A YEAR-ROUND HANABI LAGER: HANÁ PILSNER
This story began back when I met Ian Ward, the President of Brewers Supply Group, in 2014. With a mutual love of both beer and wine, we decided to meet up in a vineyard to chat. Surrounded by grapevines, under the shade of a Napa Valley oak tree in springtime, the cover crops were blooming, fragrant and alive, and we talked about farming. We talked about grape varieties, old-California heritage vineyards, the symbiotic roles of different cover crops in a polyculture farming approach, and then naturally, the conversation drifted to small grains. In the same way that I was obsessed with finding and growing the very best grapes, I wanted to find equally special grains for our small, underground brewing project. There were a few adventurous bakers at the time working to bring back more flavorful and nutritious heirloom varieties of wheat, but there was nothing like that really happening yet with brewing grains. I suspected that heritage cereal grains could offer delicious flavors to beer, if the results from these various chefs and bakers were any indication.
As it turned out, with a grin that spanned ear to ear, Ian elaborated about how this same curiosity and question had bit him and his team in recent years as well. In fact, he explained they had been involved for several years with a group in the UK who was quietly going around to international seed banks, procuring little handfuls of old heirloom barley seeds and planting them in Norfolk! They were working to discover what flavors, nutrition, and intrigue could be found in varieties that had long been abandoned due to ‘low yields’ and other ‘analytical underperformance’ criteria. Unsurprisingly (for anyone who has tasted how delicious heirloom tomatoes can be compared to more modern mass-produced varieties), they rediscovered some incredible gems.
After diligently building up their seed stock for years: planting, harvesting, saving, repeat, they started to make tiny quantities of these heirloom barley varieties available to brewers, beginning in 2014. We were among the very first brewers in America to procure samples from them for pilot-brewing. We will be featuring a number of these special varieties over the next couple of years at Hanabi, but there was one in particular that we, quite simply, fell in love with, named Haná.
This grain variety was a native to the fertile Haná Valley, set within the broader Moravian region in present day Czechia. Haná became famous when Josef Groll used it to brew the world’s first Pilsner in 1842, in the city of Pilsen (the name of the town that has since defined the world’s now most popular style of beer). Haná was brought back from near extinction by British farmers in 2015, and we source it from one of the few fields in the world where it can be found today, in Norfolk, England.
Our Haná Pilsner has become the rhythm section of our brewery and will be produced year-round. It represents the core of our house approach and style. Presented as a Pilsner style lager, this heritage barley brings aromatic notes of fresh wholegrain bread, nori, and dried spearmint, along with a substantial midpalate, uncommon among more modern barleys, and a long, fresh finish.