I love this idea for a number of reasons. The first reason is that many malt extracts seem to be less fermentable than the preference of my palate. If you open a can of malt extract that you know to have a relatively low wort fermentability based on past experience, you can certainly change this wort property by further enzymatic action. It is true that some of the dextrins in wort react with proteins and amino acids during wort boiling, or concentration into extract, and are changed into compounds that will not be hydrolyzed by amylases when you add extract to your mash. But the majority of dextrins in pale malt extract that can be acted on by alpha amylase will be available for the enzymes from the malt in the mash.
I can create a hypothetical argument explaining why this method probably will result in a decrease in extract yield, but the truth is I really don’t believe this will be an issue if you don’t make the mash too thick. Thick mashes result in higher wort gravity and require more sparging. One way to brew strong beers is to curtail sparging to limit wort dilution prior to the boil. But the volume of extract retained in the grain bed will be no more by the method you suggest and I don’t believe the method will have a negative influence on yield.
If the extract you add to your mash needs no further enzymatic activity, the argument can easily be made that this is probably more trouble than it is worth, but one never knows. I have had some really great extract beers that I did not know were brewed from extracts until being told, and I have had many extract beers that are so obviously made from extracts that the extract flavor is a distraction to the overall flavor. This method may be a way of diminishing the extract flavor contributed by some, likely old, extracts.
Onto your question about the Hop Quality Group: There is a very real concern among many US brewers about the changes we are seeing in the very largest breweries in the nation. The fact is that US craft brewers have benefited in many, many different ways from the “big guys.” Not too long ago the “big guys group” also included regional brewers like Weinhard’s, Latrobe, Rainier, Pearl, Lone Star, National, and Schaeffer in addition to national brewers like Stroh’s, Pabst and Schlitz.
About 20 years ago the larger US brewers underwent rapid consolidation, followed by business closings. Since that time we have had a few groups emerge in the market. There are now the “Big 3” domestic brewers with the majority of the national production volume, a handful of large craft brewers (Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Craft Brewers Alliance, plus Yuengling) emerge as the second size tier, a larger group of craft brewers ranging in size from about 100,000 to 250,000 BBLs annually emerge as regional favorites (Bell’s, Stone, Green Flash, Boulevard, Ninkasi, Odell’s, Left Hand, Summit, Dogfish Head, Abita and Sweetwater, for example), and many small package-only breweries and brewpubs.
Historically the “big guys” spent a lot of money on research and development and they also spent a lot of time and effort working with suppliers on things like ingredient quality. In 2002 SAB bought Miller to form SAB-Miller. In 2005 Molson and Coors merged to form Molson-Coors. Two years later in 2007 we saw the formation of MillerCoors, and in 2008 the whale named InBev buys the whale named AB to become ABI. Consolidation of this magnitude has some very real consequences, and one of those has been the consolidation of engineering and research departments, and the loss of many jobs. This means that fewer individuals are looking at the sorts of things that brewing scientists and brewery engineers have studied for centuries.
At the same time the hop producers were responding to market changes and the varieties being cultivated in the US started to change, planted acreage began to shift and craft breweries who had made a real name for themselves brewing hop forward beers started to feel uneasy. OK, that’s a bit of an understatement. Many of these craft brewers spent or borrowed very, very large sums of cash to grow their breweries to keep up with the demand of their hop dominated ales. And a small group of these hop-focused brewers decided to pull together to help ensure that their signature ingredients were not suddenly in short supply.
On Saturday May 5th, 2012 I was at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego and entered a hall to listen to “John Mallett and Friends” give a presentation with the obscure name, “Hop Quality Developments.” Unlike almost all presentations at this meeting, there was no description of the talk, so my interest was piqued. The Hop Quality Group was unveiled as a group of like-minded brewers from twelve craft breweries who formed a not-for-profit organization to help address concerns about hops. Their concerns include breeding of new varieties, planted acreage of certain aroma varieties, harvesting and processing practices used by growers and processors, and other such topics. Sierra Nevada, Russian River, Firestone, Stone, New Belgium, Boulevard, New Glarus, Bell’s and Boston Beer were the members named.
I think this is pretty exciting. Their presentation made it clear that the goal is to protect the business interests of their brewery members. These breweries have real concerns and they formed a small, focused group to act quickly. I believe that these sorts of groups ultimately help the entire industry and I sincerely hope that more groups like this form in the years to come. What the US brewing industry lost in the last 20 years by mergers and closings will not be undone. The future of the US brewing industry is largely in the hands of a group of entrepreneurs that were in the past laughed at by many of the breweries now occupying chapters in history books.