October 23, 2018

So Many Hops, So Little Time…


We've all Fuggled, Cascaded, Mosaiced, and Summitted. We've brewed the basics, become well-acquainted with the likes of Centennial and Cluster. But now, more than ever, is the time to experiment. With new hop varietals coming out every growing season and hop farms popping up like tulips in April, I found myself amidst a bewildering expanse of options, and so settled on four of the newest cultivars to put through the ringer.

It's a fine spring(!) day when I take 20 ounces of unfamiliar hops-Calypso, Equinox, Waimea, and Jarrylo-a 55 lb. bag of 2-row, and some last minute malts from the kitchen sink. What follows will produce 3 batches of hopped up, sweet gifts of lupulin that push the boundaries of 60,30,15 to their very core.

Eat breakfast, mash in with Calypso. Stomach filled, the aromas of Calypso mashing in, I move right on to heating the strike water for a Waimea session IPA. The popular girl, New Zealand's Waimea seems to have it all. With classic two-faced character, Waimea is sweet like candy yet packs a punch. With high alpha acid and strong aromas, this cultivar is better than bitter and I can only take her 17+% in the smallest doses as a first wort hop. Even then, I need a beer break to relax before moving on to an Equinox-Jarrylo IPA.

Equinox brings intense aromas of mango, lemon-lime, and green pepper. The strangely fresh, peppery character evokes memories of being young, when everything is new and exciting. Then Jarrylo shows up, boasting tropical fruit, citrus, and spice in overwhelming combination. The dwarf variety somehow makes banana flavors work with tart, biting bitter. During the final two minute additions of the 1.070 IPA, I am pretty excited. The stimulating aromas of Jarrylo work with the pinot noir complexity of Equinox. I'd say it was going to be a close race, but the incredible aroma of Equinox and attractive Jarrylo flavors were in total complement, not competition. I can't wait for dry hopping day.

I got to know four new characters on Sunday, each with its own merit and exciting prospect. I met unexpected flavors. Hops that add versatility to homebrew. Hops that shine by themselves and provide complexity and nuance as part of a team. This brew day was a crime of passion, forsaking scientific notes for personality. Personality of unique, now familiar hops, perfect for sharing with the unique personalities of friends. 

Each year, Northern Brewer purchases more hop varieties than any brewery in the world. We carefully source, select and package 60-70 different hop varieties each year. Each hop has its own unique character. They can smell like grass, pine cones, or grapefruit. Some are light and refined, while others are bold and intense. I have personally come to have a deep, olfactory communion with all of the major hop varieties in the world, because I have personally packaged so many packets of hops for my customers. It has been an amazing form of aromatherapy, and it’s my favorite part of my job.

But it's not enough just to smell the hop in its raw form. Hops change so much depending on how they are used. Even though I've been a homebrewer for 20 years, I am still learning about new ways to use hops: early additions, late additions, continuous additions, first wort hopping, mash hopping, hop backing, randallizing, wet hopping, dry hopping… each technique brings out different aspects of a hop. On top of that, hop breeders are constantly experimenting and introducing new breeds of hops. Every year there are more and more experimental varieties. Many are grown in such limited quantities that the only way to play with them is to do it on a homebrew scale. 

So let's rejoice in hops! Cheers!