Written by Joshua Bernstein for oregonlive.com Photo by Ross William Hamilton
If Oregon had a state beer, it would be the India pale ale. Nearly every brewery in the state releases a riff on the bitter, aromatic IPA. And since brewers more or less have access to identical hop breeds (flowery and fragrant Cascade, citrusy Amarillo, pinelike Chinook), the beers can seem to coalesce into a piney, citric blur.
Five other craft brewers explore new varieties
But Oregon craft brewing doesn’t adhere to the status quo for long. Responding to brewers’ desire to create singular quaffs, hop farmers in Oregon and Washington, as well as New Zealand, plant thousands of experimental hop breeds annually, most identified by numbers seemingly plucked from a lottery machine. These fledgling varieties are created by crossing existing strains in hopes of augmenting yields, increasing disease resistance or fashioning unique flavors. Each year, brewers examine these numbered hop breeds, hoping to answer a single question: Can this hop make a great new beer?
Over the next three years, Sidor brewed test batches with hop 394, growing to love its beguiling blend of citrus and tropical fruits such as mango and papaya. “It was absolutely a home run,” Sidor says.
Often, the answer is no, but every blue moon a hop shows promise. When this happens, the hop is named, it graduates from farm field to brew kettle and the experimentation starts. Lately, several new hop varieties have wound their way into local IPAs, bestowing them with curiously appealing notes of tropical fruit, berries or white wine that helps set them apart from the bitter pack.
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