Travel south for work or vacation and you will find reasonably-hoppy locally-brewed beer anywhere in the USA, even Hawaii. Agreed, pickings are slim in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, but there is usually something imported from a nearby state. Travel south of the US border, and you are pretty much out of luck. Some say thin lagers are OK in the tropics, but Corona doesn’t even help you stay hydrated, because beer is a diuretic. On our 2013 winter vacation, we were lucky to find the Cayman Islands Brewery producing their seasonal Pirates’ Gold (a Vienna lager). That satisfied my malt cravings, but did nothing for my spouse’s hop needs. Fortunately, we had the foresight to take with us a few cans of highly-hopped IPA (you can guess which). I was reminded of Mr. Bean packing for vacation, using up most of the space in his suitcase for cans of baked beans. We mixed the IPA 50:50 with the Pirates’ Gold to produce a kind of “hoppy pale ale” and survived the vacation without hop withdrawal DTs. I apologise if any of our local brewers are offended by such beer blending, but needs must when the devil drives.
Our 2015 winter vacation saw us heading to Cuba before the Americans got there. We remembered Cristal (yeuch) and Bucanero (barely tolerable) from our 2009 trip. Cervecería Bucanero S.A. is a joint venture between the Cuban government and a subsidiary of Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. Bucanero, at 5.4% ABV, described as an “American adjunct lager” by BeerAdvocate, has a little more malt flavour than Cristal at 4.9% ABV but, more importantly, it has no detectable corn. Neither of them has detectable hops, typical for Central American and Caribbean lagers.
We were planning to take those cans of IPA again, then Saint Arnold or fate took a hand in the shape of Phillips Brewing’s 13th Anniversary Ale, a gift from Lundy Dale. By way of a bottle of alcoholic hop extract you put in your glass before you pour in the accompanying beer, the combination yields 13% ABV (while coincidentally avoiding the additional tax slapped on beer over the critical number of 12% ABV). My spouse was intrigued. I would not say that a 100 Watt incandescent bulb lit up, but certainly a 30 Watt compact fluorescent flickered into life. She said “how can we get hold of more hop extract”? I answered “well, I know some big breweries like Corona use it to avoid getting skunky aromas in clear bottles so it must be commercially available. I would not be surprised to find our homebrew stores stocking it, though I have never looked.”
Thanks to St. Arnold, Lundy, my brilliant wife, and Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies, we set off to Cuba with a dropper bottle of Cascades hop extract. It is a heck of a lot lighter than cans of IPA and has a much lower risk of giving your clothes a beer rinse in transit. We wrapped the bottle in aluminum foil to keep out the light and stored it in the room fridge. We added one, two or three drops depending on the size of beer glass.
It is weird enough putting a few drops of hop extract in the beer on your table. We never had the temerity to ask them to put it in the glass before it was filled. Hence the term I came up with to describe this approach: Head Hopping.
In an all-inclusive hotel, the size of glass you get depends on whether your server remembers you left a tip last time. Bucanero plus hop extract tasted pretty close to some India Pale Lagers I have tried; just fine for hot climates. I would recommend any hop head to consider doing the same when heading out on vacation south of the tropic of Cancer.
Update: On a recent follow-up trip to Cuba we were unable to stock up on hop extract because Dan’s has stopped selling it and we could not find it elsewhere. I am hoping this article will spur them to rethink this, or that another home brew store will step up. If you ask for it, they will probably be persuaded to get it in. In the meantime, you can order it from http://freshops.com/
A previous version of this article appeared in the April 2015 CAMRA Vancouver newsletter.