Americans are in love with India pale ale (IPA), the assertively hoppy beer style that highlights the bitterness and aromatics of hops. If malt is the meat of a beer recipe, then hops are the spices that brewers use for flavor and aroma. Served on draft, single-hop beers sparkle with herbal, fruit and spice character, ranging from citrus and tropical fruit to berries, lemongrass and more.
Single-hop beers feature the flavor of just one hop cultivar, to showcase the specific bittering and aromatics achieved. That contrasts with traditional brewing technique, in which a brewer uses one set of hops for bittering the beer during the boil, and later adds another blend of hops for aromatics—typically during fermentation and aging.
Most brewers still create beers such as IPAs with a blend of hops. Popular bittering hops include Chinook, Cluster, Northern Brewer, and Warrior, while aroma hops include classic European varieties such as East Kent Goldings, Fuggles and Hallertau. Some hops, such as Amarillo and Centennial, can be used both for bittering and aroma.
With more than 100 hop varieties now in cultivation, there’s a huge range available, but they’re not always available in great quantities. Hops are a pricey and prized commodity. A worldwide hop crisis from 2006 to 2007 demonstrated that crops could be hit by shortages, depending on weather and drought conditions. With many popular hops in short supply in 2008, brewers began experimenting with hops from other countries, such as Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand. To train brewers how to use these unfamiliar hops, such as Nelson Sauvin, the breweries began creating test batches of single-hop beers. Test batches proved so popular that public demand for single-hop beers grew.
Jeff and Bonnie Steinman began growing hops in 2007 by planting a few hops rhizomes in their back yard in Hickory Corners, MI. Soon hops grew into a passion fueled by the growing craft brewing community in Michigan, and by the Steinmans’ love for horticulture. “We are so proud of the creativity and pursuit for excellence of the brewers in Michigan. This our way to contribute,” says Bonnie Steinman.
Hop Head Farms had been an organic test plot up until 2012, when a new partnership enabled the Steinmans to enter the professional world of hops farming and processing.
“Terroir has a great influence on the flavor of hops,” says Bonnie Steinman. “Soil conditions and microclimates contribute to different flavors aspects in the same variety, so that a Cascade hop grown in California will be different from a Cascade hop grown in Michigan.”
Why brew a single-hop beer? It’s a great way to train palates to understand the flavor dynamics of that variety, for one thing.
“Single-hop beers have been brewed in small batches, as limited releases, for many years,” says Stan Hieronymus, author of For the Love of Hops. “Back in the 1990s, the Shipyard Brewery of Maine began experimenting with single-hop beers, such as the Fuggles IPA.”
With the growth in beer service training, such as the Beer Steward and Cicerone certification programs, bartenders and servers need to know how to identify hops varieties from aromatics and taste of beer.
Chip Hardy, co-owner of the Bier Stein, a multi-tap bar in Eugene, OR, believes that “the educational value is what is driving the growth of single-hop beers.” What’s more, he notes, “We live in the Pacific Northwest, which is one of the world’s best regions for growing hops, so there’s an element of connoisseurship in highlighting a single variety of hop” as a unique beer.
Hardy, with his partner and wife Kristina Measells, opened the Bier Stein Bottleshop and Pub in 2005. The pub tucks 50 seats into a 2,100 sq.-ft. storefront that offers more than 1,000 bottled beers and 12 rotating beers on tap. Draft beer is priced from $4 and up per pint.
The couple is currently remodeling a new space with more than 12,000 sq. ft., and will offer 30 beers on draft and a cask engine. “We will have over 150 seats, and have the ability to do more events,” says Hardy.
Knowledgeable beer service is a hallmark at the Bier Stein. Hardy was a professional brewer at West Brothers and Steelhead Brewing Co., and won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2003 for an espresso stout.
Hardy also served on the board of directors of the Oregon Brewers Guild, and he knows many brewers who will participate in special events and vertical tastings. “Block 15 Brewing Company in Corvallis, OR, has a ‘One Hop Wonder’ series,” says Hardy. “They work closely with the hop research program at Oregon State University, and have put out some great beers with new hop varieties.” Other American breweries featuring single-hop beers include Bell’s Beer in Kalamazoo, MI; Rogue Ales in Newport, OR; Sixpoint Brewing Co. in Brooklyn, NY; Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, MA; Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD; Stoudts Brewing Co. in Adamstown, PA; Ninkasi Brewing Co. of Eugene, OR; and many more.
Goose Island Brewery of Chicago began brewing its Honkers Ale nearly 20 years ago with a single hop, Styrian Golding.
