When asked what the principal ingredient in wine is, most women are pretty educated. “Grapes!” they sing, with gusto and enthusiasm. But ask them the same question about beer. Many will stumble over their words. The answers are varied, and may include ingredients such as wheat, barley, or malt. In my early education in beer, the word “hops” confused me. I clearly remember asking, ”What’s a hops?”
Although lightweight and papery, hop cones can be the heavyweights in beer, the ingredients that cut the sweetness from the wort, while adding aroma and multiple layers of flavor to the finish. Throughout the beer renaissance in America, hops have gained a huge following among beer enthusiasts – and it’s not going to diminish anytime soon.
The Great American Beer Festival, held annually in the fall, is the largest commercial competition in America. In 2013, American IPA registered 255 entries in its category, with Imperial IPA coming in with a solid 149 entries. English IPA trailed behind with a moderate number of entries at 31.
As the craft beer movement has grown, so has the American love affair with hops, particularly those citrusy, piney varieties from the Pacific Northwest. To highlight this love affair, Bill Metzger of Brewing News Publications, holds the National IPA Championship (aka NIPAC) and the National Imperial IPA Championship (aka NI-IPAC), running through February and into March. NIPAC, in its 7th year, just wasn’t enough for the hopheads of the USA, so he decided to run NI-IPAC in tandem, now entering its 2nd year.
A quick look through the “Locker Room” presents a solid understanding of why IPA has gained such respect. Between 30 and 50 degrees in the northern and southern latitudes, hops hit their “sweet spot,” with the 49th yielding the best and brightest. Since these latitudes span both hemispheres, hops develop with the flavor of the terroir surrounding them, affected by the soil in which they grow, the wind, water, and minerals in the earth. This is what makes IPA such an exciting style.
Using the same four ingredients – malted barley, water, yeast and hops – the results can become spectacularly different. With the addition of a few unique ingredients, such as passion fruit, mango, rye, or lager yeast, a brewer’s rendition of IPA can take on even greater layers of flavor.
Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery in Galesburg, Michigan, uses only one hop variety – Centennial – in its wildly popular IPA. On the flip side, Saranac Legacy IPA by Saranac Brewing in Utica, New York, created their beer using a 100-year-old recipe from 1814 as a base, and hopped it up with a bouquet of hops: Cluster, Golding, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe, Cascade, Chinook, and a slew of historical hops. Celebrating their 125th anniversary, Saranac has incorporated a free pint into their “Brewers’ Dozen 12 packs, in thanks to consumers for their ongoing loyalty.
Northwest hops have become revered worldwide for their citrusy flavors of grapefruit or lemon zest, along with a resiny slam of pine needles. Some portray the additional flavors of tangerine, pineapple, or orange. Brewers occasionally add rye to the malt bill, to enhance the spiciness of the hops.
Along with the standard Northwest hop profile, brewers have found they love the brightness of flavor Nelson Sauvin can add to the brew. Increasingly, I have seen Falconers Flight, Zythos, Antanum, Eldorado, Belma, Experimental 05256, and Carpenters Ranch Lemon Blend used to add mystery to the palate.
Hops are traditionally added to the boil for bittering; then at the end for aromatic enhancement. They may also be added multiple times. Ithaca Beer Company of Ithaca, New York, hops and dry-hops their legendary Flower Power five different times during both the boil and fermentation, resulting in a luscious blend of tropical pineapple notes and grapefruit zing.
La Cumbre Brewing of Albuquerque, New Mexico, brews their IPA under the title of “Project Dank,” starting with a magnificent blend of malts for the foundation; then, adding a different hop schedule and recipe each time it is brewed. Columbus, Chinook, Mosaic, and Southern Passion usually form the hull, with each batch varying slightly with such designer hops as H17, Citra, or Nelson Sauvin – sometimes in the whirlpool, other times, dry hopped.
And don’t forget Dogfish Head and Randall the Enamel Animal. But that’s another story for another time.
The National IPA Championships are your chance to be the judge and vote for those IPAs you love. Go to The Brewing News NIPAC website to flip through the locker rooms, register, and be a part of history.
Homebrewing? Start with a little Cascade:
Cascade Hop Pellets for Home Brewing 3 oz
Get the real deal on IPAs:
IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale