.

What are hops? They’re the cone-shaped flowers of the humulus lupulus vine, in the same botanical family as cannabis-but more like cousins than siblings. Both belong to the aromatic group cannabaceae, but the two have very different properties. Hops contain humulone, which adds that familiar bitter flavor. Hops also have antibacterial properties that help in fermentation by keeping bad bacteria at bay. Cannabis has neither.

Many assert that the first written reference to hops was in a tome called Naturalis Historia, written by Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, commonly known as Pliny the Elder, a Roman who died in 79 A.D.; hops are specifically mentioned in a brief section about wild, uncultivated edible plants. The plant is referred to in just one sentence: “In addition there are wild parsnip and ‘willow wolf,’ but these are really amusements rather than proper food.” Willow wolf is English for the Latin lupus salictarius, thought to be what wild hops were called in Roman times. But Pliny never mentioned using hops to brew beer.

Nearly 750 years later, in 822 A.D., hops are mentioned in statutes written for the Benedictine monastery of Corbie in Picardy, France. A rule regarding tithing mandated that 10 percent of wild hops gathered be given to the monastery porter for brewing beer. Thus, Germans, contrary to common belief, were not the first to use hops in beer. It took them more than 300 years to catch up. Another Benedictine monastery near Bingen provided proof this time. A passage in a book published around 1150 A.D., called Physica Sacra, refers to hops’ antibacterial properties: “…[I]t keeps some putrefications from drinks, to which it may be added, so that they may last so much longer.”

There are two main types of hops: aroma and bittering. Aroma hops are usually added to the wort-the sweet liquid that results from steeping barley or other grains in hot water-in the last 5 minutes of boiling. Aroma hops are not in the boiling water long enough for the oils to break down and impart their characteristic bitter flavor; they merely provide an olfactory rush. Bittering hops are added at the beginning of the boil, giving the oils time to break down.

Every now and then, you’ll hear the term “Noble Hops.” These are low in bitterness, but high in aroma. They can be labeled Noble Hops only if they’re grown in specific areas of Europe. Most originate in Germany and England.

Today there are 121 varieties of hops, with more being bred all the time. The wild, weed-like plant of Pliny’s time has matured to one of the world’s most important crops-at least for us beer lovers.

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Posted by on June 15, 2018 in Beer


A year of events to keep the beer flowing

2014_06_BMBC_VCBW-8961It’s a new year and time for a new beer. This time of the year, everyone is making resolutions and a few days later breaking them. SO, let’s skip the traditional resolutions column and switch it up with a calendar column of beer events you can plan to attend in this coming year. Keep in mind, some of these events are subject to change, so always check with the event producers to be sure you get the right dates, times and ticket information.

February –What started as a small beer festival under the Fuller Warren Bridge has turned into one of the premier beer events in Northeast Florida. Sponsored by the Riverside Rotary Club, The Riverside Craft Beer Festival, Saturday, held February 25 this year, is a charity event that benefits Community PedsCare ® a nationally recognized program of Community Hospice and Palliative Care. Expect to find fod trucks, live music and plenty of cold craft beer. More at

March – Hunahpu’s Day began as a private tasting among friends and has now become an epic rare beer tasting and release party. This year the fest is upgrading to Raymond James Stadium as its venue and is being held on Saturday, March 10 this year, the festival attracts breweries from around the world including Omipollo, Sun King and even a brewery from Russia last year. See for details.

April – Las Vegas has a reputation as a wild and loose city. With that in mind, the Great Vegas Festival of Beer is an event you do not want to miss. The fest sports a gastropub, demonstrations, presentations and lots of cold beer to sample. Plan your trip for April 6 and 7, we promise not to show anyone the pictures we take there. Plan your trip at

May – Not so much a festival as it is a collection of beer events, Asheville, North Carolina Beer Week – May 25 through June 2 – promises to sate your thirst for great beer. Check for more details.

