There’s a new revolution brewing (no pun intended) amongst the brewing elite and master home brewers; Single Hop Beers! But upon a little closer look, this trend is really more about going back to the earliest basics of beer brewing, when hops were first used to temper the overwhelming sweetness of the malt.
Let’s step back to the middle of the 8th century, where we find the first documented proof of hops being cultivated for use in beer-making. King Charlemagne’s dad Pepin, early brewer, wonderful and decent human, documented his hop production and use in brewing. He left in his will, his hop fields to the Cloister of St. Denis in the year 768. Charlemagne himself became a very important brewer of his time.
The hops cultivated in this era were from the Hallertau region of what is now Bavaria, Germany. Blending hops was probably not on anyone’s radar. In fact, radar was also not on anyone’s radar…
Hop production migrated to all parts of the globe, but hops grown in each region were generally of the single hop variety. Of course, weather conditions, soil and climate naturally came into play, much like grapes to wine, that make for subtle differences in the end result.
If you’re reading this, and I can only assume you are, you probably know a thing or two about beer and hops, in particular. But just to be clear about the point of this article, and at a risk of lulling you to sleep, there are hundreds of hop varieties and hundreds more hybrids around the world. Each hop possesses varying degrees of bitterness. In addition to providing bitterness, hops also provide a wide variety of aromas.
International Bittering Units (IBU) is the measure of bitterness. As an example, 10 IBU’s contain a low amount of alpha acids. This creates a mild bittering effect. 60 or more IBU’s create a more intense and biting effect. 100 IBU’s and upward will sear your taste buds off and make you involuntarily pucker your mouth and contort your face. Now within those degrees of bitter intensity come different bitter flavor profiles. Some hops impart a peppery taste, some give off citrusy notes. Tastes of metallic, copper, grassy, grapefruit (white or pink), limes, orange peel, tobacco, or sulfuric have been identified. Heck, Coors’ advertisers claim “Cold” to be a flavor. When flavor lacks to that degree, temperature might actually be confused for taste.
Most craft beers today are created by blending 2 or more hops into the brew process. It’s not only the blend of hops that create the desired flavors and aromas, it’s the amount of hops used plus the art of knowing when to add which hops at set times during fermentation. Some single hop varieties contain more than one bitterness profile and if added in the right amounts and at the right time, can make for quite the tasty and aromatic beer.
We’ve seen similarities to single hop beer with single bean coffees. Dunkin Donuts can produce a very consistent, if somewhat bland brew by combining 6 to 7 blends of beans into a roasting vat. Using this method, they don’t need to rely on one or two bean producers to give them consistent coffees. If one or more crops fail due to floods, insect infestations, or unstable politics in coffee-growing regions, Dunkin’s can rely on blends which will provide a “close enough” target to satisfy the consumer.
Single bean roasts are risky business, thus the costs must be passed along. For a brewer to attempt a single hop beer, he/she MUST rely upon more than one hop grower to insure they get an abundant and consistent supply to brew a high quality beer that changes very little from batch to batch.
Old reliable craft beer Anchor Steam Liberty Ale is born of single Cascade Hops. Pilsner Urquell is all Saaz Hops. There are a few really good Single Hop beers being brewed right here in New England.
Mayflower’s - Single Hop Ale Styrian Aurora is a MUST try! It’s a limited batch so mosey on down out to your favorite packie and grab a few.
Review: 16.6oz bottle. June 2013 batch.
Poured into a SA fluted glass.
It pours a cloudy golden amber color with a medium-sized fluffy off white head.
The smells are surprisingly varied for a single hop. Fresh cut hay, citrus, wild flowers, fruit cup, bread dough with a light whiff of gin all roll together.
Flavors are hop forward with tastes of soft citrus, peppery spice and a hint of pineapple. The sweet malt backbone holds together throughout. As in the aroma, a light taste of gin sneaks in the finish.
This is a very well-rounded brew. The slick, silky liquid is really easy to gulp...almost too easy.
Backlash Beer Company - Famine Single Malt- Single Hop Tripel
Review: 16.6oz brown bottle. No freshness date. 6.5%ABV
Poured into an Allagash fluted goblet.
Even with a careful tilted pour, the overly effervescent head spilled over. Not to worry, none was lost!
Belgian Tripel smells burst out with an earthy damp hop and drying yeast aroma. Smells of orange peel, lemon zest, cookie dough, banana and cut grass roll forward. A faint whiff of tobacco is noticed.
The flavors mirror the aromas in every way. The malty sweetness is mild. Lacking is any alcoholic kick in the taste or aroma. It's there, but barely.
An additional dose of barley malt would have bumped up ABV and perhaps temper the head and added a bit more body. But, that said, this was a very ballsy choice of ingredients by a very good brewer.
Backlash Beer Company – Catalyst – Double IPA
Review: This golden honey amber, 8.5% ABV single Amarillo hop Double IPA comes roaring (more like flowing) out of Holyoke, MA. You brace yourself for a taste bud wrenching hop smack-down, but instead, we find a very pleasing juicy grapefruit bitterness, with a slight metallic tang and a mild peppery spiciness. The malt body is full, yet the light sweetness creates an evenly balanced flavor profile. This DIPA goes down smooth and fluid rather than rasping its way down like so many of this style. My lager-biased mother-in-law really enjoyed it. She was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised.
Lager specialists, Jack’s Abby – Mom & Pop’s Wet Hop Lager features an all New England hops and malts brew.
Review: Golden honey colored with a solid show-white frothy head. The aroma of cut hay and wild flowers gives way to smells of bread and herbs. Tastes of firm pears, dried barley, honey and herbs, blend nicely with an earthy sort of whole hop flowery flavor. Sweet malty tastes inch forward, creating a subtle balance between spicy hops and sweet doughy malt. This is an easy-drinker with flavor!
Other Single Hop beers to try: Hill Farmstead has several different Single Hop Ales to try (but you’ve got to (get to?) drive to mid-Vermont for a taste)
The brewers at Night Shift Brewing out of Everett, MA are brewing up 3 different batches of Single Hop Double IPA’s; One with loads of Citra, one with the piney/juicy Simcoe and one featuring the spicy, aromatic Amarillo hop.
Please let me know if you find a MUST try Single Hop beer for all to try.
Help spread the CHEER!