By Bill Covaleski
A recent trip to Pittsburgh had me wistful about a stop that Ron and I had made in that great city back in June of 1995. We were there to work the Pennsylvania Microbrewers Fest for Ron’s employer at that time, Old Dominion Brewing Co., on our way to West Alexandria, OH, to specify our brewhouse and fermenters for Victory. It was exciting times for us – moments full of opportunity and trepidation.
One very important aspect of our brewing future and investment in equipment that crystalizes that time of hope and worry, was our decision to brew with whole flower hops. We had not brewed professionally with whole flower hops up to this point, only in our home-brewing efforts. Still, we were convinced that the most natural form of the hop yielded the fullest expression of hop characters. We were betting our future on this decision, literally, as we drove to Ohio.
“Arising from the heady wilds of our Hopback…,” as our HopDevil label states, our IPA put Victory on the American craft brewing map as rich, German malt wrestled with the full, juicy and spicy hop characters to the delight of beer fans. Still our top seller, HopDevil’s knowing smirk tells you that he’s pleased to have survived the onslaught of the 1,100+ craft breweries that have opened since he was born.
But our menacingly delicious HopDevil has also proven himself to be a kind and generous soul, sharing his key ingredient of whole flower hops as his family has grown to include Hop Wallop, Headwaters Pale Ale, etc.
And, as in most families, even the big brother might find a younger sibling becoming physically bigger than he, as time goes by. Enter our Ranch series of double IPAs.
Beginning innocently enough in late 2011, our Ranch series was something of a continuation of hop experiments we had carried out in our Pursuit Pale Ale, the draft precursor to our Headwaters Pale Ale. Since 2001, our ongoing single varietal hopped Braumeister Pils series has lead us into whole flower hop nirvana on many tasty twists and turns. Perhaps the geeky pinnacle in this journey, in January of 2012 we tapped five Braumeister Pils, brewed such that the only variable between each was the specific field in which the German Tettnanger hops were grown. Terroir des Tettnangs was a hit.
And so we turned our attentions to the double IPA style as a vehicle for hop variety experiments. Our first release, dubbed Ranch S, highlighted the wonderful hops from Segal Ranch whose owner, John Segal proclaimed, “It is a wonderful idea and a delicious DIPA!” of this heady ale starring the Cascade hop variety.
Now we are blending varieties of hops in our Ranch DIPA releases. Not to to hide the identity of our hop growers (ranchers), but to play with the subtlety and nuance we have tasted from hops employed so far. Picture a conductor bringing his orchestra together after having conducted rigorous auditions. That’s kind of where we are now with this Ranch series. Of course, new players are being auditioned as well, as this evolves.
But let’s get back to those little green stars of our show, the whole flower hops. In 2012, we upgraded our brewhouse with a new and improved Hopback, dubbed the “HopVic,” to accommodate 100% more whole flower hops so that our Ranch experiments would not face any limitations. When we open our new brewery in West Sadsbury Twp., Chester County, that brewhouse will feature a “HopVic 2” that is eight times (volume capacity) the size of our original Hopback.
As you can see, our commitment to whole flower hopping continues to increase. We are convinced that this most natural form of hops provides more positive flavor impact and a better ratio of hop flavor to bitterness than other options. With this commitment to the best ingredients possible, in the pursuit of the most flavorful beers for you to enjoy, you can sit back, relax and look forward to some great times “on the Ranch.”