Confessions of a Hophead part 1: In the beginning & the teachings of Bert Grant

I love hops! It may be an unhealthy relationship but I will admit that I am addicted.  It started in high school when I started drinking beer and quickly understood that I didn’t like flavorless American lagers.  Instead of buying the cheapest shitty beer I could get the most quantity of, I bought a few good New Zealand lagers that had way more hop flavor than anything else at the time.  I didn’t understand it was the hops making that marijuana smell and bitterness in the beer, I just knew I liked it.    Fast forward many years to my first visit to Seattle when I toured the Red Hook brewery and watched the process and smelled the hops in the kettle.  I knew at that point I needed to taste more styles of beers and find out why I liked ESB & IPA better than all the other styles.  I moved to Washington several years later and started touring breweries, tasting more beers and this finally led me to homebrewing.  I was also working at a tech company that had huge parties every Friday that had endless supplies of different microbrews so got to taste more and more beers.  At one of these parties I discovered my brewing soulmate’s beers, a  quirky Scottish Canadian man named Bert Grant.  Bert had worked in brewing since before he was of legal drinking age in Canada and had become more and more curious of how to make better beer and better use of hops.  Of course that led him to Yakima where more hops are grown than any other place in the world.  He had the great idea of brewing as close to the fresh hops so he could make ales with the freshest hops and even grow his own hops to experiment with different varieties.  He also thought it would be a great idea to serve beer at the brewery and became the first microbrewery in the nation.  Unfortunately, the ATF didn’t see that as a good idea since nobody had ever done it before and shut him down.  He didn’t give up and eventually won that battle.  He didn’t do as well on his second battle with the ATF when he thought it would be a good idea to put nutritional labels on beer.  Bert had done some testing on his beers and found that a 12 ounce bottle of Scottish Ale contained beneficial vitamins and nutrients, including 170 percent of the U.S. RDA of Vitamin B-12. He had table tents printed, added it to his 6-pack cartons and even made shirts advertising the news.  Again, the ATF was not impressed and he was forced to remove this info (it is illegal to advertise alcoholic beverages having health benefits).  Bert was also the first brewer to make a fresh hop ale, the hops were harvested and used for brewing within 24 hours of harvest (usually, much less than that!).   

Bert’s basic brewing philosophy was just make beer you like.  Almost all of his beers had way more hops than any other brewery was doing in all styles.  Some beer geeks and writers called him out on not being “true to the style” but he didn’t really care.  This became my philosophy as I started brewing beer.  I don’t really care if you like my beer, I made it for me and anyone that has similar tastes. Bert had health issues late in life and ended up selling his brewery before I ever got to meet him. I have been to the brewery that now inhabits his old space and the new owners were enthusiastic to show me some of the leftover items from the old brewery and share stories of this legend. It seems that Bert’s philosophy really caught on and each year since his passing the brewers of Washington celebrate Bert by brewing a tribute ipa for the Cask Festival.  The brewery that makes it changes every year but it is always a highlight of the event.  I have met many people that met Bert & a few of his friends  but it always bothers me that I never got to meet him in person and tip a pint with him.  I have read his book several times and each year when I go to Yakima I ask any old time locals to share a Bert Grant story if they have one, I am never disappointed.   

Quick stories of Bert
A good read for anyone that is into beer history and the roots of brew pubs in the U.S.

In upcoming confessions, I’ll talk about hop varieties, profiles, Hop School, growing, and equipment/techniques to choose and use hops in beer.   Cheers!



  1. …it’s a curious thing to me that when I was a kid beer in the UK was “real” beer & beer in the US was a joke…like the difference between bud & budvar…& even in the relatively early days of microbreweries things seemed to lean that way at least a little

    …but it definitely tipped the other way somewhere along the way & suddenly there were hop varieties in the US that hadn’t been grown in the UK in upwards of a generation & every second bottle said IPA everywhere you went

    …but I guess some things don’t change…so the monks in Belgium still make some kickass stuff…which I guess you’d expect if they go about eschewing worldly things in order to produce divine beer

    …& apparently the Maasai tribe get through a lot of Guiness made to the old-school recipe…or so I recall reading somewhere

    …look forward to more of these

  2. Oh shit, I forgot about Red Hook.

    Do they still exist? I used to drink that pretty frequently, but now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen something from them in a store…

    • The IPA is pretty pedestrian as IPAs go. The ESB used to be one of my go-to beers, but not one store in my state carries it anymore, because Americans apparently don’t believe in balance.

    • Red Hook has had a long journey. They sold off distribution rights to AB (Anheuser-Busch) which basically was good in the short term and screwed them in the long term. Eventually they formed the Craft Beer Alliance with Wydmer & Kona Brewing but only Kona was making money. The original agreement gave AB the right to buy them in full which would have really helped as they were losing market share and only Kona was getting stocked anywhere. AB only wanted to buy Kona but ended up having to buy the whole alliance and pretty much killing Red Hook. They now have a tiny pub in Seattle but don’t distribute. They sold off the big Seattle and east coast breweries.

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