New Year, New Beer, New Hop

BYOB by | Dec 2009 | Issue #35

Illustration by Scott Murry

Recently, while researching another article, I went digging through my archives and tripped across a John “Rogue Brewing” Maier recipe from 1986. John’s a brewer I think we can all respect. This dark lager recipe consisted of two cans of dark, unhopped extract syrup, 12 ounces of “Crystal” malt, 2 ounces of hops and sachets of dry lager yeast. That, my friends, is what an award-winning brewer had to work with back in the day.

Facing these sorts of ingredient restrictions may force brewers into a laser-like focus á la German brewers, but at what cost? What does the modern brewer do when faced with an unbridled bounty? Even in my brewing decade, the ingredient and equipment changes have been astounding. I honestly don’t know how my Belgian Dark Ales would taste these days without that new-ish dark candi syrup.

Of all the whiplash-effect changes in recent history, the most dramatic has been the hop situation. The scare of the past two years forced us to face a number of hop varieties we’ve never seen or contemplated. Endless questions bounced around the internet—“Hey, have you guys ever tried variety XYZ?” Brewers who blindly trusted variety names were quickly scammed, flummoxed and assaulted by such malcontent agents like “Argentinean Cascades.” Even now, with the situation returning to normal, we’re still seeing new hops hit the market, like this season’s new “it” hop—Citra. I’m planning to explore this hop of conflicting properties—spicy like the Nobles, citrusy and piney like American hops.

I know a number of you out there in BA/homebrewing land are fans of the SMaSH Pale Ale, but when I want to explore the power of a new hop, I want a blast and a half of green juice. That’s why I reach instead for the pale lupilin slugger—Extra Pale Ale.

Although similar to the SMaSH concept, the XPA cranks the hop intensity and adds a touch of malt complexity. In an American craft sessionable-sized package, you deliver the flavor, taste and bite of an IPA without the debilitating ethanol kick to the liver. All of this comes from the basic grist setup of the malt bill.

My Xtra Good Xtra Pale uses just three malts—Pale Two-Row, Belgian Crystal 8L (aka Caramel Pilsner) and German Munich—to build a malt backbone. The malt needs heft to support a beer with over 80 IBU of hop punch. But since the beer itself only weighs in at an original gravity of 1.046, the finish aches with iso-alpha acids determined to burrow through each of your fillings.

For hopping, to hit all the right bitter notes, the hop additions are spread across the board. First, wort hops for amusement and smoothness, a bittering charge for bite, a flavor charge and a knockout aroma addition. If you feel frisky, a final touch of dry hops wouldn’t hurt either.

In the past, I’ve used this recipe to understand and appreciate the qualities of many varieties. The best beers result from the moderate to higher alpha acid hops. XPAs made with the lower alpha acid type end up tasting like green tea mixed with grass clippings. But worst of all are the Noble hop varieties, which finally allow you to picture the flavor of grass wine mixed with rotting dandelions. I even used this recipe to solidify my low-cohumulone hop rule: Whenever making a bitter beer with low-coho hops, they pop best with a dose of a rough hop, like Chinook.

For 5.5 gallons at 1.046, 4 SRM, 90 IBU, 60-minute boil, 4.6-percent ABV

Malt / Grain
9.0 lb. domestic two-row (sub Maris Otter for extra maltiness)
0.5 lb. Belgian Crystal 8L (Caramel Pils)
0.5 lb. Munich malt

Mash Schedule
Saccharification Rest – 153˚F for 60 minutes

Hops (Whole)
1.0 oz. Citra | 11%AA | First wort hopped
1.0 oz. Citra | 11%AA | 60 minutes
0.5 oz. Citra |11%AA | 15 minutes
1.0 oz. Citra | 11%AA | 0 minutes

Wyeast 1056 Chico Ale / WLP001 California Ale / US-05 American Ale 

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