There Can Only Be One: single hopped beers

posted on March 9, 2009 in Uncategorized

Blergh!

It’s been too long, Beer World.  Many apologies to my 3 fans for BMAB’s hiatus.  Let’s get right to it.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Cambridge for the Harvard Women’s BBall alumni weekend (I balled all over some 35 year old moms, it was unbelievable).  Some fellow ballers and I ended up at a pretty standard spot: John Harvard’s Brewpub.  I’d of course been there many times before but only once since my beer nerd days began (the first time back I tried a very tasty Holiday Ale), so going there now almost feels like an entirely new experience.  Now I completely ignore the conversation around me for a good 5 minutes while I thoroughly read the beer menu.   And I keep getting distracted by those glorious growlers.  Alright, so zoning out isn’t too out of character for me, shuttup.  But what really caught my eye this time was something that, to me, was completely unique: a single variety hop IPA - this one spotlighting amarillo*.

I was intrigued for two reasons.  The first of which appeals to a simple psychological principle (and we psych students are all about our blessed “principles”): humans are attracted to novelty.  And I’d, as stated, never heard of a single-hop IPA.  Most IPAs I know boast about their abundance of hops in both quantity and variety.

Mmm.  That sounds good.  I'll have that.

Mmm. That sounds good. I'll have that.

The second reason was the particular hop variety being spotlighted: amarillo.  Justin, the main “brewcaster” from The Brewing Network has sung their praises in many an episode, and even though he proclaims himself an idiot a disturbing amount of times, he had me - and I apologize for my all too liberal use of this word - intrigued.  They didn’t talk about it extensively in any episode except to say that it’s a newly cultivated hop (this was a 2005 archived episode, btw**), whose availability is low and demand is high.  There’s that whole novelty principle again.  I’m so predictable.

So, being the beer connoisseur of the group (in the company of those who helped get me beer as a freshman, and thus, to whom much is owed), I ordered us a pitcher of the amarillo IPA.  We were NOT disappointed.  Palmer puts amarillo in the dual-purpose hop variety category - its AA range is a moderate 8-11% - and describes it as “floral and citrus, similar to cascade”.  And Palmer’s and Jamil’s co-authored “Brewing Classic Styles” places it pretty squarely in the citrus column, with an “also floral” designation**.  Commercial examples he gives are Old Dominion New River Ale, Rockies Mojo India Pale Ale, and Hale’s Pale Amerian Ale - none of which I’ve tried.  A fact that I find far less disturbing having tasted JH’s spotlight IPA.  And that brings me to my main point (it always pains me to write that this far down the post): I love the idea of single hopped beers.

What?  I'm an aRmaDillo, you retard.

What? I'm an aRmaDillo, you retard.

Upon returning I asked John what he knew about single hopped beers.  He responded in a manner I’ve come to think of as rather standard for him - he talked about what Vinnie (the Russian River brewer) does (and really, who an blame him?  Brewing community consensus is Vinnie’s The Man).  John told me that in experimenting for the hops used in Pliny the Elder (RRBC’s flagship beer and the first of the double IPA style), Vinnie brewed a series of hop-spotlight beers, showcasing the characterisics of whatever chosen hop.  A little googling leads me to believe this is their Hop 2 It series***, as Vinnie mentions at the end of this post on their website, and is also described here.  Apparently, this is the first time they’ve brewed this beer in a couple years and unfortunately I couldn’t find out which hop was used this time, nor which hops have been used in the past.  If anyone has that information, it’d be well-appreciated.  I also couldn’t confirm whether or not this beer was brewed in research for Pliny but my thought is that would make perfect sense.  It’s equivalent to a chef building flavors - and the best chefs build amazing, complex flavors by KNOWING their ingredients.  If Vinnie was doing research for Pliny, why not educate the public at the same time (not to mention make some money off the beer he’s brewing anyways).  Most people don’t know the flavor profiles of hops; what better way to help them learn than a spotlight beer series?  I’m not sure if Vinnie was the first to do this, but it wouldn’t surprise me - and it wouldn’t surprise me if more and more breweries, like JH’s, start doing more of this (the same way they all started brewing DIPAs).  This undated article from Ale Street News is evidence that indeed single hop beers have become somewhat of a trend, with Bison Brewery rivaling RRBC for most enthusiastically promoting single hop beers.