June – Vail, Colorado is a beautiful place to visit year-round, but when it is beer festival time, it is positively gorgeous. Set for June 14-17 this year, the event pairs beer with dozens of events including many outdoor adventures. Surf to

July – Michigan boasts one of the most vibrant brewing scenes in the entire country. That said, you really should try to get to the Michigan Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, Michigan this summer July 27 and 28. You’ll get to try beer from more than 100 breweries and that’s not nothing. Deets at:

August – Germany is a dream destination for beer lovers the world over, and outside of Oktoberfest, one of the best beer fests to attend is the International Berlin Beer Festival. Expect to sample more than 2,400 beers along with 800,000 of your closest friends at this fest from August 7 through 9. Details at

September – If you have never been to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, you have missed one of, well, the greatest beer events known to man. With more than 3,800 beers to sample it is a beer-lover Nirvana. This year it is being held September 20 through 22. Learn more at

October – One word; Oktoberfest. ‘Nuff said. Also, Jacksonville’s first craft beer brewery celebrates a milestone — 10 years of brewing bliss. Check back for details on Bold City Brewery’s 10th anniversary celebration. Keep an eye on

Festivals tend to slow as winter holidays draw near, but the annual Orlando Beer Festival organized by Folio Weekly sister paper Orlando Weekly is a swilling good time. Hit for details.

December – Santacon is more of a phenomenon than an event, but if bar-hopping and drinking while wearing a Santa suit are a thing for you, Santacon is your kind of event. Check their page ( for details of one near you if you can’t make it to NYC for the largest collection of Santas you’ll ever see.


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Posted by on January 26, 2018 in Beer


Has the three-tier system become archaic?

For many, the ability to go to the local grocery store or corner store and pick up a six-pack of their favorite craft beer is merely a matter of convenience. No thought is given to how that beer got there or who put it there. It is just there, ready to be picked up, purchased and consumed. But, the story of how craft beer gets from brewer to grocer is fascinating and, at times, frustrating.

As America awoke from the long, dark nightmare that was Prohibition, the federal government left the regulation of alcohol to the states. Lawmakers wanted a way to prevent the proliferation of “tied houses” or saloons that served beer from only one brewery. Before prohibition, it was common for breweries to provide loans to bar owners for furniture and bar equipment under the stipulation that the bar only serve their beer. Along with the loan, breweries applied pressure to the barkeep to sell more and more beer, often leading to overconsumption and drunkenness of patrons. Add in the specter of the mob-controlled distribution and speakeasy networks during Prohibition and it was apparent a change had to be made.

These fears led to the adoption of what is known as the “three-tier system.” This set of laws separate brewers from retailers through a middle-man or distributor. In essence, the system requires brewers to sell their beer to a distributor who then sells the beer to retailers like bars, restaurants and stores. Since the federal government left the states to regulate alcohol as they saw fit, the system is not consistent across the nation. But, for the most part, the system prohibits breweries from owning distribution firms or selling directly to retailers. In Florida, breweries are allowed to operate tap rooms where they are allowed to sell their own beer to guests on a limited basis.

But, in an industry overflowing with choices, brewers can find it difficult to get shelf space or tap placements if their beer is sub-par. For this reason, many distributors recommend breweries fine tune their beers in their tap room before releasing them to distribution.

“A tap room’s a beautiful thing,” said David Rigdon of Jacksonville distributor Champion Brands to a group of brewery owners at the recent Florida Brewers Conference. “Use your taproom to develop your beers. At the end of the day, though, it’s the old push pull. We push your brands, but buyers have to pull them.”

The system is not without its critics. Some breweries, particularly smaller ones, contend that self-distribution would allow them to ensure their beers stay on tap thereby helping both the brewery and retailer make more sales. They cite the example of a bar that blows a tap of their beer on a Friday evening. If there are no self-distribution laws and only the three-tier system, the bar must wait until Monday when the distributor is open for a new keg. With self-distribution, the brewery could deliver a keg directly.

As is common among older alcohol laws, a close look at the system is needed to fully understand what still makes sense. And, as we all know, the wheels of government turn slowly. But, for now, raise a glass of your favorite brew to the fine men and women employed by your local distributors for they truly do deliver happiness.



