Interview with Ithaca Head Brewer Jeff O’Neil

June 5th, 2008
By Kevin Burns

Ithaca Beer Company LogoThe Foaming Head:  We love Ithaca Double IPA. Are you guys still brewing it? If not, how long do you think it will be before we can buy it again?

Jeff: Thanks, we’ve always been proud of that beer! It was one of the very first East Coast Doubles.  Unfortunately, we’re no longer brewing it regularly. Our hops supplier can’t afford the equipment necessary for proper processing and long-term storage, and we felt that the product was suffering due to that. The good news is we’ll be doing other brands with those New York grown hops on a seasonal (in the fall) basis, while the flowers are at their best. Hopheads rejoice!

Do you see a resolution to the current hop shortage in the future?

Jeff: Of course. The market is likely to correct itself.  The real question is “when?”. I think it will take a few years, and we’ll never be paying $5/lb again, it’ll be more like $15, which when you consider that every keg of CascaZilla or Flower Power takes abou 1.5-2 lbs. of hops…it’s significant. It TRIPLES the price of the raw materials per batch, and that’s not even taking into account the steep climb in malt pricing. Get used to $10-12 6packs of IPA, it’s still a bargain.

TFH:  The majors brewing companies are wrestling for percentages in a market that’s saturated with their current products. We see signs that both Miller-SAB and AB will enter the craft segment with their own products. Miller has debuted a line of “Craft” Light beers. Coors has made Blue Moon a success. Does this threaten the new American tradition of Craft and Micro brewing?

Jeff: You “see signs” that they will? They’ve been dabbling in this for years. I heard the other day that A-B is launching a Cascade-driven “American Ale”. Who cares? Who are they trying to kid? But seriously, I think it only helps. Very few will confuse those products with actual craft beers and for those that do they should serve as “gateway” products for us(actual craftbrewers). Our core consumers are those that appreciate local and artisan products and understand the difference between “industrial” and “hand-crafted”.

TFH:  Is there any chance you guys will be another beer to include in your portfolio? If so, what style would you like to add and when could we see it?

Jeff:  Oh, of course. we’ll be releasing new stuff more and more frequently in the future. It looks like our Pils may become a year-round offering as soon as next year. The Excelsior! series promises to stay fresh and creative with heretofore unheard of beers. Right now we’ve got 3 style-defying bottle-conditioned beers(White Gold, TEN and Old Habit) out with a 4th on the way.

TFH:  What is your favorite New York craft beer aside from any of your own?
Jeff:  Boy, that’s tough. I think that NY brews rival those from anywhere else (and yes, I’m including CA, OR, CO, PA, MI, etc.) Don’t think I can name just one…In no particular order: Southampton Saison, Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold, Ommegang’s Rare Vos, Unearthly from Southern Tier and HeBrew’s Lenny’s RIPA all jump to mind.

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