“…no other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall….” -Willy Wonka
Deschutes Brewery’s Hop Henge Experimental IPA dares to risk conventional wisdom every year in pursuit of what Brewmaster Larry Sidor calls the ‘wow factor’. Sidor says, “…this year’s Hop Henge is about applying what we learned last year…,” to the perennial question why not? (Remember the ‘why not’s’?) Subtle changes to this year’s vintage included increased hops in the mash kettle and a modified hop profile. Chasing down more hop flavor and aroma without the mouth-destroying, vegetative hop notes is no easy task. It is evident Sidor can’t resist the challenge. He is always dabbling, like the wizard behind the curtain, in effort to coax those little, lovable lupulin glands to shine through as brightly as they can.
Why experiment every year with a proven winner? “Why roll around in hop kilns? For the love of the hop, for aroma, for flavor. I love hops…,” he says with a gleam in his eye. In today’s hop-mad world, hop bitterness and aroma get all the love. Sidor insists that hop flavor is just as important. Deschutes Brewery beers firmly embed hop flavor in the middle of any beer. It is no mere consequence of number-numbing IBU’s; rather a sincere, daily effort to create a unique, desirable drinking experience. Hop Henge is so much more than a mouth-puckering, hairy tongue addiction.
Herkules and Cascade hop additions skillfully cast their spell. The dreamy grapefruit notes from the German high-alpha Herkules hops punctuate the faultless Cascade citrus groundwork. And few US brewmasters are crafty enough to procure them (read…Sidor’s relationships abroad deliver hops available nowhere else). When cornered about his favorite flavor hops, Sidor compares the exercise to choosing his favorite child. Ultimately though, Cascades come out on top, and he alludes to a “Cascade heirloom project” in the works.
One of Sidor’s favorite phrases, “….when I didn’t know what I didn’t know…” predicates an insatiable curiosity [to figure it out] coupled with an incessant drive to constantly improve [every beer he makes]. I asked if he feels like he accomplished what he set out to do with this year’s Hop Henge. A very casual, “Yeah, I do,” paves the way a moment later for an elegant, “I love this beer.”
What’s on the menu for next year? Hops in the bottle? “Why not,” he chuckles. Then, more seriously, admits he’s been too busy enjoying the current version to get to it.
by Erik Frank, resident brew gumshoe