A couple years back, while attending Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, I got a VIP tour of the brewery’s hop storage rooms, which are kept just above freezing. The crisp air was pungently spicy, minty and piney, making for an incredible olfactory experience. As we toured around, I was drawn to a bin of hops labeled HBC 366 (HBC stands for Hop Breeding Company and numbers are assigned to unnamed experimental varieties). I broke off a chunk, rubbed it between my lupulin-stained hands to release its aromas, and then I inhaled deeply. It smelled like heaven with lots of citrus and spice, and I wondered where this hop had been all my life.
Just before 2000, when I first began to dabble in homebrewing, there were only a handful of hop varieties available, and it seemed to stay that way for a really long time. Fortunately, in the last five years or so, new hop varieties have exploded on the scene. Now we have access to more than 100 different hops, plus there are many more being researched and developed, and new varieties are continually released to both professional brewers and home brewers.
Just as craft beer enthusiasts seek out new beers to try, hop researchers, breeders and growers are trying to develop new hops that not only offer exciting new flavors and aromas, but also have good yields and are resistant to diseases.
It’s not a quick process, however. It usually takes about 10 years of researching, breeding and growing before a new hop hits the market. And even when it does become commercially available, it might be difficult to get because of its proprietary status, limited acreage and/or high demand.
Sierra Nevada seemed to like HBC 366, so it earned a name: Equinox. In the spring of 2012 it released Ruthless Rye IPA, which was the first commercial beer to be brewed with Equinox hops. This hop has a pronounced aroma profile with notes of lemon-lime, grapefruit zest, orange, fruity green pepper and apple, along with some woodsy, floral and herbal characteristics.
Sierra Nevada also helps to finance the research and development of other hops, including the wildly popular 394, which was named Citra in 2008. Citra is now used by many brewers and in many beers, including Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA. This “flavor” hop has elements of passion fruit, gooseberries and peach.
Beyond Equinox and Citra, there are many other new hops that are showing lots of potential. In no particular order, here are some brief descriptions of some of them:
Lemondrop is a new aroma hop developed by Hopsteiner that finally became commercially available after the 2014 hop crop. As its name suggests, it offers big notes of lemon, but it also has elements of orange, grapefruit, menthol, pine, peppermint, green tea, licorice and melon. Stone Brewing’s Delicious IPA is made with Lemondrop hops (and El Dorado hops).
Belma hops are described as having a clean fruitiness with flavors of ripe melon, strawberry Starburst and lime Skittles.
Jarrylo, pronounced yar-i-lo, with the emphasis on the letter i, is a high-alpha hop that is said to be spicy and fruity (pear, orange).
Named after the Haitian god of agriculture, a trademark was filed for Azacca hops in 2013. This hop offers a myriad of fruity notes, including citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lemon), tropical fruits (pineapple, mango) and orchard fruits (pears, apples), as well as some pine. Try Stone Brewing Company’s 2015 special-release Old Guardian Barley Wine Extra Hoppy (available this month), which is the regular Old Guardian but with an extra dose of Azacca hops, adding extra layers of fruit and citrus.
Cashmere was released in 2013 by Washington State University. It’s a cross between Cascade and Northern Brewer, though it offers new and different flavors and aromas, including coconut, melon, peach, pineapple, lemon-lime and spices. It is said to have a smooth bitterness.
Tahoma was also released by Washington State University in 2013. It is a very citrusy variety with elements of pine, spice, grapefruit and lemon. Tahoma is the daughter hop of the popular Glacier variety.
In 2012, Washington’s Hop Breeding Company released HBC 369, now known as Mosaic. This aroma hop’s family tree includes Simcoe and Nugget. Mosaic is floral and tropical with hints of mango, lemon and blueberry. Deschutes Brewery’s Fresh Squeezed IPA and Green Flash Brewery’s Mosaic Session IPA are both brewed with this hop, among many others.
Released in 2010 by CLS Farms, El Dorado is a dual-purpose hop with intense aromas of stone fruits (cherry, pear, apricot) and candy (watermelon Jolly Ranchers). This hop seems to be gaining attention quickly, and it even has its own Twitter page (@eldoradohops). Ninkasi Brewing’s Dawn of the Red India Red Ale is brewed with El Dorado and Mosaic hops.