Craft beer has challenged hop growers. New varieties. Enormous demand. Huge acreage. Varied products: whole cone, pellets, CO2 extract, hop hash and beyond. The indie beer industry has forced the hop industry to quickly and dramatically evolve over the last decade, and there have been challenges, failures and successes. In the spirit of the latter, brewing brands like Schlafly are creating innovative ways to make those evolutions easier, planning for the hops of tomorrow, today.
In July, the Schlafly brand and its Saint Louis Brewery umbrella company are launching a cool Hop Trial SMaSH Pack, an experimental new V-pack that features four different experimental hop varieties (three bottles of each in the pack): Hallertau Blanc (floral), Bramling Cross (spicy), Enigma (fruity) and Eureka! (piney). We thought (hey) that’s a pretty cool idea, but it gets even cooler.
The pack stems from the awesome Hop Trial program, something Schlafly created to test out hops that are looking to be introduced into the market, while offering feedback to the hop farmers. Schlafly begins the process by combining a base malt and single hop to create a simple SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer, which brings out the individual qualities of each ingredient, making the profile of the featured hop variety the true focus. Schlafly’s Quality Assurance team then tests the beer before it’s released at the brewpubs to consumers, whose feedback is crucial in order to determine the future potential of pursuing a particular hop to use in the brewery’s beers that educate.
Basically, Schlafly can help hop growers decide if their new styles of hops are market worthy, Shlafly gets a unique opportunity to test-market unique, brand-defining hop strains and serious beer drinkers get to learn about the flavor profiles of various hops in beer; the labels come with cool brewer’s notes. The combination is one of the best concept/tasting variety packs we’ve ever seen.
These four beauts are the result, but what makes this quartet so interesting? We asked Schlafly’s ambassador brewer, Stephen Hale, to provide his thoughts on the four experimental SMaSH Pack hops, which we present below.
“Enigma is a new hop from Tasmania, Australia,” said Hale. “Cultivated through the same breeding program that produced Galaxy, Enigma is a high oil content hop with a big fruit forward character. The first trial plots were 2013. We completed a brewing trial in 2014, and we were the first U.S. brewer to make a significant purchase from the first commercial crop when we visited the farm for the 2015 harvest. Our brewing notes comment: notably ‘raspberries,’ and ‘redcurrant,’ through to ‘rock melon and tropical fruits, notably pineapple.’ This hop is also a feature in our new Expo IPA.”
“Eureka is a new hop from the Steiner Ranch in Yakima, Wash.,” explained Hale. “Cultivated from a high alpha American variety and a German aroma hop. 2015 was the first full commercial crop. We completed a brewing trial in 2014 and then made a significant purchase from the 2015 crop. The hop has some fruit character but after our brewing trial and then rubbing the hop during the 2015 harvest in Yakima, we concluded that this was going to be one of the next great American hops with that combination of Black currant, dark fruits, strong herbal notes and pine tree; in other words, dank. This hop is also a feature in our new Expo IPA.”
“Hallertau Blanc is a new cultivated variety from Germany’s Huell breeding program approved in 2012,” said Hale. “It is one of three hops developed to respond to increased worldwide demand for new aroma/flavor varieties. It has pleasant floral hints of wine, flowery fruits and an aroma ranging from subtly sweet to gooseberry. We first rubbed the hop in Germany during the 2014 harvest and decided to undertake a brewing trial in early 2015. We were able to secure a supply of Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria to use in our White Lager that was released as a seasonal during the winter of 2015-’16.”
“Bramling Cross is not a new hop, but one of my favorite English varieties,” explained Hale. “It was first released in 1951 by Wye College in the U.K. from a cross made in 1927 between Bramling — a traditional English Golding variety — and a male seedling of the Manitoban [Canadian] wild hop. It has a distinctive aroma with flavor notes that are spicy, orange peel, blackcurrant, loganberry and lemony citrus. I describe it as orange marmalade on toast. It is now part of our blend of English hops in Schlafly Pale Ale.