Things were looking pretty grim. Of the five people in the room I definitely held the minority opinion on whether or not a full-scale anal-cavity search was really necessary. But I was also the only one in the room without a gun so I did a lot of listening. We were in a special room somewhere in the bowels of the Philadelphia International Airport sitting at a table covered with whole-leaf palisade hops and a two-foot long, fresh-hopping contraption called "Randall the Enamel Animal". The officers made some valid points about how much Randall resembled the bong to end all bongs. Their dog did not like me, or my bag of sticky hop buds, but he was German and probably partial to Hallertauer (a German hop variety).
They sent the dog away after my impassioned speech on dry-hopping and the need for more bitter beers in America. One of the officers was from Wilmington Delaware and had heard of Dogfish Head, another drank Sierra Nevada regularly. Calmer, beer-friendly heads prevailed and we all decided to forgo the cavity search. In fact, all of them were beer drinkers and found the story of Randall the Enamel Animal pretty interesting. I have a feeling that if I were an Armani-clad wine salesman I would have been bent over that table humming Moon River and pining for my age of innocence.
The hops were given a special new bag. Randall was given a special new box. Each plastered with very cool and highly collectable, "Inspected by the Dept. Homeland Security" tape. We were released from custody and loaded onto the next plane for Chicago. I was in the comfortable cabin and Randall sat in the cargo hold among the suitcases and snowboards. As craft brewers we learn that educating people on the importance of fresh, quality ingredients isn't always easy but really important to do.
The whole premise behind Randall developed a couple of months ago when I was asked to captain an east coast team of craft brewers against a bunch of west coast breweries. Dogfish Head, Old Dominion, and Capitol City anchored the east while Pizza Port, Oggi's, and Avery hailed from the west. The event, called The Lupulin Slam, (lupulin is the name of the flavoring oils in the hops) was set for back to back nights at RFD (Regional Food & Drink - the sister location of the Brickskeller , the bar that holds the Guinness book of world records title for most beers available in the world) in Washington D.C. I knew the brewers from the west coast would be bringing some seriously hoppy ales from Boulder and San Diego. As we all know, the west coast is where most of the American hops are grown today. This country's most prolific hop growing regions are in Oregon and Washington State. However, Cooperstown New York was the center of American hop growing until the turn of the century. So the East Coast certainly played a roll in the manifest destiny of the domestic hop leaf. For the Lupilin Slam, we were featuring a giant version (120 minutes - 20% alcohol by volume) of our India Pale Ale. I knew it was hoppy enough for most occasions but that it could use a booster shot for the big event.
So I took this stainless steel filter that I had bought at a scrap yard and designed some fittings and a flow chart that outlined my intentions. I shared this diagram with our brewers and they went to work modifying the filter. As usual, they were up to this unorthodox challenge. The night before the contest we packed Randall with whole leaf Cascade and Willamette hops and flooded the chamber with 120 minute IPA. The alcohol in the beer strips the oil off of the hop leafs on the way to the tap. The beer comes out the other side of Randall soaked in hop flavors and aromas not previously available in beers hopped at the brewery and not at the point where it is being served. The "Enamel" in the name comes from the gritty feeling of hop resins on your teeth - when hopping is done right and to the extreme the first sip feels like the outer layer of enamel is being dissolved from your teeth. To a hophead this is actually a very pleasant sensation (I imagine it's similar to what the heroin addict feels as he sinks the plunger on the needle in his arm, albeit more healthy).
Over two nights, 500 plus people voted between 12 entries for their favorite hoppy beer. The west coast beers were pretty amazing as usual and The Old Dominion and Cap City beers were stellar. But a Randallized-keg of Dogfish Head 120 Minute Imperial IPA. took the belt and hipped the west coast beer folk and hop heads to the reality of hardcore east coast IPA's. Maybe not better, but certainly equal in quality to the west coast counterparts. Dozens of voters came up to me over the course of the two nights to tell me they had never tried such a flavorful, fresh beer. Upon seeing Randall in action, Dave Alexander, RFD's proprietor said, "Holy crap - make me two of these things right now so I can install them here and at the Brick." Tom Nickel, one of the west coast brewers and proprietor of O'Briens, one of San Diego's premier beer bars, ordered one as well. He intends to have "Randall Nights" where he lets his beer savvy customers pick a specific hop variety and beer that they want Randall loaded with and changing it every week. "I can't wait to get dueling Randalls at O'Brien's so we can try the same beer though different hops side by side." said Nickel.
In a way Randall represents the democratization of the hop leaf. Hopefully it can be used as a tool to educate consumers on the importance of hops in a beer - something the big three brewers could pretty much care less about doing. It's pretty amazing to realize that many beer lovers have never even seen a real hop leaf before, much less watched the pint of beer their about to try flow through a see-through filter full of hops. Dogfish Head has decided to sell Randall at cost. It stands about two-feet tall and can be connected to either a cold-box or a direct draw tap system. Since every serving system has it's own quirks and specs, we recommend that anyone who buys one have a pretty good handle on the world of beer dispensing. We have no desire to make a profit for something that we think will benefit the whole beer industry (open-source hopping hardware, y'all). We're selling them for 90 bucks. For information on purchasing your very own Randall e-mail me at [url="mailto:email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/url]. Kind of like the Linux scene, Randall is an evolving experiment. If people have ideas on how to improve the design or suggestions for events to use Randall at please e-mail those along as well.
Picasso once said, "The creative act is first and foremost an act of destruction." As small brewers, our greatest challenge is destroying the rampant apathy and lack of education suffered by the average beer drinker. We spend extra money and time and care in producing our beers. If the consumer understands the difference, if we can successfully teach the difference, then the consumer can make an enlightened decision on whether or not our more expensive 6-packs are actually a better value than a cheaper six pack of a cheaper beer.
So we have to use any method we can to educate the consumer that the [i]actual beer[/i] is worth the money. Great examples abound: Dale's putting a wicked hoppy beer in a can, Rogue's working with Morrimoto to engage the foodies, Ray Daniel's championing of cask beer, Garret Oliver's recent beer & food book. Every one of these breweries and people are doing a great job of bringing the battle for the consumer back inside the bottle (can, firkin, etc). Too much is made of the hyperbole, smoke and mirror that is marketed outside of the bottle. If we continue to spend our money inside the bottle the craft beer segment will continue to grow. We need to explain to consumers why this makes more sense than buying bikini teams and blimps. And we need to use whatever tools we can think of to further this education.
I think of my buddy, Randall the Enamel Animal, taped up and locked down in the cargo hold of a plane like some food grade plastic Hannibal Lechter. I am confident that he will escape and continue to spread the word of the glory of the hop. He will do his small part to destroy the hollow branding & marketing propaganda that drives the beer industry. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
An extract from the book Brewing up a Business by Sam Calagione....