Time spent with Larry Sidor, Brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery, sheds some light on the experimental nature of the beer known elegantly as Hop Henge.
Let us sculpt a figure, worthy of the ancients. We begin with an idea and a commitment. We employ new materials and exotic tools. We add passion and experience. Inevitably we fashion something that destiny will declare a heroic journey. It comes as no surprise then as we begin our discussion-the Brewmaster’s first words are, “As always, hopping is an adventure with Deschutes Brewery.”
What is this guy talking about? Hop Henge Experimental IPA has a one-track mind. It is obsessed with its’ role as a heavyweight hop personality. But not just regular, old heavyweight hops. We are talking about a fresh hop heavyweight. The question is how to achieve this without the harvest’s richest bounty-fresh picked hops. With a patent pending for the process, Brewmaster Larry Sidor reveals much about little. He details a new method for extracting everyone’s favorite gland, lupulin, from whole hop flowers. Approximately 3.2 seconds after he says “the measure of the efficiency of concentration”, my head begins to swim towards the dark recesses where I buried high school chemistry. Intriguing….but not my strong suit. The translation is simply this: fresh hop flavor and aroma available all year round. Heroic. Hop Henge brings an undeniably bright hop character to the table. Nothing dull or musty here. The citrus grabs hold of you like a snake charmer with a magic flute. This is the wonder of fresh hops. Have you ever walked through a hop field just before harvest? You want to…trust me.
“Just a minute,” you interrupt. “This is a big beer at 8.75% ABV. The IBUs at 95. This is nothing like the fresh hop beer you make!” True. Hop Henge is properly considered within the imperial realm. Traditional approaches to Imperial IPAs advise adding copious amounts of the highest alpha hops at every opportunity in the beer-making process. However, the resulting “IBU-vehicle” concoction, requiring a huge malt presence and unavoidable alcohol level for a quaffable balance, sometimes misses the mark. Sidor and his merry band of genies never settle for anything less than a bullseye. Armed with an unquenchable curiosity and a full house of hops, they asked “why not?”
Why not add Amarillo and Centennial hops to the malt in the grist mill? Why not utilize some Herkules hops (Germany’s answer to high alpha American hops, but with great aroma) in concert with the Millenniums and Northern Brewers in the kettle? Why not add the hottest hop variety in the country right now, Citra hops (since the Brewery has been tinkering with them for four years), into the hop back with the Northern Brewers and Brewers Gold? Who says you can’t add Cascades and Amarillos into the whirlpool? And maybe some pellets of Centennials, Cascades, and Amarillos into the fermentation tank (very unusual for Deschutes Brewery)? Or how about a seven-day dry-hopping with whole hop Citras just to round it all out? Whew! That was heavyweight….5.01 pounds per barrel, to be exact!
Additions. Extractions. Combinations. And fascination. Certainly a journey. A heroic journey. Examining Hop Henge like a tea leaf, in search of my muse, I smell this fantasy turned reality long before it glides over my palette. Orange zest and pink grapefruit serve as olfactory intoxicants. The carbonation not only tickles my nose, but makes my tongue feel like it is coated in bubble wrap gone mad. It deftly accents the bitter citrus I crave. Piney bitterness swells intensely. A clean, malty sweetness rescues me in the middle of the wave, just as I reach bitter overload. Only to be plunged deeply back into a complete, satisfying, hop immersion. I arrive suddenly back on shore, magically standing on two legs, with only the echo of a vibration on my tongue.
I am a hophead. And I am in love.
By Amos A. Amarillo