Over the last decade, hops varieties seem to be getting trendier. For a long time Cascade was the go-to hop for American beers, then Centennial made a run, the combination of Amarillo ad Simcoe is a modern classic, and now everyone wants Citra. There are dozens of new varieties being bred, and one of them will be the next big hit. It is hard not to get swept up in these new varieties when they impart bold new flavors heretofore not possible in hoppy beers. However, with so many other varieties out there finding new combinations of existing varieties is another way to create unique flavors.
Hop quality is a bigger deal than most homebrewers give it credit. It is of enough importance that many larger craft breweries send someone to the Yakima Valley and Hallertau to evaluate the harvest each year. As homebrewers we are often left with what remains, unable to evaluate the product until we open the package on brew day. There are some brewers who think of hop varieties like a commodity (Simcoe is Simcoe), when in fact you might get a more exciting hop character in an IPA from terrific Centennial rather than poor quality Citra.
Rather than relying on the supply chain to take care of the hops from the time they are harvested in the fall until when I am brewing, I’d rather buy the varieties I know I’ll use in bulk as soon as they are released, and store them myself. Doing this also saves money and avoids situations where those prized varieties disappear six months before the new harvest.
The Cascade for this Hoppy Red Rye was from Indie Hops, hopefully part of a wave of suppliers catering to craft brewers (and hopefully homebrewers) - who appreciate hops for more than just their level of alpha acids. I paired it with Sterling, originally bred as an American grown replacement for Saaz, but it is more powerfully aromatic and brings some fruitiness to compliment the spice.
Appearance – When I first brewed this beer I was sure it was too dark. When I poured the first sample from the tap it looked too light. Luckily after the yeast settled it ended up a beautiful garnet red. The head is dense, sticky, off-white, and gorgeous.
Smell – The nose is multifaceted, toasted malt, citrusy hops, and red berries. The hops smell fresh, sticky, grapefruity, but they aren’t over-the-top pungent. The berry-malt is wonderfully aromatic.
Taste – Solid bitterness at first, with some residual sweetness, and then lingering hops. Well balanced, although I tend to like my hoppy beers somewhat drier. The toasted-caramel malt comes through, not doughy or bready. Hops meld with the malt, citrus, hay, herbal; they need to be more intense to market as an IPA variant. Slight ethanol note on the finish.
Mouthfeel – Medium-heavy body for a moderate alcohol beer. Solid carbonation, about right.
Drinkability & Notes – Of all of our “first attempts” at Modern Times recipes, this may be the most successful. However, it doesn’t have the special something that makes Founders Red’s Rye such a perfect beer. Dialing back on the malt, and up on the hop aromatics will get us there though I suspect.