In early September, hundreds of American breweries create special beers with "wet hops," fresh, whole-leaf hops used within days or even hours of harvest. Hops grown in the Yakima region of Washington, Oregon's Willamette Valley, and Idaho's Treasure Valley are picked, processed and trucked to awaiting brew kettles throughout the country, including those in these parts.
This year, however, Fat Heads Brewery invited Northeast Ohio residents to get in on the fun with one of the most unique hop harvest projects in the country. In April, the brewery handed out Cascade hop plants to loyal customers to grow at home. The hop vines climbed through early summer and started to flower in July. Last week, the mature (and fragrant) wet hops were collected and incorporated into this year's batch of Fat Heads Hop Stalker IPA. The beer should finish fermenting in a few weeks, at which time the local growers will sample the final product at an invitation-only preview party.
In other Fat Heads news: The brewery recently tapped another collaboration brew created with Hershey, Pa.-based Tröegs Brewing Company. The two previously teamed up on Fat Scratch Fever, an American IPA that was bottled as the 51st edition of Tröegs' experimental Scratch series. This time, Fat Heads brewers Matt Cole and Michael Zoscak took a detour en route to the American Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia to join John Trogner and Jeff "Moose" Musselman to craft Scratch #109, dubbed Second Hand Tropical Stout. The name refers to the fact that Fat Heads purchased much of the equipment in their Middleburg Heights brewhouse from Tröegs. The beer is an 8.4-percent ABV sweet stout made with brown sugar, chocolate, lactose and toasted coconuts, and practically begs to be paired with a chocolate or Caribbean dessert.
Food and drink have a prominent place in the Game of Thrones novels and the popular television show, both as an element of fantasy and an indicator of social status. As the battle for power rages in the Seven Kingdoms, everybody from sworn swords to humble pages can become parched. A special beer is needed to quench such a fantastic thirst, and HBO and Ommegang Brewery have the perfect potion in their new Game of Thrones line of beers.
This past March, Iron Throne Belgian Pale Ale was released and quickly disappeared from local shelves. The next beer in the series is a Belgian Stout called Take the Black Stout. In late July, attendees at Ommegang's Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival and San Diego's Comic Con were treated to a sneak peek and the reviews were quite favorable. The beer has a fantastic mix of dark roasted malt and Belgian yeast. Take the Black stout will reach Northeast Ohio shelves in mid-September.
Beers based on TV shows are uncommon, but beers brewed by metal legends are even more extraordinary. Fans of Iron Maiden have waited patiently since Stockport, England's Robinsons Brewery announced that vocalist Bruce Dickinson had created Trooper, a decidedly British-style beer with toasted malt depth and citric hop character provided by Bobec, Goldings and Cascade hops. As the beer's namesake song goes, "We get so near yet so far away."
Finally, after months of anticipation, the beer has arrived stateside. Demand has far exceeded supply, with more than a million pints sold in the first two months of availability in Europe, including an astounding 20,000 bottles sold in one day in Sweden alone.
Trooper is the fastest-ever selling ale for Robinsons Brewery in its entire 175-year history as a family brewer. Dickinson sings that "on this battlefield no one wins," but with this interesting and easy-drinking collaboration, everybody is a winner.