While browsing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide recently, an amusing thought occurred to me. We all know where wine country is but where is beer country?
In this visitor’s guide, fun trips for visiting family and friends included boom towns, bike trails, fairways, volcanoes, heli-skiing, islands, rain forests and wine country but nothing about beer country.
So I did an online search for beer country. Nada. No where. Another search for hop country was darned fascinating. There is no such thing as hop country but there is Hick Hop Country which is a concept pertinent to beer in unique ways.
When you think about Wine Country, you envision vineyards, barrel rooms and tasting bars. You know this is where they grow great grapes, ferment and age fabulous wines. Federal Law actually requires the wine labels to inform you where the grapes are from be it Barossa Valley, Burgundy or Bainbridge Island. And this helps you understand the importance of wine regions where the wine grapes are grown to the wine’s quality.
But most beer labels are woefully sparse on the origins of the grains and hops and how they’re treated in the fermentation process that will affect the final product. It doesn’t make sense that where grain and hops are grown doesn’t contribute to the quality of the brew, especially when you consider how much hops and grain are grown in Washington State.
Washington State produces 77% of the United States’ hop harvest. Washington hop growers raise both aroma and alpha variety hops. The majority of the hops produced in Washington are alpha and super alpha varieties. Alpha hops are designer hops, used as a bittering agent in your IPAs and other brews.
Traditional aroma varieties, Willamette, Cascade, and Mt. Hood have been grown in eastern Washington – aka Wine Country – for generations. The economic impact of the Washington beer industry contributes greatly to our state’s economic vitality. Revenue generated was in excess of $6 billion in 2014.
While many of us are proud of the wonderful award winning beers produced here in the Kitsap Peninsula, we are clearly behind in per capita consumption. In 2012, the United States drank 77.1 liters per person, with some doing more and others clearly not doing their part.
We rank 14th in per capita beer consumption behind the likes of Finland, Panama, Slovenia, Venezuela and other more obvious stein sloshing nations like the Czech Republic, Poland, Ireland and Germany. Astonishingly, IPA’s namesake, India, drinks 2 liters per capita which is the equivalent of 5.6 six packs.
Wine on the other hand, is an equally intriguing story. Not surprisingly, the majority of the highest ranking wine consumption countries are in Europe. Surprisingly, it’s the country of Vatican City that utterly dominates every other country, with 73.38 liters per capita in 2012. That is amazing considering there are only about 800 Roman Catholic adults in this country. France clocks in at 44.12 liters per capita. And Italy? 37.54 liters per capita.
Even Canada (11.70L) quaffed more wine than the United States, at a mere 10.33 liters per capita. The take away from this news is we, as a country need to give more beer and/or wine gifts.
We can start with our Christmas lists. Cross off sweaters and such and give a thoughtful gift of Eleven late harvest Viognier, Rolling Bay Syrah or Amelia Wynn Merlot.
On the beer side, I would highly recommend a barrel aged beer. Barrel aged beer is more complex, richer and concentrated. For thousands of years, beer was not only aged but brewed and transported in wood. Today, they’re boiled in copper kettles, fermented in stainless steel and for the most part, then bottled. But several years ago, the bourbon barrel made its grand entrance into the brewing world.
The law dictates that bourbon makers can only use a barrel once. After that first use, the expensive barrels are re-purposed. Bourbon barrels are sent around the world to age Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Sherry, and most recently, big beers.
Bourbon barrels aren’t the only containers brewers are using, either. Those creative folks also use sherry, wine, tequila, and rum barrels. At a recent barrel aged beer tasting, I tasted beer aged in bourbon, brandy, sherry, tequila, Viognier, Muscat, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels. One beer was even made with grains, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and fermented with both lager and champagne yeast.
Deschutes The Abyss is imperial stout, partly aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels. Almanac’s Barrel Noir is a stout aged in tequila barrels. And Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper is a quintessential bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, full of chocolate covered caramel flavors
Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Ales are always a blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged beers. Most years the blend can be from as many as eight separate barrels of their Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Bravo and/or Velvet Merkin. The result is a masterful blended beer that is highly sought after and prized. The perfect gift.
Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a Belgian strong ale that’s aged in Burgundy barrels from Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges. This prestigious French Burgundy barrel caught my attention. The beer takes almost a year to produce and is fermented a total of three times. Once in tank, then in the wine cask, and finally in the bottle. And it’s a third of the price of a bottle of Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges.