Beer Scout: Asheville breweries spice up winter with new hoppy offerings

HOPS GONE WILD: Sierra Nevada's new IPA is the first nationally released beer featuring the wild-grown Neomexicanus hops. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

If Simcoe, Citra and Cascade all sound familiar, chances are you’re either a brewer or a really, really big fan of IPAs. But while some hops gain household name status — at least in some houses — not all hops are so lucky. Many hops varieties never break past the competition in the commercial breeding programs in the Pacific Northwest (the capital of the world of hops).

Still, hops come from plants. And anyone with a garden knows Mother Nature is full of surprises. Such was the case when a new hops variety was discovered in the foothills of Taos, N.M., of all places. “The Neomexicanus hop was a lucky find by a rogue hophead combing the wild landscape, and he’s essentially gifted it to craft beer,” says Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s founder.

The hops have an interesting appearance. Unlike almost all other hops, the cones produce multiple heads. In fact, the hops was originally nicknamed Medusa. The aromas and flavors are almost as unique as the hops itself. Sierra says in addition to citrus, a common hops aroma, Neomexicanus also delivers “vibrant melon [and] apricot.”

Fortunately for hops hunters everywhere, Sierra Nevada scored enough of the hops to feature it in its last Harvest series beer of the year. “We’re always looking for new aromas and flavors,” says Grossman. “When they’re unexpected, it’s all the more exciting.”

Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Wild Hop IPA is hitting stores now and will be available through January. However, it’s not the only brewery going big with hops this month. Green Man specialty brewer Mike Karnowski decided hops would play the starring role in Green Man’s commemorative batch number 666. Dubbed “The Beast,” the beer will be a triple IPA that weighs in at 11.3 percent ABV.

As befitting a beer named The Beast, Karnowski played Iron Maiden to the beer 24 hours a day as it fermented. “I don’t know if the yeast prefer any particular musical style, but the workers at the brewery were definitely losing their minds after listening to Iron Maiden for two weeks straight!” says Karnowski.

Perhaps more important to the beer’s development, Karnowski dry-hopped it six separate times. “Dry hopping multiple times is a fairly new technique that allows for the hops to have the maximum amount of contact with the beer,” says Karnowski.

The Beast features mostly Amarillo, Columbus, Simcoe and Centennial hops, which Karnowski says will lead to a blend of floral, minty, dank, tropical and citrus aromas and flavors. It will debut at the brewery on Friday, Dec. 19, and then remain on tap for a limited time.

For those looking for a new IPA that’s less of a, well, beast, Asheville Brewing Co. is rounding out the month’s hoppy offerings with one of the area’s first session IPAs.

“A session IPA is almost a misnomer,” says Asheville Brewing Co. brewer Pete Langheinrich. “Basically you take a beer that’s 5.25 percent ABV or less … and take it over the top with hops.”

The combination of big flavor with low ABV is what made the beer style such a perfect match for local bike wheel and hub company Industry 9 (I9), which collaborated with Asheville Brewing on the beer — and a fundraising party for Asheville Greenways to launch it. “A lot of us [at the brewery] ride mountain bikes, and you need a low-alcohol beer when you’re out there,” says Langheinrich.

Not to be outdone by Green Man, the Asheville Brewing team dry hopped its beer nine times to play off the I9 company name. Langheinrich says that in addition to the contact time, the process also let the brewers tweak the hops profile as the beer progressed day by day — sort of like a dish that a chef seasons to taste.

I9 IPA is a limited release, with a portion of proceeds going to support Asheville Greenways. Look for it at both Asheville Brewing locations, and cross your fingers for a second batch later this winter.

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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