Careful readers may have caught my first article on how to identify the "three C" hops in beer a few weeks back. If you did, the fun must be winding down by now—there's only so many times you can call out a whiff of that Cascade grapefruit before the other regulars at your local get a little sick of you. It's time to expand your repertoire.
While the first three hops I covered are certainly classics that can be found all over American hoppy beer, their flavors can be difficult to identify, and one or more can be found in just about every hop-driven beer on this side of the Mississippi (Okay, probably on that side too). It's time to get just a little more creative. The hops we'll cover today are slightly less universal, and they have flavors and aromas bold enough to stand out amidst potentially complicated hop bills. Get your noses and tastebuds ready.
A patented plant discovered at and exclusively grown by Washington's Virgil Gamache farms, Amarillo is a hugely popular hop prized for its distinctive aroma. That popularity does not come without a cost—the booming success of this particular hop has led to recent shortages for those without purchasing contracts.
What to look for: While "citrusy" is a flavor descriptor commonly applied to (especially American) hops of all varieties, Amarillo possesses a distinct quality of "orangeyness." With the highest myrcene content of any hop variety, Amarillo can come off as pungent and grapefruity at times, but the cleanest expressions of this hop taste very much like biting into a tangerine. Hops don't impart any sugars into your beer, but a heavy hand of Amarillo can lead to an implied sweetness as a result of the intensely fruity character. Seek out the excellent Three Floyds' Gumballhead, which is made with exclusively Amarillo hops, or Green Flash's Hop Head Red, which uses a heavy hand of Amarillo in dry hopping.
With an alpha acid content of 17 to 20% or so, Summit is a hop that really packs a punch. Released in 2003, Summit has made itself known on the IPA scene with its potent flavor that can add depth and character to any beer's hop profile. Its strength is to be expected—with lineage in the intense Zeus hop (see CTZ in my previous article), Summit continues the family tradition of bold flavors.
What to look for: In small quantities, Summit hops can add depth and complexity to a beer with pungent, spicy citrus flavors bordering on the savory. In large quantities, it can be easily identified as a distinct onion or garlic-like flavor. It sounds strange, but don't knock it 'til you try it. Find yourself a can of Oskar Blues' Gubna, which is made with just Summit hops. It's a pure representation of a strange hop flavor. Can't find Gubna? Oskar Blues also makes Deviant Dale's—16 ounces of excellent double IPA with a recognizable streak of oniony Summit providing depth.
For bonus points, try them side-by-side; this will help you pick out Summit from the array of hop flavors found in Deviant Dale's.
Released in 2009 by the Hop Breeding Co., Ltd, Citra has made a quick impact on the worldwide beer scene. Readily embraced by Sierra Nevada, the hop had big names behind it from the beginning, but conducting the Citra hype-train was beer-maker Kern River Brewing Company. With its appropriately-named Citra Double IPA (currently listed as the #10 beer in the world on Beer Advocate), the brewery was quickly awarded cult status and the hop has since been at the forefront of the trend toward tropical-fruit driven DIPA over the last few years.
What to look for: If you can't get your hands on Kern River's offering (it's a tough one to track down), grab a can or bottle of the widely-available Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. Dry-hopped with Citra, the hop's signature guava, passion fruit, lychee and stone fruit flavors are easily picked out.
Like Amarillo, Simcoe is a patented plant—this time by Washington's Yakima Chief Ranch. Homebrewers seeking its bold flavors have been consistently frustrated at its lack of availability at local homebrew shops, and commercial examples often have trouble staying on shelves. Its understandable—the hop is delicious.
What to look for: Another pungent one, Simcoe has a woody, musky, citrus-like character that can, like Summit, come off as oniony at times. Thankfully for all of us, Simcoe is all over the IPA scene right now. New Belgium's Ranger uses it alongside Cascade and Chinook, and the hop is noticeably present in Dogfish Head's 60 and 90 Minute IPAs. If you can get it, Pennsylvania's Weyerbacher Brewing Company makes two versions of their double IPA called Double Simcoe. Both the regular and unfiltered variations are worth seeking out.
Do you have any favorite beers that feature Simcoe, Citra, Summit, or Amarillo? Are you a fan of these bold hops?