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Edelstoff: A beer fit for a hop queen

Did I mention the Edelstoff from Augustiner was from the wood, and a lot cheaper than beer at Oktoberfest in Munich?

Veronika Springer, Hallertau Hop Queen

Last week Veronika Springer was crowned Hallertau Hop Queen (Hopfenkönigin) for 2011-2012. I didn’t vote for her, but she received 62 percent (1,478) of the votes. The Wolnzach Volkfest tent was rocking, packed with hop farmers and friends washing down traditional festival food with liters of Augustiner.

Veronika Springer, Hallertau Hop Queen

The new queen is well qualified, having grown up on a hop farm and currently working at NATECO2, an extraction plant where hops are the biggest part of the business. She didn’t get my support, or that of several of the brewmasters I was seated with, because she seems to be skeptical about the future of “flavor”1 hops.

Change is afoot in Germany and these are brewers who want to be part of it. That doesn’t mean they are about to abandon tradition, but it does mean the range of flavors from Halltertau hops will soon be broader.2 The crew at the Hop Research Center at Hüll is not interested in copying American hop flavors, but I was there maybe three minutes before I thought, “These guys are not going to be left behind.”

1 With the line between what were once known as “bittering” and “aroma” hops already blurred — and the term “dual purpose” just not cutting it — I’m not sure how the idea of “flavor hops” will fit in, but I heard those words in the UK, Germany and Czech Republic. These could also be called “impact hops.” To the continental palate Cascade is a “flavor” hop; while you’ve got to throw something like Citra or Simcoe at an hop-experienced American for impact. Sound confusing? At least you don’t have to sort it out for a book.

2 These hops are also going to show up in beers brewed in America. I can’t wait.

And the band played on

But this beer didn’t have to travel to India on a boat

21st Amendment Hop CrisisOops. Forgot to send a change of address to the guys at 21st Amendment Brewery. (The fact is the people who bought our house in New Mexico likely will be receiving stray beers for years. Should have advertised that when the house was on the market.)

So this can of Hop Crisis Imperial IPA traveled a thousand more miles than they might have expected. But it’s not like it spent months at sea, bobbing away. I’m pretty sure it arrived fresh because it was packed in hops that hadn’t gone over to the cheesy side. Instead, lots of citrus and pine, and maybe something a cat left behind.

The basic package for Hop Crisis includes four cans in the colorful box pictured here. The press package contained one can and loose hops that quickly made a mess of my desk. I once joked you could smell the hops in Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA through the crown. Well, I did smell hops when I put this can in the fridge, because it was covered with sticky hop resin.

The fact sheet lists Columbus, Centennial and Cascade as bittering hops, but I think that means those are the ones used at various stages (in others words, also adding flavor and aroma) of the boil. It is dry hopped with Simcoe, Ahtanum, Amarillo and Cascade; thus the blast of citrus (from oranges to grapefruit) and pine that jumps from the glass. They say it has 94 IBU (International Bitterness Units), but I don’t know if that was measured in a lab or calculated. Either way, properly bitter. For good measure, it was aged on oak spirals.

The resulting beer won a silver medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. It’s bold, complex and balanced in the Imperial IPA way.

Hops – No. 3 with a bullet

The brewers at BrewDog have made a list of their six favorite (or should that be favourite?) hops. You can see why co-founder James Watt has said, “We like to think of what we do as U.S.-inspired Scottish craft brewing.”

1. Chinook
2. Amarillo
3. Nelson Sauvin
4. Bramling Cross
5. Simcoe
6. First Gold

Kissed by the hopsThree hops grown in the U.S. Northwest (Chinook, Amarillo and Simcoe), two in the U.K. (Bramling Cross and First Gold) and one from New Zealand. Nelson Sauvin, released only in 2000, seems to be a hop du jour.

Its character has been likened to Sauvignon Blanc, the grape and wine variety, and New Zealand Hops Limited emphasizes its cutting edge attributes.

From the brewer’s notes: “The fruitiness may be a little overpowering for the un-initiated, however those with a penchant for bold hop character will find several applications for this true brewer’s hop.”

And from the suggested applications: “Very much at home in the new-world styles such as American Pale Ale and Super Premiums. This hop is considered by some as extreme and certainly makes it presence felt in specialty craft and seasonal beers gaining an international reputation.”


A hops question: Do you taste beer like a man?

Today a tree: the Simcoe hop. Tomorrow the forest: the rest of the hops in the world.

And not just because it seems that how you describe the aroma of Simcoe determines if you drink/smell beer like a man or like a woman.

Weyerbacher Double SimcoeSimcoe was only released to the brewing world in 2000 and really is a tree in the forest. Only three Northwest hop yards grew the variety in 2007.

But it’s become a signature hop for many IPAs and Double IPAs, including Double Simcoe IPA from Weyerbacher in Pennsylvania. As noted yesterday, some West Coast brewers refer to its distinctive presence as “dank.”

In a presentation Friday about “dissecting hop aroma in beer” Tom Nielsen of Sierra Nevada talked about gender and age differences in what people perceive when they smell particular varieties of hops. He mentioned a new hop called Citra (nope, I hadn’t heard of it either) and that men describe it as “tropical fruit” while women find it “catty.”

In the course of the following few hours this came up in conversation with several brewers. But we talked in terms of Simcoe, a hop we all know. Venture too far above threshold (we’re learning this varies widely) and you’ve got a beer that will be described as “catty” in polite company, as “cat pee” after a few pints or, credit Natalie Cilurzo for this, “savignon blanc.”

A little goes a long way, but when used well it brightens a beer that is already supposed to be hoppy.

Whether it is because beer touches my feminine side, because I hate cats or because I’ve tasted so many beers hopped with Simcoe I long ago began greeting new ones with skepticism. And the thought of a “Double Simcoe IPA” (two litter boxes in one beer?) tested my typically optimistic nature.

But, bottom line, a good beer. It sounds like the most back-handed of comments to begin, “It doesn’t smell like cat piss,” but that was a my first thought. I like my Double IPAs a little leaner and with a harder (OK, harsher) hop edge, however I thought whatever I spent for the pint (this was in Manhattan, where I always try to forget what I just paid) was well worth it.

There would be no point in discussing this were the rumors — repeated often during the last few months — true that farmers were about to abandon Simcoe. It turns out to be more susceptible to disease than first thought, and the yield per acre doesn’t justify the risk.

However, while one of three fields where Simcoe was grown in 2007 was ripped out this year (taken over by a cattle farm), three more went in. By 2009 they should be yield a decent crop and the next year will be even better.

Weyerbacher founder Dan Weirback meanwhile has been scrambling. He recently came up with — physically in the brewery, not just promised — 3,000 pounds of Simcoe on top of what he already had. That means he has enough to brew Double Simcoe for nine more months and can expect more will be available by then. “We would have run out (of Simcoe) in late summer,” he said.

Double Simcoe IPA accounts for a modest 10% of Weyerbacher sales. Given the hassles, the fact Weirback passed on only the increased cost of ingredients (in the process lowering his margins) this year, and that overall sales were up 34% last year so he’s got plenty to keep him busy . . . it might not seem like such a big deal were he to let this beer slip into history.

But his customers love it. It speaks to the spirit of his brewery. I’m glad it’s not going away.

That from a man who doesn’t much care for cats.

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