Thousands gathered last weekend in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for the Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass Festival, a three-day event created by investor Warren Hellman (related to pretty much everybody that matters except the mayonnaise guy). It was 80 degrees, which is hot for San Francisco, and I was fresh out of grown-up apple cider, which left me staring down the barrel of a 9.7% imperial IPA pondering how this was hardly, strictly a good idea. It was a great idea.
San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery produced their Hop Crisis! Imperial IPA in response to an actual calamity. While the country stared on in horror as the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2007, another Truly Awful Thing creeped up: an international shortage of hops, one of the four basic ingredients of beer.
According to National Public Radio, lower hops production, bad weather in Europe and an increase in the price of barley resulted in a 20% price spike for most varieties and up to 80% for specialty hops. The big brewers didn’t feel it, supposedly because they had long-term contracts in place with hops farmers. But while some microbrewers shied away from bold brews for fear of even bolder price tags, 21st Amendment went in the complete opposite direction, making the biggest, baddest beer they could and shoving it into a four-pack.
I stumbled across it by accident as in preparation for the festial. Technically, you can bring alcohol but not glass into Golden Gate Park, and being the respectful, law-abiding citizen that I am, I went on a special mission to make sure I could drink my fill in public. Apparently only BevMo! and Halloween Spirit costume stores believe it’s October — it looked like a drunk pumpkin exploded in there. Countless pumpkin beers and ciders stocked the shelves. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I needed it to be in a can, disqualifying most of the holiday brews.
Like most people, I do judge on appearances, and the small cube-shaped package on the far side of the aisle intrigued me. Hop Crisis! comes in a unique four-pack, the outside of which is a cartoon depicting 21st Amendment co-founders Shaun O’Sullivan and Nico Freccia breaking out of Alcatraz to confront the Hop Syndicate, a nefarious organization hoarding hops in a remote warehouse. Their adventure to liberate the hops leads them to paddle out through a sewer pipe on ironing boards and then surf to freedom, kicking Great White sharks in the nose as they go.
I take my cartoons with a side of beer. You know, because I’m an adult.
My inability to turn down neither hops nor whimsy led me to this juncture, sun beating down on my pasty white skin and can of dehydrating destruction in hand. It gave a satisfying sizzle as it opened, and a long inhale offered a spicy, fruity smell I usually associate with Belgian brews. Like most good beer or wine, giving the beverage a good airing deepens the scent and accentuates the oak flavor introduced during the aging process.
21st Amendment lets the beer sit with oak spirals to develop that delicious campfire-esque taste. That and the proliferation of Columbus, Centennial and Cascade hops balance out the beer’s otherwise intense sweetness. I think of it this way — if 21st Amendment was willing to defy laws of price and consumption to make this beer for me, how could I not toss common sense to the wind for it?
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