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A Hoppy Honor for Skip Madsen

September 29, 2012

Hops are no laughing matter – but Skip Madsen, American Brewing Company’s acclaimed head brewer, is laughing anyway. Not at hops, necessarily, but jovial as he is, it is hard to catch him with a straight face. And this week, he had something notable to smile at: the opportunity to participate in the exclusive 12-person Hop Selection team, held in Yakima, WA – to determine this year’s best product for Washington distribution.

This honor is held high, and awarded only to those with special skill and expertise. Madsen has it, and then some. “Hops are my middle name!” said Skip, and they really almost could be: with 20+ years of brewing under his belt and over 200 signature beers to his name, not to mention myriad awards and accolades, this guy knows his stuff.

Hops, which give beer (especially IPA) its slightly bitter, floral bite, play a major part in brewing – for both taste and, traditionally, stability properties.  Washington beers are known for their extensive use of the Humulus lupulus plant; nearly 75% grown on American soil come from the Yakima Valley, and the combined production of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho produces over 50 million pounds annually. “Hops are essential to beer. They’re like the spice in your soup,” said Madsen, whose signature beer, ultra-hoppy Breakaway IPA, uses Washington varieties such as Citra and Amarillo.

This year’s selection session was held at Hop Union, a grower-owned supplier, and the results of the judging will in part determine what (and from which Washington farms) buyers will be able to choose from in the coming year.

And the prospect of next year’s Hop Selection team? “It was a great honor; I learned a lot,” said Madsen. “I would love to do it again!”

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