BRANDON — For most beer drinkers, appreciating the taste of beer is enough, but at this month’s Farmer Breakfast, attendees had the chance to learn about how beer ingredients are grown and brought together to make one of America’s favorite drinks.
Jason McKibben, a brewmaster for 18 years who started out at Anheuser-Busch, and who is now part owner of North High Brewing Company in Columbus, shared the basics of the beer brewing process.
The four main ingredients, McKibben explained are water, yeast, grain and hops, and all four ingredients in their variations changes the way the beer looks, smells and tastes.
Water makes up 97 percent of the beer and beer tends to be made with a local source of water, McKibben shared.
“That’s really the origin of a lot of different styles from around the world is, what was the water source like?” McKibben said. “The origin of Pilsners and lagers — Pilsen, Czech Republic and Germany — those water sources were spring water and were very low in mineral content. The water in Burton-on-Trent England where Bass Ale is made is hard as a rock, full of minerals. So each of those styles, that Bass Ale being kind of a rich malty ale, compared to a Pilsner, which is light and much more delicate, are really shaped because of the water. It also effects pH, which has a flavor contributing aspect, too.”
Yeast, McKibben said, is what makes beer, beer. It converts the sugars from the grain into alcohol and creates flavors and carbon dioxide. There are two classifications of yeast — ale and lager. Ales create flavorful and fruity aromas and lagers are clearer and more mild in flavor, he explained. Temperature also plays a role, McKibben said noting that ales ferment at around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while lagers ferment at around 50 to 55 degrees.
Crops such as hops and grain, can be grown by farmers in addition to their regular crops to diversify and bring in additional income.
Matt Cunningham, with Rustic Brew Farm in Marysville, explained that he started growing barley for beer in 2015 as a means of diversifying his operation. Before barley is given to the brewer, it must be made into a malt, which is the process of germinating the grain by putting water back into it and then kilning and curing the grain just before it begins to sprout. While most farmers take their crops to malt houses, Cunningham built his own, so he could see the grain through, from start to finish, before sending it on to the brewer. Cunningham tried both winter and spring barley, but found that Ohio springs are too wet and left the grain open to disease pressure because of the later harvest requirements.
Many things go into the process of making sure that grain is of malt quality, meaning that brewers will be able to use it for beer, Cunningham said. Keeping track of things like protein levels, color, plumpness and moisture is all very important to make sure that the crop is malt quality and useful to a brewer.
“It’s weird, it goes against everything I was brought up on but, yield isn’t the most important thing anymore,” Cunningham shared. “It’s actually all these malt quality numbers, because if you have 120 bushels of barley crop, but you miss [a malt quality number] — you’re going to sell your barley to the brewer for around $6, maybe $10 a bushel, and you miss one of these malt quality numbers and it gets rejected — now it’s all of the sudden worth the price of corn.”
Variations in the malting process affect the way the malt will taste, McKibben said, and can bring bready, nutty, chocolate, coffee and roasty flavor profiles, among others to the beer.
Hops, on the other hand, can provide fruity, tropical, floral, spicy, grassy, citrus and pine flavors and aromas in a beer. They also have acids that have preservative qualities, McKibben said.
“A lot of the hop cultivation these days is designed around creating those flavors, and all the hop breeding these days is done by private companies that are trying to create a hop that has some sort of value added or unique flavor to it,” McKibben said. “Hop cultivation used to be done by the USDA, and was mainly done for agronomic reasons, whether it was yield or disease resistance, or whatever. But the times have changed, and now hops are all about what kind of flavor we can create. The quality has come a long way, and I think that’s really kind of given birth to these new styles.”
Jenny Cox, with Cass Place Hops in Dresden, said that she and her husband started growing hops in addition to corn and beans on an acre and a half of their property. They researched the process and figured out that the acre and a half would accommodate 12 rows of hops. They enriched their soil with chicken manure and built a trellis system of 84 poles resembling telephone poles with 15,000 feet of high-tensile wire that is strung across the tops of the poles and used for stabilizers in order to hold the bulk of the hop bines as they grow. From the wire, they hung coir, which is a sort of twine made from coconut fiber, that the hops grow up vertically.
Cass Place Hops planted around 1,400 plants, Cox said, in three varieties of hop. Each plant lasts for around 15 years, she explained, and takes about three years before the plants reach full production. Cass Place Hops just finished their second year of growth.
Hops are labor intensive, Cox explained, as they need to be trained onto the trellis system by hand in a very specific way so that they grow properly and do not overcrowd each other.
Once the hops are 80 percent dry it is time to harvest them. They are cut down and each variety is put through the harvester separately to preserve the taste, Cox said. The hops are then allowed to dry down to 6-10 percent so they can be pelletized. Typically brewers don’t use the full hop cone in brewing, according to McKibben, so the powder inside called lupulin that is used for brewing beer is made into pellets for easy use and a cleaner brew.
North High Brewing Company has partnered with the Ohio Farm Bureau to commemorate the bureau’s 100th anniversary with a beer called “Cover Crop.” Cover Crop is a 4.5 percent alcohol Blonde Ale that utilizes 100 percent Ohio malt and hops, and will be available throughout 2019.
The Farmer Breakfast is meant to be an educational series and a networking opportunity for local farmers and is always held the third Tuesday of the month at 8 a.m. at the Brandon Baptist Church, 13513 Sycamore Road.