Denmark’s Mikkeller Brewery in 2009 launched an ambitious series of IPAs through the Single Hop Series of 19 IPAs. Each was brewed with a different hop, in the same ratio of hops to malt across all varieties.
“It was an interesting experience drinking the Mikkeller single-hop series,” says Hieronymus. “The IPA brewed with Citra [hops] tasted like tropical passion fruit, while the IPA brewed with Simcoe hops added at the same ratio was extremely bitter,” like a raw orange peel, he notes.
Rogue Ales launched an indigenous ale series under the Rogue Farms label, featuring brewery-grown malts and hops. The Rogue Farms single-hop ales use fresh hops such as Revolution, Freedom, Liberty and Rebel Hop. Rogue’s 15 pubs in the Pacific Northwest serve single-hop samplers, which are priced at $6 for four 4-oz. tasters.
Ninkasi Brewing Co. began experimenting with single hop beers several years ago, with a beer called “Smells Like Purple,” brewed with the Meridian hop, says founder Jamie Floyd. The Meridian hop is a cultivar grown at the Goschie Farms of Silverton, OR, with flavor that ranges from bright blackberry to tropical fruit.
“We brew with hops that are unfamiliar to us, and the single-hop style lets us bring the most out of the hop, experiencing the full range of flavor possible in brewing and dry hopping the beer,” Floyd says. “We promote the single-hop beers for education and targeting the real beer geek.”
Tastiest On Tap
Single-hop beers are ideally presented on draft, says Floyd, “because that’s the freshest the beer can be, as kegs are kept cold and that allows the hop flavors and aromatics to stay intact.” Plus, many single-hop beers are created in small batches for limited release, making them more appealing for draft presentation on premise.
“I like draft service for single-hop beers,” agrees Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association in Boulder, CO. “Fresh hop aromatics are volatile and so should be enjoyed the fresher, the better—and the more true to what the brewer intended.”
At Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurants, “We rotate our single-hop ales on draft, and brew them primarily for our own brewers to experiment, and learn how to get the best character from that specific hop,” says Mark Edelson, director of brewery operations. The nine-unit brewpub chain is headquartered in Wilmington, DE, with locations in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Iron Hill brewpubs average 10,000 sq. ft., and about 1,800 sq. ft. of the space is allocated to bar seating and tables, with capacity for 30 seats or more. “We have anywhere from 20 to 40 [tap] handles, all our own beer except for festivals on premise or other special occasions,” Edelson says. “We obtain 20% of sales from beer and 10% of bar sales from wine and spirits, combined,” he says.
Prices range from $5 and up per pint, though the single-hop ales are served in “tulips or snifter glasses to capture the aromatics,” Edelson says, and priced from $6 to $7. Iron Hill’s tasting samplers of the six house ales and two seasonal releases are priced at $12.
Single-hop beers are “an ideal way for breweries to differentiate themselves,” says Bonnie Steinman of Hop Head Farms. “Putting these limited-release beers on draft makes it that much more special, so that it’s part of the experience to enjoy the single-hop beers in the bars, away from home.” ·
Lucy Saunders is a freelance food and beer writer based in Milwaukee, WI.
Spiegelau Unveils IPA Glass
Beyond terroir, another influence on beer flavor perception is presentation. That’s in part why Spiegelau, a subsidiary of the Riedel Crystal Company, just launched a glass specifically for IPAs.
The Spiegelau IPA glass was designed by George Riedel with feedback from leading IPA brewers such as Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing Co. Riedel held a glass design workshop, tasting three different IPA beers in a range of existing wine, beer and cocktail glasses from the Riedel glass library archives.
“We tasted IPAs in hundreds of glasses and took note of traits of various shapes that boosted the hop aromas and flavors of IPAs,” says Matt Rutkowski, vice president of Spiegelau. “We quickly realized the base shapes of the bowls, when designing a glass to highlight aroma, must funnel aroma to the nose, so the bowl on our IPA glass is recurved at the edge.”
Also, Rutkowski says, “We all agreed that the IPA glass had to hold a large volume. We choose a capacity of 19 ounces because it not only accommodates a 12-ounce pour at home, but also a 16-ounce bar pour with plenty of head.”
Dogfish Head’s Calagione describes the glass as an “olfactory cannon,” enhancing aromatics that are the benchmark of the American IPA style. The beehive base of the glass accents carbonation, providing the aeration and surface to recharge the foam. The glass is also thin for maintaining proper temperature: IPAs are best served at 43F, to let the hop aromatics bloom.
“Hop-forward beers are close to our hearts,
and we’ve had fun figuring out how to best highlight an IPA’s nuances,” Sierra Nevada’s founder Ken Grossman says of the glass design. “We think America’s hopheads will enjoy giving the glass a try.” —LS