Jumping feet first into Michigan hops, Firestone Walker chose a familiar hop with drastically different profile to highlight their latest Luponic Distortion.
Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson lived in Michigan for seven years during the 90s, but until this batch of experimental IPA, he hadn't yet featured hops from the state in his California-brewed beers.
Earlier this year, while sampling through Michigan hops for a collaboration with DC Brau for the Craft Brewers Conference, Brynildson found some notes he really liked, so he reached out to his longtime friend, Nunzino Pizza, the owner of Michigan-based Hop Head Farms. For a typical batch of Luponic Distortion, it takes nearly 15,000 pounds of hops for the dry hopping.
“I pretty much cleaned him up,” Brynildson said.
The prevailing hop in Luponic Distortion Revolution No. 006 is Michigan Chinook. Brynildson is intimately familiar with Chinooks grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley, but the Michigan-grown strain is so different, Brynildson even suggested to Pizza to give it its own name.
If you just throw this beer at someone and they don’t know it’s Chinook, they won’t know when they drink it.”
In contrast to the piney, grapefruit notes Brynildson has imprinted in his head for the Pacific Northwest grown hop, he found more Mandarin orange in the Michigan grown cones. It is a showcase of terroir and how a difference of 2,000 miles can distinctly influence a hop.
“I was really blown away, not just in quality but how distinct they were to those grown in the Northwest,” he said. “These hops were bordering on tropical, I wasn’t familiar with that from Chinooks. It was a pleasant surprise."
“If you just throw this beer at someone and they don’t know it’s Chinook, they won’t know when they drink it.”
There was also a bit of Michigan-grown Crystal and Cashmere thrown into the beer, but Brynildson mostly admired the Chinook.
He said the Michigan hop emergence is surprising, especially for an “old time” brewer like him, who has long felt the new emerging hop regions might never hold their weight.
As hop regions pop up, Brynildson said the first few years might be the most luscious, as hops are nutrient rich, so fresh soil might be best. “It’s a legit growing region,” Brynildson said of Michigan. “A lot of us, especially old timers, we thought these new hop growing regions weren’t going to have a huge impact mostly because of scaling and pricing. But this little experiment changed my mind all together.”
The Luponic Distortion series has been a way for Firestone Walker to experiment with hops and allowing the brewers to get a full grip on hop varieties better than small pilot batches. So far, batches of the beer have showcased hops from South Africa, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.
The series is meant to showcase the possibilities of hops.
Compared to where beer was a decade ago, Brynildson is surprised he’s able to experiment with such regularity with a beer that changes every few weeks.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be able to get away with this,” Brynildson said of Luponic Distortion. “Ten years ago it was all about flagship beers and now the consumer is really open to the experimental nature of brewing."