As hop variety trends continue to ebb and flow, brewers are continually finding innovative ways to use hop varieties — old and new. With bold names like Falconer’s Flight and Seven Seas, the latest hops are ushering in a new round of creativity. Meanwhile, traditional go-to hops such as Centennial and Cascade are being used creatively in boundary-breaking brews.
“American brewers are breaking rules,” said Adam Simms, owner of Label Peelers, a hops supply company based in Tallmadge, Ohio. “They’re dry hopping with bittering hops. They’re sitting on dry hops for two months, whereas before they were suggesting a three week max because you could end up with a grassy flavor. But now people want that grassy flavor.”
If there was ever a time in the craft brewing industry to take some chances and set yourself apart, it’s right now. The U.S. craft brewing industry is growing, and as pointed out by Matt Hollingbery, accounts manager for Hollingbery and Sons Inc., a family-owned company that sources hops, not every brewery can experience 40 percent growth in the same markets. Brewers will have to work harder to carve out a niche for their beers in a growing marketplace.
There is a cornucopia of hops varieties to play with. Warrior, for example is a bittering hop that is growing in popularity. According to Simms, it’s close to one of the cleanest, aroma-wise, bittering hops you can use. Before you go brew wild, you have to get to know the ingredients you’re working with. For example, Simms explained that he likes to use the hop in a single-hop, single-malt (SMASH) brew.“Just don’t look at the hop as a bittering hop or aroma hop. Smell it, taste it, use your own judgment and make something new.” — Adam Simms, owner of Label Peelers.
“It’s a great way to get familiar with the hop by using it as a single strain, in a single malt you’re familiar with,” he said. “You can separate and tell what’s taking place there. It’s like making eggs with white pepper. You know what eggs taste like, so you want to see how the white pepper comes out in the eggs. I’ve actually made several different IPAs in a SMASH and they turn out great.”
When you’re ready to experiment, Jim Solberg, president and general manager of Indie Hops, an Oregon-based hops supplier, recommended developing a beer style like an Indian pale ale (IPA) that blends three to four varieties. An IPA that has a blend of hops that work well together gives the brewer some flexibility in sustaining a hop variety in case of poor hop available. Hops such as Sterling, Crystal, Horizon and other versatile hops can be added to the usual suspects.
One hop pitfall you don’t want to slip into is thinking that a given hop variety is roughly the same in quality no matter where it’s purchased.
“The truth is, the quality of a variety like Centennial varies tremendously based on crop year, growing practices, harvest date, drying and conditioning practices, and pelleting, packaging and storing practices,” Solberg explained.
With nearly 100 different hops available on the market, there’s bound to be a brew recipe that you can incorporate into your brand. You want to have fun with your experiments, but as Simms recommended, you don’t want to break too many conventional brewing rules at once.
“What’s the old saying? ‘Don’t break the law when you’re breaking the law,’” he said with a laugh. “You have to know you’re breaking the rules before you do it. Just don’t look at the hop as a bittering hop or aroma hop. Smell it, taste it, use your own judgment and make something new.”