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Why Brewers Are Turning Their Attention to Single-Hop Beers

November 16, 2018

By Tucker Anders, November 16, 2018

As the name suggests, single-hop beers feature only one type of hop, which gives drinkers and brewers an education in the unique flavors and aromas of a specific hop. This allows both to better understand a hop’s character. While utilizing only one hop in a beer is not a new concept—Bell’s Two Hearted and Founders Centennial IPA both utilize one hop variety—the idea of showcasing a beer’s single-hop-ness has exploded in recent years with the introduction of new hops and the prevalence of IPAs. Even some craft “whales” are single-hop beers in disguise, with Three Floyds Zombie Dust and Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue deriving their signature flavors from the Citra hop. Despite the successes, it’s also a style for which simplicity creates its own set of challenges.

Finding Motivation in Education and Experimentation

Shaun Hill started brewing single-hop beers at his first professional brewing gig to “learn how each hop expressed itself and educate myself and the consumer.” He brought the practice to his brewery, Hill Farmstead. Shortly after opening in 2010, the brewery introduced its first batch of Citra Single Hop IPA. The brewery now features an extensive Single Hop Series with over 15 different pale ales, IPAs and double IPAs. Each offering utilizes a different hop in isolation—ranging from mainstays (Citra and Mosaic) to lesser known hops (Nelson and Riwaka)—with several earning repeat slots in Hill Farmstead’s acclaimed release rotation.

“For someone just getting into craft beer and IPAs, single-hop beers give them the ability to recognize, ‘Yes, I like that hop,’ and know what they are talking about,” says Phil Young, retail manager at Hill Farmstead. “Maybe down the road they see a beer with Citra hops, and think, ‘I know what that is, I really like Hill Farmstead Double Citra so I’ll try this beer and see if I like that too.’ It’s a way for people to latch onto a more technical term and feel like they know something more than they did before.”

Kristen Foster, Good Beer HuntingHill Farmstead

Choosing the Right Hop

The paired down simplicity of single-hop beers allows brewers to showcase the distinct taste and smell of an individual hop in ways that are lost when hops are used in combination. But with developments in breeding turning out an explosion of new hop varieties for brewers to play with, the issue is determining which hops are worthwhile and which ones are best in the company of others.

“Few hops smell the same in raw hop form as they do in the finished product,” says Founders Brewing Co.’s brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki. “The easiest way to evaluate a hop is to brew a single-hop beer with it and see how it works in bittering, flavor, and aroma—really figure out what a hop has to offer.” The trial and error of brewing beers with a standalone hop led Founders to several of its core beers, from the older standby Centennial IPA to more recent additions of Mosaic Promise and Azacca IPA.

In the case of the single-hop, single-malt ale Mosaic Promise, recipe testing created a hit immediately. “Mosaic Promise was one and done,”  Kosmicki says. “Those two ideas happened to coincide in the brewery at the same time. After tasting, sales and marketing said we gotta get this out in a package. A couple minor tweaks later, we released it.”

Simple Can Be Challenging

But simplicity in number of hops doesn’t always equal a perfect brew-to-consumer process. Without other hops to play off of, that single hop may be forced to carry too much weight, resulting in a beer that lacks depth and complexity—a “one note wonder” as Hill Farmstead’s Young puts it. “You’re hanging that hop out there to lead the show and not many are all that well-equipped handle it,” Kosmicki adds.

Kristen Foster, Good Beer HuntingHill Farmstead

Hop consistency can also be a challenge for single-hop brewers. California’s Left Coast Brewing relies on a hard-to-come-by contract to secure the namesake hop in the its Galaxy Supernova IPA. Despite consistency in sourcing, Left Coast’s general manager Tommy Hadjis says, “The 2018 Galaxy crop is amazing, but it tastes different and smells different than last year’s crop. Hardcore Galaxy Supernova fans asked, ‘Did you guys do something different with this beer?’ But it’s exactly the same, it’s just a different crop year.” The beer still turned out great, but as Hadjis says, “We can only control what we can control.”

Single-hop beers also often require more hops to achieve the desired flavor and aroma, since they depend so heavily on only one variety, and the cost of all of these extra hops adds up quickly. Hadjis says the brewery’s most recent single-hop brew cost twice as much to produce compared to its triple IPA Hop Juice, which boasts 100 IBUs at 10.0% ABV. The yet-to-be-released offering, “tastes the way it does because we put so many hops in,” Hadjis says. “You just can’t get that flavor and aroma with half the hops.”

Despite the challenges, brewers continue to churn out single-hop beers with the hopes of educating and inspiring fans and themselves. These beers give drinkers a way to hone their palates and become more discerning in what flavors and aromas they can expect when a brewer uses a certain hop. The industry is working to pull back the curtain on the brewing process, familiarizing consumers with the key ingredient in the its most popular products. As Hadjis puts it, “Having an educated customers only helps us as brewers. The more they know about beer the better it is.”

Main photo courtesy of Andrew Malone

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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