By Lew Bryson
A great brewer makes every batch of beer taste like the one before. But with all the new, exciting hops available, some beers will be “consistently” different. How fun is that?
Last summer I was in St. Louis and saw Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion on tap. Hey, I’ll try that! It was delicious, and part of a “keep the glass” promotion. I liked the glass – a nice willi becher – so much, I carefully packed it and brought it home. But even though Luponic Distortion is sold in Philly, I cannot get that same beer in my glass again… because it’s not the same beer anymore.
Luponic Distortion is one of the new breed of rotating hop beers, beers that a brewery keeps steady and stable, usually under the same name, but they change up the hops. It’s a reflection of the bountiful harvest of new hop strains that have been coming available. As Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson puts it, “In recent years, the door has been blown wide open on all of these insane, new, experimental hop varieties. Luponic Distortion is our vehicle to venture into uncharted territory through the potential of these new cultivars.”
More locally, Luke Bowen, co-founder of Evil Genius Beer Company, stands that statement on its head when he considers why they started their hop-rotator beer, This One Time At Band Camp DIPA, saying that beers like that are driven not by hop varieties, but by drinkers’ love for them. “Yes,” he says, “we think that it is because consumers love different hops. That is all the rage now! And as people are getting more familiar with hop varieties, we have been able to showcase each of them in various formats to be received by a very educated consumer.”
Whether it’s the hops or it’s you, the hop-rotator is the latest way brewers have of bringing us two of our favorite things: more hops and more new, different beers. Port Brewing has been pursuing that for a while, and have spun off another brewing group to do it: The Hop Concept. They started their Hop Freshener Series with a slightly different format: four seasons of IPAs, each tagged for the different hop characters they delivered: Dank & Sticky, Citrus & Piney, Lemon & Grassy and Tropical & Juicy.
“The premise for our Hop Freshener beers has been the same since day one,” says co-founder Tomme Arthur. “Deliver a sense of taste and smell to consumers who are thirsty for hops, but maybe not as familiar with exactly the hops used. The goal has been to blend hops to reach the desired taste and smell in each beer. Of the four, Lemon & Grassy was far and away the most difficult!” He notes that Lemon & Grassy has been dropped from the lineup this year.
Hop Concept 2.0 was “a bit more geek-like in terms of the varietals being in charge,” he says. “For Galaxy & Comet, Citra & Azacca, Melon & Blanc, as well as Mosaic & Eureka, the goal was emphasis on varietal dry hopping and late whirlpool carrying the essence.” That lineup will probably change as well; they are, as all these beers are, works in progress.
Stone Brewing went with a pure and simple hop-rotator called Hop Revolver. The first one was released in January, featuring Loral hops. Like Stone’s popular “Enjoy By” series, Hop Revolver is a grab-it-while-you-can kind of thing. If you miss it, well, you missed it, because it won’t be back.
Sly Fox is joining in the fun with an expansion of their beloved IPA Project and Pale Ale Project single-hop releases, called simply Hop Project. But this time, there will be more, and you can get it to-go: Hop Project will be in Sly Fox’s popular 360 can format.
“It came from us wanting to explore things again, and package it,” says head brewer Brian O’Reilly. “It’s still a series of beers: the can has a number on it. But we want the beer to be fresh, not a collector’s item on a shelf. So we make just enough to get it to the market and into peoples’ hands. I’m excited to talk to people about the differences. There will be changes in the hops; American and New Zealand, floral-citrus hops are where we’re going to focus for a while. We’re also not ruling anything out. We may do a Hop Project that’s a keller pils. We haven’t made any rules.”
You’ll notice that some of these are single hop beers, and some are blends. O’Reilly’s statement about rules follows through with each of these other brewers: there are no rules in this new type of release. It may be a one-off; it may happen every year. It may be an IPA, a DIPA, a pale ale or a pilsner (Tomme Arthur says he is “tinkering with a hoppy lager recipe; just don’t call it a pilsner!”).
The only thing you can count on, and the thing that makes these beers so interesting and irresistible, is that they’re different, and changing. When you see that tap of Luponic Distortion, that bottle of Band Camp, that can of Hop Project 001 or smell the wild aroma of a fresh-poured Hop Concept, or watch someone pouring a Hop Revolver… your curiosity will make you grab it. You’ll just have to know. But don’t get used to it; the next one’s coming right behind!