October 23, 2018

Summit Hops; Much Love

While we tend to enter any new pursuit with some naivety, I can't smirkingly kick myself enough when I recall how I once assumed Summit hops were sourced from Minnesota's Summit Brewing Company. I also assumed that Northern Brewer hops were proprietary to NB stores & it took awhile for me to adopt the now-logical notion that the hops inspired the store name. Though I'm recently fairly certain the hop-to-brand name match of Summit Brewing's is coincidental - by virtue of the information surrounding the development of North America's highest rated alpha acid hop.

Summit are a super-alpha variety developed with large-capacity brewhouses in mind initially. Commercial brewers were the first to take kindly to the concept of adding fewer pounds of hops to their batches - in some case to reduce hop additions by several dozens of pounds to save money, freezer storage space, vegetal matter accumulation in the kettle & the backs of their employees. For homebrewers the advantages provided by the utilization of super-alpha hops matches the commercial values, albeit on a stove top. The higher the alpha acid level of a particular hop, the smaller the addition into your boil kettle. High IBU levels are achieved via a half ounce addition of Summit, versus multiple ounces of similarly-flavored medium alpha citrus hops of other varieties. Money is saved, boil overs are reduced & your freezer has more space for frozen waffles and pizza!

Summit hops were test tube babies, of a sort. The patented Nugget hop was openly pollinated in the late nineties to yield a non-patented variety that was crossbred with other citrus flavored hops until the jacked-up alpha hop we know & love as Summit was growing like crazy at the American Hops Dwarf Association in Yakima Valley Washington. Much of Summit's value in the brewing industry comes from its 6:1 alpha-to-beta acid ratio & its super high cohumulone content - both of which contribute to Summit's versatility as hop for building massive amounts of bitterness in pale ales, but also as an aroma contributor via additions late in the boil. Among other varieties, Summit's proliferation hasn't waned thanks to its mold & fungus resistance combined with the simple fact that brewers need less Summits per batch which causes demand to be comparatively stable.

In that shadow, Summit makes a great substitute for picked-over varieties like Amarillo or Simcoe. To my palate, Summit has a predominantly orange zest character, with grapefruit permeating depending on the amount used & the length of the boil. It's also a hop that pairs well with herbal hops added midway into the boil for balancing the bitterness backbone; Mt. Hood & Hersbrucker are my go-to pair for 30-minute additions when engineering recipes with Summit. One way to look at the prospect of keeping a supply of Summit on hand is that a little goes a long way, but a lot of Summits - say a pound of pellets - could very well take the worry out of planning a year or more's worth of five to ten-gallon batches. The massive concentration of alpha acid in each pellets will be well-preserved for several years in a freezer.

Since Summit found a place in my Thunderbolt IPA recipe it's taken roles in my other 'batting practice' pale ales - the beers wherein I play around with many different combinations of flavor/aroma hop additions as well as grain bills, yeast strains, etc. Through such a process it became quickly evident from my friends' feedback that the smooth orange bitterness imparted by half to three-quarter ounce Summit additions boiled for sixty minutes or more were going over well. The chip on my shoulder being that though I used Summit more frequently, the low dose per batch kept both supplies of hops on & IPAs in-hand, dare I say, 'fruitful'. Though it wasn't until I took a trip to Saint Louis, Missouri this past May that I tasted how artful the use of Summits could really be.

Laclede's Landing sits beside downtown St. Louis at the northern point of a triangle formed by the Gateway Arch & the Mississippi River. Accessible by light rail & enclosed by bridges the neighborhood is a Midwest micro chasm of New Orleans' French Quarter, and is home to Morgan Street Brewery - a brewpub with an old world sports bar atmosphere enhanced by a rotating selection of draft & bottled ales and lagers brewed on-site. After a long day about the city on public transit with the family, I sought a takeout pizza & bacon-cheese bread as well as some liquid barley respite from St. Louis' all-encompassing urban heat island. What I found inside Morgan Street Brewery was a brew known as "Summit This, Summit That", a self-described India Pale Lager brewed with only Summit hops. I ordered up a 22 oz. pour, as I assume every homebrewer who takes notice of such an offering would - if they've got the slightest trace of hophead in their blood.

How would one expect an all-Summit lager to taste? We're told to expect waxy aftertastes when loading up on Summit and other super-alphas, and I'd bet I wouldn't have been the first to brace my taste buds for a wallop of citrus zest when ordering this seemingly beastly concept of a single-hop beer. But when the beverage was served my brain denied what my right hand was feeding it, the spring day's sweat evaporated from my brow & my tongue demanded more! The beer manifests with a deceivingly light body & bitterness level, lively in citrus aroma, with the same flavor components held in profile with grain & yeast flavors. My bracing contemplation over how big the hop presence was going to be caused me to forget what the challenge of marketing a super-alpha hopped lager in a Budweiser town must be like. It was a genuinely balanced utilization of Summit as a bittering & flavor hop that took the other components of the recipe into consideration to round off the level of drinkability. Indeed, a far cry from the IPAs of Portland, Denver or Minneapolis/St. Paul.

When vacation time closed, I opened up via an email to Morgan Street's web contact form and was greeted a day later by Dustin - brewer at Morgan Street. We was kind enough to share his full volume recipe for Summit This, Summit That; a recipe I scaled down based on his proportions & have listed below to give y'all a chance to explore the versatility of the Summit hop variety. Buy a pound of pellets (whole leaf also available for the bold purists) & go forth with this recipe, or dust off a long-set aside Simcoe heavy recipe to let Summit hops into your brewery. A brewing calculator like iBrewmaster or Beersmith 2.0 greatly simplifies the translation IBU contributions for each substituted addition. In the tradition of American invention Summit hops go big & often go loud. But as Morgan Street Brewery proves, Summits can with some attention to detail work in unique ways to produce surprisingly tasty beers in styles you might not expect.

Summit This, Summit That Clone

(All-grain, 5.5 gallons)

10 lbs. 2 oz. Rahr Premium Pilsner
1 lb. 8 oz. Briess Caramel 40
12 oz. Briess Munich
12 oz. Briess Carapils
12 oz. Torrified Wheat  

For extract use only 6.3 lbs. NB Pilsen Malt Extract Syrup, 3.15 lbs. NB Amber Malt Extract Syrup & one-half pound Briess Bavarian Wheat DME. Full boil volume recommended!

Mash at 148 degrees Fahrenheit for 70 minutes. Sparge to collect 7 gallons of wort.

Boil 90 minutes adding...

0.25 oz. Summit Pellets @ 90 min.
0.25 oz. Summit Pellets @ 60 min.
0.8 oz. Summit Pellets @ 15 min.
0.5 oz. Summit Pellets @ 10 min.
1 tsp. Irish Moss @ 10 min.

Whirlpool after flame-out & chill to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. Pitch a 2 liter starter of White Labs Cry Havoc yeast & aerate well.

Ferment at pitching temp for five days, then let temperature rise to 74 degrees for three days more.

Cold crash to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for an additional three days, before transferring to secondary for 3-5 weeks. Add 2.25 oz. Summit Hop Pellets for final seven days dry hopping. Bottle/keg, aiming for 2.75 - 3 vols. CO2. Serve at 38 degrees Fahrenheit for a crisp flavor profile, or 48 degrees for a more hop-forward taste.