Sunday, October 21, 2007

What's 'hop'pening?

Before we get to the breaking news section of this blog post, I have to share how tasty the potimarron squash are. I browned some bratwurst, picked a few giant sage leaves, and started the squash baking. Once the sausages were ready, I cut them in thirds, wrapped each piece with a sage leaf, using a toothpick to hold it together. Then the brat chunks went into the squash halves for a bit more baking. The sage flavored the meat, and the sagey meat juices flavored the squash. A wonderful combination! The squash has a really dense, custardy texture, and rich, earthy flavor. They are a C. maxima variety, so unless we find some other must-try squash in this species group, we'll give potimarron another try next year. We didn't get the yields we expected from any of our squashes, so I can't really judge this variety without another growing season.

Now for the Halloween-appropriate scary news -

Due to a variety of factors (a great 4-page article here, detailing the impact of this crisis on bakers as well as brewers), including extreme weather, overseas competition for brewing ingredients (hops & grains), hedge fund speculators in agricultural commodities futures, less acreage planted in hops & barley (thanks to the ethanol boom), and more land under (profitable development)pavement than under cultivation. This is resulting in some newer, smaller breweries being forced to consider not just raising prices, but going out of business altogether!

"...Hale's Ales Brewery in Seattle, known for its Mongoose India Pale Ale, next year could end up paying 75 percent more for its malt, and it's seeing prices for hops rise to $20 per pound from $3 per pound, said production manager Rudyard "J." Kipling....
Pike Brewing raised the price of its six-packs recently, to about $10, which puts it among the most expensive craft beers. So it's not planning any further boosts for now.
"It seems obvious now that we did the right thing, because others will have no choice but to raise their prices," Finkel said.
At Mukilteo's Diamond Knot Brewing Inc., huge jumps in contracted hops prices "have put us in a cash-flow crunch," said Vice President Bob Maphet.
"We have to pay tens of thousands of dollars right now for something we won't use until next year, and we're trying to figure out how to pay for it," he said. "Where there's an increase, everyone needs to find a way to pass it on. The impact could be higher beer prices, simple as that."..."

Growers work on a contract system, a season or more ahead. So the larger breweries have their orders placed way before smaller ones, who may not know exactly how much they will need for the coming year, may not have the established relationships to put them at the head of the ordering line, or may not be able to afford the astronomical price hikes on a typical new-business budget. Washington State grows nearly all the country's hops, and most of those in the Yakima Valley.

How can you help? What can you do?
Support your favorite microbreweries! Yes the cost will be higher, but we can't put a price on preserving a timeless, unique tradition in the face of this global crisis. We can't let the shortsighted "strategies" of agribusiness reward corporate megabrewers (if you can call that tasteless stuff beer), or the folks selling good cropland for superfluous housing developments, or energy companies seeking taxpayer subsidies for mono-cropping corn for ethanol. Vote with your dollars and keep beer-diversity alive!

And.......brew your own! The more homebrewers, the merrier. There is a renewed interest in historical, pre-hop-era ales. These herbal beers are called Gruits, and people all over the world have made them for millennia. Each area, and sometimes each household, had their own house blend of herbs and spices that gave preservative qualities, medicinal benefits, and unique flavor. We're lucky enough at Seven Trees to have a once-widely-used brewing herb called ground ivy growing like a weed throughout our lawn. Common "weeds" like nettle, yarrow, mugwort and herbs like rosemary, basil & mint are often used as well. We're doing our part, and have 2 kinds of beer in the works right now, with 2 more on order for brewing in the next week or so. Spring will have us back in the nettle patch to recreate our infamous nettle braggot too!
I'll leave you with this nifty picture of historical brewsters (Wow! Put a pointy hat on them, and you can see where the stereotypical Halloween witch came from). Click the link for a really neat online exhibit from the National Women's History Museum called - Building the New World: The Women of Jamestown Settlement.


Torjus Gaaren said...

I couldn't get past that squash thingy. It looked so good!. Looked almost like melon...

Sage, does that taste something like juniper berries?

Seven Trees said...

Sage has its own unique flavor. It's used in sausage and with turkey & chicken a lot, so that's what I think of when I smell sage.

We've used juniper berries in sauerkraut, and it sure didn't remind me of sage ;)