Back to JH’s beer, (since it is the only single hop beer I’ve had) - I’ll even go as far as to say it’s one of the best IPAs I’ve had (not including any DIPAs).  Justin wasn’t kidding around when he said this hop kicks ass.  It’s difficult to explain why one would love an (almost) single flavor so much (of course, I’m also tasting malt, alcohol, water and yeast); it’s sort of like trying to explain why I love peanut butter so much (which is also admittedly enhanced by the salt).  The truth is, these flavors are just plain GOOD.  Though they defy explanation, it is important to put a memory with these particular flavors, so we can pick them out from various recipes and know how to pair them with other ingredients.  There are a couple caveats though.   Like any ingredient, the flavor will also depend on things like how it is cooked (i.e., for brewing, when it is added to the boil, etc.) and the freshness of the product.  Also (as the ASN article also points out), single hop beers won’t generally work for any hop; hops serve two purposes in beers: bittering and flavor/aroma.  Most are categorized in one or the other but a few will fall into the “dual-purpose” category; it is these that will make the best single hop beers.  Unless of course you’re making a style where bitterness is not desired at all (like a Belgian); in that case, it might be interesting to use a single flavoring hop.

In sum, I heartily encourage the beer industry to keep putting out single hop beers.  It gives people like me the chance to get to know more about beer ingredients.  I also encourage you to try single hop beers if you see them out there for the same reasons…send me one while you’re at it.

*I am pretty sure this beer is different than JH’s “Amarillo Armadillo IPA”, reviewed by BeerAdvocate peeps here.  The original posts were from 2006 and the other was from around the time I was there; the poster also was unsure they were the same beer.  First, there is no mention of it being a single hop beer and second, I think I would have remembered a semi-witty name like this, especially seeing how it undercutted my little armadillo joke.

**I’ve been listening to archived episodes from the BN , beginning with their first episode, now up to about 20 episodes in.  It’s a little pet-project, if you will.  Plan to write a post on it soon.

hop-wheel2

I hope to get a better copy of this soon but this is the idea

***The hop character wheel.  Totally awesome and useful.

****Sorry if you told me that too, John, and I just forgot.

*****Haha, I didn’t have a five-asterisk footnote, joke’s on you!

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5 Comments »

  1. As chance would have it, I happened to have the Amarillo at JH on 2/14 - it is certainly a solid brew.

    I suspect that any hop cultivar can work as a single-variety flavor/aroma addition if you find a good “vintage”. Different growing conditions make for some wild variations.

    I second the call for more single hop ales for educational purposes. I don’t know if it’s available on the left coast, but Ithaca makes one called “Cascazilla” that’s not bad. Another one I’ve tried recently at a fest is Weyerbacher’s “Double Simcoe”, which is awesome, but I’m biased… I do love me some grapefruity Simcoe. OTOH, I haven’t run into others aside from JH’s Amarillo, and I would consider that as a serious dearth considering how many varieties there are which deserve be showcased.

    One trick I’ve heard people use to train the palate: buy a bunch of hop varieties and make hot “tea” with each in order to compare the flavor & aroma qualities side-by-side. Probably worth $15-20.

    Comment by Bill — March 9, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  2. Thanks for the comment, Bill. Glad you’re with me on the quest to get beer companies to further help educate our palates. The tea trick is a great idea in the meantime. Now I’m jonesin’ for some simcoe :)

    Comment by kjdalton — March 10, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

  3. I believe Vinnie used Sterling this time for his hop 2 it. He also got to use Simcoe as a hop 2 it before it was even called Simcoe. Then, since he really liked the hop, hop union commercialized it and it became available to other brewers.

    Also, Bear Republic has an all Simcoe IPA, I believe it is called Rebellion IPA, since a lot of people really hate that hop, but I think it’s probably my favorite. It pairs well with Amarillo too :)

    I think single hop IPAs are pretty common in the homebrewing world, its a lot easier to just buy one variety! Stones Ruination, though not technically single hoppped, since they use other hops for bittering, is basically a showcase of centennial in the flavor and aroma department.

    Sorry for my rants :)

    Comment by John — March 13, 2009 @ 8:17 am

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