But, some brewers, particularly small and local companies, are discovering that the three-tier system is holding them back.




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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Beer, Beer Education


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Whale sightings rare, but worthwhile

stoat111_411Even before the rise of craft beer, there have been those who have sought out the world’s rarest beers. In much the same way as a collector of fine wine seeks out rare vintages from the best producers, beer collectors seek beers made by brewers – both foreign and domestic – that may have seen very limited distribution and yet are of the highest quality. Rare beers fall into three categories: whales, white whales and ghost whales.

Whales are big beers that saw distribution in just a small geographic area or had a wider distribution, but it had a relatively small amount released to distribution. Beers like 3 Floyds Brewing Company’s Dark Lord, a massive Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar, have gained cult status and are highly-sought among beer traders. In the case of Dark Lord, the beer is only released one day per year at a ticketed event thrown by the brewery. If you don’t go to the event, the only way to get a bottle is from someone who did or someone who traded with someone who did.

White Whales are those beer that are even more rare than whales. These beers often come from small producers who only sell bottles from their brewery or have extremely limited distribution. It is not unusual for a U.S. city to only get one or two six-bottle cases per year of this type of beer. Cantillon, a producer of lambic beers located in a somewhat run-down neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium produces a number of beers that cause beer geeks to squeal like a child getting his or her first puppy. Often, Cantillon’s beers can only be purchased at the brewery in Brussels. Add to that the process it takes to produce a lambic – lambics are often blended from beers of varying age and fruit additions – and you have a recipe for a rare beer. In the case of Cantillon’s Lou Pepe Gueuze, two-year-old lambic aged in barrels that previously held wine is used to coax a mellow flavor. Bottles of pre-2002 Lou Pepe are particularly rare and push the limit of white whale and could fall in to the realm of ghost whale.

The rarest beers, those that saw only a few bottles leave the brewery are called ghost whales. These are beers that could easily sell for thousands of dollars among collectors. Beers like Brew Dogs’ The End of History falls squarely into this category. Only 12 bottles were produced of this 55% ABV brew and those were famously – and to some horrifically – presented in packaging that consisted of a taxidermed roadkill squirrel or stoat (also known as the short-tailed weasel). Those original bottles, brewed in 2010, sold for $765 each and came with a signed certificate of authenticity. But, the brewery recently announced a re-re-release of the controversial beer that will sell for $20,000 and includes an ownership stake in the Brew Dog.

For the run-of-the-mill beer hunter, snagging a whale brew like Cigar City Brewing Company’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – released only one day per year at the brewery’s annual release day/beer festival – is a reason to celebrate. To others, only something like the white whale Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze – an American-brewed, Belgian-style gueuse – that is extremely difficult to get hold of will do. Regardless of your preference for whales, if you get your hands on one, the decisions have just begun. Should you drink it, cellar it, trade it? My advice, do what you want, it’s yours. But, I am inclined to drink it!

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Posted by on December 25, 2017 in Beer, Beer Styles


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Triple your beer-drinking pleasure with Belgian Tripels

brewing-beer-medieval-lifeIf it weren’t for monks, many of the classic beer styles we now enjoy may not have been developed. In particular, Belgian monks from the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a Roman Catholic contemplative order that believes monasteries should be self-sustaining. Because of this, monks took up many trades, brewing highly-coveted beer was among them.

A favorite style produced by monks – the tripel – was developed relatively recently at the Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle or Westmalle Brewery in 1934. As a style, tripels are golden in color with aromas and flavors of apple, pear, citrus, or banana-like fruitiness, clove-like or peppery spice. Other characteristics of the style are its high alcohol (7-percent to 10-percent by volume) and its dry finish.

As early as the 6th century, monks were brewing beer. The story of the brewery at Westmalle Abbey begins in 1836 when monks began brewing beer at the Abbey. At that time, the beer was not intended to produce a profit, instead it was to be used only for the refreshment of the monks and their guests. Later, in 1856, the Abbey began selling a small portion of the beer to villagers at the gates to the monastery.

