Jan. 17, 2013 - Issue #900: The ongoing musical evolution of Hannah Georgas
Hogging the hops
New brewery hits capital regionThere is a new kid in town, and he has got a mean snout on him. In early November, the first beer rolled out of the Hog's Head Brewery and into the pubs of the Capital Region. And even though it is early days for this start-up, they already have three things that separate them from the pack.
First, they are located in St Albert, becoming the first-ever brewery to operate out of the Edmonton suburb. Hog's Head owner Brian Molloy says that it was a conscious choice.
"Our other business is in St Albert (Molloy is principal at liquor distributor Spider Beverages). I live in St Albert," he says. It only made sense to him the he should locate his brewery there as well.
Second, they bailed Amber's Brewing out of a sticky situation. Over the summer, a last-minute rent increase at Amber's 99th Street location forced them to find a new home for brewing their beer. After searching without success, Amber's agreed to have Hog's Head brew Amber's beer at their brewery (in the industry this is called "contract brewing"). This arrangement was made more doable by Hog's Head purchasing Amber's brewhouse—giving them two (a 15-hectolitre and a 25-hectolitre)—which is an unusual set-up, but one that offers Hog's Head more flexibility in terms of batch sizes and scheduling.
Third, they will be the unchallenged hop master of Alberta breweries. Their flagship beer is Hop Slayer, an India Pale Ale that runs at 100 IBUs (a standardized measurement of bitterness—don't sweat the details), which by any account is one hell of a lot of hops. They use eight different hops in Hop Slayer, and have a "smaller" IPA called Baby Back that is a mere 91 IBUs. To give you a point for comparison, your average IPA runs at about 50 IBUs.
At the moment, they have only one other beer—a pumpkin beer called Death By Pumpkin (which also has a noticeable hop kick)—but have plans for more. Molloy says the brewery's hopes are to have a stable of five beer, plus a constantly changing series of one-off beer. They don't plan to do seasonals in a traditional sense.
"There will be no pattern," Molloy says. "We plan to throw out some kegs of something interesting, have some fun and see how people react."
Molloy, who previously worked at Tree Brewing in Kelowna, BC, wants to bring micro-brewing back to its roots.
"We are both businesspeople and beer geeks. We want to bring the story back, bring the fun back into micro-brewing," he adds.
Also breaking the Alberta mould is that Hog's Head will package in cans rather than bottles. This is a growing trend in the US, but is rarer in Canada. At first, only Hop Slayer will be available in cans (due in early spring), but the plan is to have all five beer in cans. They will also offer their beer in two-litre "growlers," which are re-usable flip-top bottles popular among beer drinkers who want beer with low environmental impact.
At time of writing, the release of Hop Slayer had been delayed a few weeks, but the Baby Back and Death by Pumpkin were available at select locations. The Baby Back lives up to the hophead reputation, with a big citrus hop aroma and bitterness, a light body and a decidedly hop-forward attitude—and this is the "small" IPA. The Death By Pumpkin was drier and sharper than most pumpkin beer you will have tried. The dry body draws out the spicing more, and while the hop addition doesn't present as a hops, per se, it does give the beer a 90-degree turn in the linger.
You can find Hog's Head beer at select pubs in town, including Underground Tap and Grill and the Sugar Bowl, and on the growler system at Wine and Beyond and Keg 'n Cork liquor stores. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.
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