Picking the right ingredients
Earth Day is probably a good time to stop for a moment and admire the power of Mother Nature. For beer, nothing is more important than the natural ingredients used in brewing. As is the case with all natural ingredients, they are suspect to change, year after year, harvest after harvest. Entire crops of barley can be affected due to extreme weather conditions. The same hop variety can differ year after year, depending on many circumstances. Hops are especially sensible to various diseases. Eerie names like Verticillium Wilt, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and black root rot keep the farmers awake at night. Even the noble hops like the acclaimed Czech Saaz hop can be affected by some of these diseases, depending on the area of growth. Agricultural institutes all over the world keep coming up with new hop varieties, both to create new flavors and aromas but also to make the hops more disease-resistant. During such research some great hop varieties have been bred, like Nelson Sauvin, a great aromatic hop from New Zealand, originally created from a hop breeding program to fight the before mentioned black root rot. Of all the beer ingredients, water and yeast are the least affected by natural conditions. Nowadays water can easily be treated with various elements to get the desired profile and yeast is usually taken care of inside the brewery.
Picking the right ingredients is essential to brewing. In order to choose the right ones we have to understand how each ingredient from the recipe will affect our beer. This takes a lot of knowledge and exercise. In order to explain and understand certain flavors and aromas the taste buds have to be trained and well experienced. Smelling fresh hops, making a hop tea out of them or tasting the malt are all various ways of testing certain ingredients. Some even brew small batches of beer using a single malt and a single hop variety (called SMASH beers) to explore the flavor and aromas of certain hop and malt varieties. Once we understand what we want to do with our beer we can go out and judge if the ingredients are good enough to ensure beer of top-notch quality. That is the reason why our brewers are in contact with our malt and hops suppliers, ensuring that the best crop of ingredients find its way to the brewery.
The most important part of brewing happens long before the first brewing kettle is cleaned and fired up. Picking the right ingredients is one of the most important steps in the brewing process. Oddly enough, it rarely happens in the brewery.