When Jeremy Kosmicki rubs a fresh hop between his fingers, it’s rare he can smell exactly what characteristics will shine in a final product.
Yet when Kosmicki, Founders Brewing Co.’s brewmaster, received his first shipment of Azacca hops, then called #483, the hop burst in his nostrils with tropical aromas. His job was to test the development hop to determine whether the hop was one the growers – Yakima Valley’s Roy Farms – should pursue en mass.
As he sniffed the hop, the fruit notes – namely mango, pineapple and papaya – popped and Kosmicki decided Azacca could shine on its own. He brewed up the beer with some of his favorite crystal malt to play on and accentuate the tropical sweet fruits.
“The first thing I do when I rub a hop is get a feel of malt backbone wise would go with it,” Kosmicki said. “Sometimes I want to keep it dry, but this beer needed some caramel sweetness. There’s still the trend of the fruity IPAs, often times with actual fruit, but this was a fun way to play off the desire to do that and let the hops shine without actual fruit.”
Kosmicki said there might be small amounts of a bittering hop in the boil, but for the most part Azacca IPA is truly a single-hop beer, showcasing the full versatility of Azacca.
“It’s a well rounded, multi-use hop,” he said. “The dry hop is the biggest impact when dealing with a hop like this.”
What Founders ended up with following taproom-only test batches of the beer was the now seasonal Azacca IPA. The entire seasonal line up, including Azacca, PC Pils and Mosaic Promise can be found in 15-packs of cans for a limited time each year across Founders’ distribution footprint.
“We worked with Roy Farms to ensure we could hit some volume requirements,” Kosmicki said. “The timing thing, you might fall in love but it might be some years until you have substantial volume. This one worked out and worked out pretty well.
“We made some tweaks, it wasn’t the first stab, and rushed out to market.”
Now in its second year of full distribution production, Kosmicki said he knew what to look for when picking his lots of crop, and because of that knowledge, he believes this year’s is better than last. He also believes the next couple of years could continue to yield better batches as he continues to familiarize himself with the hop.
Kosmicki is drinking a lot of the beer right now, partly because it's well-balanced and partly because the hop is quite a jump from the varietals Founders normally uses. In its 20 years, Founders has a long lineage of IPAs to draw on, from Centennial IPA to reDANKulous to All Day IPA.
Kosmicki has been along for most of the brewery’s ride, and now he’s having fun making fun IPAs for the masses. Whether it’s with a classic hop like Centennial, or newer and tropical like Azacca, or stone fruity like Mosaic, Kosmicki is happy to highlight them all.
“It’s pretty fun, when we first made our IPA it was Centennial, it was the standard IPA hop 20 years ago, it still is a great hop, still on one of our favorites,” he said. “It’s a classic IPA hop, it’s a little more floral, citrusy, in that direction. It’s what was known as the American hop flavor. It’s not that people are sick of floral, citrusy hops. Beer drinkers love their IPAs and this is a chance to explore that with more variations without getting too far out the box."
“I still love the idea of an IPA and not being over the top with big hop flavor, aroma, when you can diverge from the classics and get into more avenues that’s awesome.”