Trend Watching: 2016 Hop Production and the Rise of Citra

hop bines

What better kind of “end of year” review than one related to hops, the national treasure of our beer loving country?

Another annual report was released this week, this time from the USDA, providing updated statistics that further show glimpses into our ongoing love affair with whatever will give our IPAs that “juicy” flavor everyone is seeking these days. While last year’s darling might have been Mosaic, there’s no question who the belle of the ball is this time around.

2016 appears to be Citra’s year.

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The Data Behind Your GABF Beer Samples

Heading to Great American Beer Festival? Hope you like hops.

Thanks to Porch Drinking, festival goers have an advance preview at the many beers that will be served to thirsty enthusiasts descending on the Colorado Convention Center. Want an idea of what to expect? I crunched some numbers pulled from a continually updated list at Porch Drinking, as submitted by breweries.

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Tracking the Evolution of American IPA

united staes of hops

It says a lot about our country’s love for all things hop, considering how easy it is for us to talk about it.

(Flips through dozens of posts on this blog)

A week ago, the folks at Willamette Week did a Portland, Oregon-based IPA taste test to determine the best in Beervana, USA. The winners? Beers “influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.”

That got me thinking.

Then Jeff Alworth chimed in, sharing some excellent insight and expertise as to why the best IPAs in Portland are more influenced by aroma and taste than bitterness.

Which got me thinking some more.

In our natural evolution as a beer drinking country, it seems our manifest destiny to have arrived at this place, where the hop is king and we are continuously searching for more ways to celebrate our love of lupulin, albeit in a different way than we did five, 10 and especially 20 years ago.

So why have our collective tastes shifted from biting bitterness to flavorful concoctions? Let’s think about this together.

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What 2013’s Top Beer Searches Really Tell Us … and What They Don’t

search bar header sphere

The end of the year is full of retrospectives, “best of” lists and all that good stuff that makes us nostalgic for another year gone by.

So who am I to deny you such cliched excitement? But with a beery twist, of course. This week, we learned most the Googled beer searches of 2013:

If you’re like me you see that list and think “what the hell is Kingfisher?” But then I decided to give in to my nerdy tendencies and jump back into the foray of Google search trends to see if we could get a better idea what this list means. If you need a refresher on my work with Google Trends, check out my series that ran earlier this year.

What I found was really interesting. Turns out, even if Blue Moon is the most searched beer in America, it may not be the beer really capturing our interest…
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This is the Real ‘Winification’ of Beer

wine_bottle_beer_glass_hop

It seems whenever you turn around these days, there’s some media outlet hyping the mainstream impact of craft beer…

Among the phrases to consistently draw ire from beer nerds such as myself is the “winification of beer,” more commonly seen as a headline posing the question: “Is beer the new wine?”

No, beer is not wine, nor is it the “new” wine. Most often, these pieces will focus on aesthetic aspects of craft beer purchasing, like the size of a bottle (22-ounce bombers becoming more prominent) or pricing (those large bottles can be compared to the price of a bottle of wine).

These are simply easily-spotted visual cues that could allow consumers to compare and contrast between wine and beer. No, the real “winification of beer” isn’t on the outside of a bottle, it’s on the inside.
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Widmer Brothers Falconer’s IPA

Over the course of writing this blog, I have only reinforced a problem with my palate. I love food and drink that is simply bursting with flavor. Different strokes for different folks.

If you want some Google-harvested research, you can always read this. Or, as I’m sure you know, it’s easy to understand that taste comprehension and thresholds are different for everyone. Mine just happens to react poorly to lightly flavored foods, whereas I get a kick out of sampling a food or beer that goes heavy one way or another with flavor.

This is my love-hate relationship with IPAs. I love them, but hate that sometimes I have a difficult time really breaking them down when it’s not made clear for me. Maybe it’s why I like single hopped ales so much.

Regardless, this was one of the issues I confronted when enjoying Widmer Brothers’ Falconer’s IPA, one of the four offerings from the brewery’s rotator IPA series. It was good to me, but I imagine it may be better to others. Either way, it’s got an 82 on Beer Advocate.

Let’s try to break it down after the jump.

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Custom Brewcrafters Caged Alpha Monkey

Along with seeing friends and family – something that happens far too rarely – one of the exciting aspects of going home is the growing beer scene. It’s a slow and steady local industry, but one I’ve become more and more excited about each time I make the trip back to upstate New York.

However, that doesn’t mean everything is golden. I’ve found that the brews produced can be rather hit-or-miss and the first of a few I brought home with me from a recent trip was on the miss side. This brew has a 79 on Beer Advocate.

I recently popped open Custom Brewcrafters’ Caged Alpha Monkey, an American IPA that’s more bite than bark. Despite using four different kinds of hops (Simcoe, Chinook, Citra and Falconer’s Flight) hardly any of their characteristics come across. Had I not looked at the beer’s web page, I never would have guessed that Simcoe and Citra come anywhere close to this beer. If anything, it seemed like a mostly Cascade-based brew.

Both the beer’s smell and taste were bitter, plain and simple. There was a little citrus and floral notes on the nose, but was covered up by the alcohol and bitterness. At 65 IBUs, this beer isn’t overly bitter according to scale (~100 being at or near the top), but could simply just be balanced poorly enough where I can’t get anything other than bitterness. If there was more malt or if the hops were used in a different fashion, it might be a different story. More dry hopping, perhaps? Or just more late boil additions? To me it seems like all these hops were thrown in at the start of the brew and that was that.

To me, the characteristics shown by Simcoe and Citra are typically recognizable, but I got none of the pine or tropical fruit from those hops in this beer. Since they’re high in alpha acid, I suppose it makes sense that they could’ve been used in large quantities as bittering hops and just took over the beer.

Silver lining of all this? The label is pretty awesome. Hit the jump for my “Rate That Beer” sheet.
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Mikkeller Sorachi Ace single-hop IPA

Slowly but surely, I continue to work my way through Mikkeller‘s single-hop IPA series. The latest I tried – their Sorachi Ace blend – was probably one of the more unique versions. It’s got a 86 on Beer Advocate.

What I love about this series of beers is that on a whole, you won’t find ways to really get to know each hop variety in this kind of fashion. Sure, Brooklyn has their much-appreciated Sorachi Ace brew (92 on Beer Advocate), but where else will I get to have a beer made solely of Citra or Nelson Sauvin? To me, it’s the best way to really get to know each hop variety and what they offer. For reference, here’s what Brew-Dudes.com has to say in a short and simple look at its profile:

Aroma/Flavor: Lemony – all sources stated it’s lemon aroma and taste.

It’s worth noting that at 10.7 – 12.2 percent for alpha acid content (what makes the hop bitter, essentially) Sorachi Ace is a good hop for bittering and would otherwise be novel as flavor and aroma hop for a beer like this. But that’s what makes this beer so interesting – everything is well rounded instead of just getting the bitter, taste or smell of the hop.

The pour of this beer is wonderful – big bubbles you can easily spot from a mile away that just waft the Sorachi Ace hop smell right up the glass. I used my summer glass for this beer with the hope it would boost aromatic characteristics.

There are aspects of this hop – at least to me – that impart aromas and flavors I’ve never had before from a beer. On the nose, I smell mint, herbs and a tart orange. On my tongue, the earthy herbs at first (almost like the sweet mint of the smell), then what made me think of whipped cream and lemon at the end. The aftertaste? Dill and/or pickle. Yes, this is a strange one. But that’s why I liked it so much.

Hit the jump for my “Rate That Beer” sheet.
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