As demand grew the Abbey did, too. Expansions were undertaken in both 1865 and 1897. In those early years, the brewery produced mostly dark beers. Westmalle was best known for its dubbel, a strong dark ale that developed flavor by boiling the wort for eight to ten hours. The long boil was thought to develop the deep color and complex flavors.

Demand continues to rise and, in 1921, the Abbey decided to sell their beer to outside resellers. This necessitated another expansion that included that construction of a dedicated yeast room and a workshop. When completed in 1934, the new additions are celebrated by the introduction of a new style of beer; the tripel.

Because the palates of Belgians at that time were more attuned to darker, richer ales, the release of the golden-hued tripel was considered a radical move by a group that was known to be overwhelmingly traditional. But, as drinkers began tasting the fruity, high-alcohol brew, demand began to grow. For the next 20 years, the monks tinkered with the recipe until 1954 when Brother Thomas Sas dialed the formula in and created the tripel we know today.

So, important was it to the monks that the character of the tripel remain intact they instructed Jan Adriaensens, who has overseen brewing at Westmalle since 1982 he was to make no alterations. So, when the brewery decided to switch from square fermenters to the more modern conical style, he spent eight years experimenting on a smaller pilot system to ensure the beer would not be effected.

Though the tripel produced by Westmalle is the original and standard bearer for the style, other breweries have produced their own versions. Here are a few to look for at your local market.

New Belgium Trippel

Creamy and fruity with plenty of alcohol punch, this beer the Colorado and now North Carolina brewery reveals citrus, dark fruit and other spicy flavors.

Victory Golden Monkey

Easy drinking and refreshing despite its 9.5% ABV, this one will sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

Wicked Barley Monks Menage

When this tasty Belgian-style tripel is on tap, it treats drinkers to a solid, boozy experience redolent with cracker, spice and pepper.










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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Beer, Beer Styles


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Utopias a rare find worth the search

utopiasJim Koch is an iconic figure in the American craft beer scene and this fall his Boston Beer Company, better known as Samuel Adams, is releasing the 10th iteration of its iconic brew Utopias. Created only once every other year, this extremely limited edition beer is one of the world’s most sought-after brews.

Koch, a sixth-generation brewer, almost did not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. He went to college at Harvard where he earned three degrees before beginning a career in management consulting. But, the siren song of beer kept pulling at him. And, with his great-great grandfather Louis Koch’s recipe for a spicy Vienna-style lager in hand, he brewed the first of what would become Boston Beer’s flagship brand – Samuel Adams Boston Lager — in his kitchen.

Not long after that, Koch invested $100,000 of his own money and additional funds raised from investors that included friends, family and former classmates to found the Boston Beer Company in 1984. With the specter of his family’s 13 brewery failures looming over him, Koch was determined to make Samuel Adams a success.

Over the next 13 years, Koch grew his business by leveraging other brewery’s excess capacity in a process known as contract brewing. Then, in 1997, he purchased the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio. This helped the flourishing company free itself from contract brewing and accelerated its growth.

Utopias got its start in 1994 with the first release of a new beer style brewed by Samuel Adams called Triple Bock. The opaque, black brew was the strongest beer ever brewed at the time a whopping 17.5% ABV. Described as similar in taste to a port wine, Triple Bock was brewed with maple syrup, aged in spirits barrels and presented in distinctive cobalt-blue bottles. Only three vintages of the brew were created in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

Not content with creating the world’s first triple bock, Koch began thinking about what he could fashion to commemorate the coming new millennia. The result with an American Strong Ale he appropriately named Millennium. Koch again pushed the envelope on alcohol content with this brew settling in at 20% ABV. Millennium was only brewed once.

With two big beers under his belt, Koch wanted to create a beer that would be produced every other year. The beer, which he decided to call Utopias, would be bigger than its predecessors and would be blended with the base beer that has matured in scotch, cognac and port barrels. The first release, in 2002, weighed at 24% ABV with subsequent releases reaching 29% ABV.

Brewed to be a complex beer, Utopias consists of three different varieties each of hops and malt. Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, and Tettnang Tettnanger hops provide a slight amount of bitterness to the brew while Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, and Munich malts provide sweetness along with maple syrup.

