Hoops on Hops: Keeping things in balance this fall
The fall season brings the harvest and a bounty of ingredients that brewers use for beer — the stars being apples and pumpkins.
Greetings to you all. With the first official day of fall, the autumnal equinox, arriving yesterday, I hope the crisp weather and the pretty leaf watching in the area finds you all well.
Fall is the time to fire up the fireplace, take long walks in the woods with or without your dog, open the windows at night and snuggle up under the covers, cook and get ready for Halloween (the gateway to the holidays). Things might look a bit different this fall, but I suspect and hope that family and holiday gatherings will be at an all-time high this year, something we can be thankful for.
The equinoxes traditionally mark the changing of the seasons and the natural occurrences of transition. Just two days before the spring — or vernal equinox — last March, Minnesota's governor asked all breweries and many other businesses to close our doors to customers in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. All these months later, it has been quite a challenging time, both illuminating and full of unknowns.
Breweries and many other businesses did get to re-open. And on another positive note, I’m grateful that we have had arguably the nicest summer in memory, although we could have used some more rain. Small miracles are now what we are holding onto and sharing. What a great summer!
The Old Farmers’ Almanac tells us that this year, the fall equinox arrived on Tuesday. This means fall begins in the northern hemisphere and spring begins in the southern. This book is one of my favorites. It’s a charming American periodical started in 1818 in Maine and covers the old-school issues of farming and weather predictions. It’s a yearly staple in our home.
The Almanac tells us that, after the fall equinox, the sun begins to rise later and nightfall comes sooner, as we all know, until December, when the solstice comes and the days slowly get longer again. The autumnal equinox is a balance of day and night, when we have equal amounts of daylight and night dark after the long, beautiful days of summer.
The fall season brings the harvest and a bounty of ingredients that brewers use for beer — the stars being apples and pumpkins. Both fruits will be widely featured in beers we'll see in the next weeks. I am a huge fan of apple beers; they're a bit like cider — crisp, fruity and tasty, with round, sweet flavors.
These beers are about balance. (That is the theme this week; with the equinox, "balance" is on my mind.) Brewers constantly strive to provide a nice balance in their beers, between the sweet notes of malt (barley, wheat, oats, rye, etc.), fruits and other fun ingredients. And of course hops, which are more bitter and add many notes, like pine, grass, citrus and straw. As brewers, we get to weigh flavors against each other to provide harmony, just like the change of seasons we are experiencing. Balance is the goal.
I moved back to Duluth more than 20 years ago from San Francisco. The mean temperature there was about 65 degrees, and seasonal transitions were barely discernible. Here in Duluth, seasons rule our livelihoods and lifestyles. We get the full four seasons, and each comes at us with a bang. Changes of wardrobe, mentality, activities and optimism are welcome transitions.
In the brewery, we also brew with and to the seasons. And with the constant striving of equally balanced flavors, we salute the celestial balance of the equinox. For example, we use rye to add some spice to a beer’s flavor, then we use Saaz hops from the Czech Republic to provide balanced spice. (I know it sounds confusing, but you as beer drinkers get to enjoy the final product not knowing that we are constantly trying to provide balance from many sources!)
So, welcome to fall! My thoughts are positive and with all of you readers from the Farmers’ Almanac:
“Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.” — Irish Proverb
Please feel free to email fall thoughts and, of course, beer thoughts.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.