What’s your story? Great beer? Yeah, we heard that one before. What else you got? With more than 4,000 breweries in the United States, you better have a bigger, more-thought-out narrative to your beer portfolio than quality (‘cause that’s the bare minimum, bro). Take 21st Amendment Brewery as an example — we love how it makes both great beer and spins an excellent backstory. The San Francisco-based brewhouse is named after the amendment repealing Prohibition, but it’s also a homage connecting the Bay Area’s rich history of local brewing before 1920 to today’s thriving craft scene.
It uses its cans-only ideology to beautifully embrace vintage Americana themes in its artwork and marketing (everything from Paul Revere and Alcatraz to fireside chats and space chimps), connecting classic to craft. But its story doesn’t stop there — 21st Amendment is also using sophisticated ingredients to tell other chapters in its tale. Hop Crisis is part of 21st Amendment’s ongoing Insurrection Series and is named originally for the global hop crisis that occurred in the early 2000s when the scarcity and price of hops was astronomical. Today, the series is a platform for the brewery to not only experiment with its love of lupulins but to tell new, excellent stories about the interesting origins of its progressive beer.
Its latest story is about the Row 21 hop. You might know it as Eureka.
“Last fall the 21A team was up in the Yakima Valley in Washington State for the hop harvest at HopSteiner’s hop fields,” recounted Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder of 21st Amendment with Nico Freccia. “It’s a fantastic time of year as the entire valley is full of activity with the harvesting, drying and baling of hops. It’s warm and the fields are rich with the smell of hops wafting through the air.
“We were walking through the experimental fields with the towering hop trellises and the pungent green hop cones hanging off the vines when we came across the Row 21 hop. We plucked a few of the cones off the vines and rubbed them in our hands, breaking the hop open and exposing the lupulin glands where the bittering aroma oils and resins reside. We were immediately taken with this hop varietal’s pine and grapefruit and light dank aromas. We decided to take the entire Row 21 on the spot and included it in one of our latest beer recipes Hop Crisis, a double IPA. That Row 21 experimental hop officially has a new name Eureka, which I think plays quite well into the way we discovered that hop, by accident on that warm afternoon in Yakima.”
Cool story, right?
We’re seeing more and more companies turn to ingredients to tell stories, and it’s a great way to involve the customer in both education and entertainment of your products. Of course, Row 21 is just the first chapter. This year’s Hop Crisis Imperial IPA has a citrusy, tropical and stone fruit complexity offered up by Centennial, Equinox, Mandarina Bavaria, Row 21 (now named Eureka!) and Citra hops. The beer has a firm malt backbone of pale, Munich and wheat malt that supports a huge charge of late kettle addition hops. On top of all that, dry hops like Mosaic and Azzaca further layer with incredible aromatic textures. It’s all good fun with all those hops and at 9.7 percent ABV.
“Hops like any ingredient needs to play harmoniously within a beer given the style you are achieving,” explained O’Sullivan. “With the popularity of IPAs and other hop forward beers there is a demand being placed on finding new hops with interesting aromas and flavors. Many of the hop suppliers and farmers as well as universities specializing in the growing of hops are meeting the demand and growing new hops within their hop breeding programs.”
Of course, hops are just part of this story. First off: Hop Crisis four-packs hit shelves on July 1 in all of 21st Amendment’s current distribution territories and will be available until August. Second off: The carrier box tells the story of the fictional characters of Nico and Shaun’s alter-egos. They are on Alcatraz and are determined to free the hops from the Hop Syndicate who are hoarding these ingredients, depriving the people of their right to hoppy, aromatic beer. The artwork depicting this equally awesome tale is noted above.
Since we had O’Sullivan spinning a few yarns, we took the opportunity to ask the craft pioneer a few more hop-focused questions.
What advice would you give when using hops?
“Try wet hoping. It’s a technique where the brewer adds the raw un-dried hop to the beer,” said O’Sullivan. “There is more moisture in the hop and the flavor can be somewhat vegetative. Typically more wet hops are needed to achieve a desirable flavor. The comparison is to using fresh herbs versus dried herbs. The dried hop is more intense and stable. A wet hop beer is the wine equivalent to a beaujolais nouveau which is only available the third week of November and meant to be drunk young and not aged.”
Can you share some insights on hop contracts?
“Hop contracts are necessary at this time in today’s craft beer explosive growth,” said O’Sullivan. “It is necessary to lock in your hop varietals and quantities to keep pace with your production demands and growth. Years ago craft breweries were fine just purchasing hops on the spot market. As demand has grown for hoppy beers, craft brewers need to behave like larger breweries that typically hold contracts for future needs. At 21st Amendment we have hop contracts held out to 2021 for those same reasons.”
What’s the next great hop? What variety are you crushing on right now?
“I am really into the Calypso hop with its vivid flavor and aromas. Lemons and tropical fruit really come pouring through. Idaho 7 is another hop I love due to its citrus, peach and white grape aromas.”