So, what should you expect Utopias to taste like if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of this illusive beer? Many compare it to a fine cognac or sherry. It contains no carbonation and pours inky black. A new bottle will be hot with alcohol, but also flavors of leather, cherry, molasses and toffee. Upon aging a few years, the alcohol hotness should drop off and the other flavors will intensify.

With only 13,000 bottles available this year, expect Utopias to be a hard bottle to find. But, if you find it and the $199 price tag doesn’t scare you away, you will be rewarded with a truly remarkable beer worthy of savoring only on the most special of occasions.




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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Beer, Beer Releases


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Georgia’s allows taproom beer sales starting Friday, September 1

IMG_4752Since the end of prohibition, liquor laws have been under the control of each individual state. Most states enacted three-tier system laws that separated alcohol producers from retail outlets via a middle man or distributor. But, many states, even though they passed three-tier system laws, left wiggle room for small producers that allowed them to sell their products in self-run tasting rooms. Georgia was not one of those states. Until today, that is.

As Prohibition came to an end, lawmakers wanted a way to prevent the proliferation of “tied houses” or saloons that served beer from only one brewery. Before Prohibition, saloons were extremely competitive. Most areas had several, each tied to a different brewery. To enhance their beer’s prominence, brewers enticed bar owners to pledge fealty to them by providing loans for furniture and bar equipment under the stipulation that the bar only serve their beer. Breweries ran aggressive marketing campaigns and often applied pressure to their tied barkeeps to sell more and more beer. Often the result was overconsumption and drunkenness leading to deteriorating social situations. Add the specter of mob-controlled distribution and speakeasy networks during Prohibition and it was apparent a change had to be made.

The answer, or so the lawmakers of post-Prohibition America thought, was to put in place a three-tier system in which brewers or distillers could not sell directly to consumers or retailers, they could only sell their products to distributors who could then turn around and sell the product to retailers at a marked-up price. Lawmakers saw this as a way to prevent tied-houses and their overpowering influence. What they accomplished in many instances was to simply shift the corruption from overpowering breweries to distributors who forced breweries into distribution contracts that heavily favored the distributor and prevented producers from breaking the contract even if the distributor failed to market a product effectively.

This inequity is what led to a years-long fight for brewer’s rights in Georgia.

As early as 2001, Georgia’s lawmakers were conducting studies to determine the fairness of the three-tier system. In 2013, the subject was again taken up with brewers appearing before a committee to discuss the issues presented by a strict system that forbids them from selling to consumers directly from their breweries.

“This issue,” Said Rick Tanner of Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative to the commission. “Is more about competitive economic development than it is about alcohol distribution systems.”

In the end, the 2013 study simply made the suggestion that brew pubs be allowed to sell growlers of beer as long as it was purchased with a meal consumed at the brew pub and that it was partially consumed before leaving the premises.

Then, again in 2015, the subject was broached in the Georgia senate. The Republican Senator Hunter Hill from Smyrna introduced Senate Bill 63, that allowed breweries to offer “souvenirs” of their products to customers who took a “tour” of their facilities. While the bill fell short of small brewers’ hopes of being allowed to self-distribute in a limited capacity, it opened the door for future reform.

Finally, in February 2017 Senate Bill 85 was proposed. The Bill would allow the state’s licensed breweries to sell up to 288 ounces of beer — equal to 24 12-ounce bottles — to patrons at their taprooms with a direct sales limit of 3,000 barrels per year or about one million bottles.

Eventually, the Bill passed and Georgia’s governor signed it into law. Starting today Georgia’s breweries can now sell beer to their taproom visitors by the pint, bottle, can or even keg.

Across the state, breweries are hosting celebrations to mark the occasion. In Atlanta, SweetWater Brewing is marking the occasion with new tours and full pours for sale, while Red Brick is offering full pours and case sales. In Cobb County, Burnt Hickory is offering case sales of their brews at a special price, while Macon Beer Company in Macon will mark the day with a ceremonial first full pour.




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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Beer, Beer News


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