Unfiltered: On Hoppy Beer

Hoppy beers are by far the biggest selling beers in the craft beer industry. Easily more than 80% of the beers we brew are hoppy, including our three major core beers: 1500 Pale Ale, Drake’s IPA, and Denogginizer Double IPA. The majority of our special releases are hop-forward variations on different IPAs, too: Hopocalypse, War Pigeon, Kick Back, etc. Yes, we make other beers—Porters and Hefes and Pilsners—but this is a hop-driven brewery in a hop-driven industry. And that presents a challenge not just for us, but for a lot of brewers: how do we differentiate all of these beers?

For us, every hoppy beer we make has to be distinct from our other hoppy beers. We have multiple strategies for how we do this:


MALT:

The first thing we can play with is the grist, or malt bill. We can use different malts, or we can use higher concentration of malts. For instance, 1500, IPA and Denog all have similar malt bills, but by brewing them at higher concentrations means the beers are progressively bigger, presenting higher ABV and a more malt-forward flavor. Session IPAs—and I still contend 1500 was a ‘Session IPA’ before it actually became a style—have less malt and thus lower alcohol contents so flavorwise, with less malt to compete with, the hops can really stand out.

In bigger, Double IPAs, you have to play off the malt notes, while the alcohol can cause the hops to present a more spicy character.  We can also play with the character of the malt as darker IPAs have notes of caramel, dark fruit and a light roast that will change how you experience the hops. We also use different specialty grains—our new Hop Vice is brewed with wheat and rye—which present interesting grain notes and a thicker mouthfeel.


HOPS:

Drake’s IPA and Denogginizer are differentiated from each other primarily by their maltiness and alcohol content. Otherwise, both are dominated by “classic” American hops—Cascade, Centennial and Chinook—the hops that launched the whole first wave of craft brewing. We have introduced some newer varieties to help distinguish each of those beers a little more—Lemondrop is in the IPA for more brightness and EXP07270 in Denog to add a bit of cut.

In the case of 1500, we use a significantly different hop bill employing the distinctive “new school” hop varieties Amarillo and Simcoe.

Once we reach out into our more “specialty” IPAs, we start to tweak more variables. We keep smaller quantities of numerous hops on hand, and we are constantly experimenting with the latest varieties. We have developed a particular affinity for some of the new German hops—we use Bavaria Mandarina in quite a few of our newer beers to add citric aromatics—along with Hallertauer Blancs and Huell Melon. We are all-in on the other “new school” varieties like Mosaic, El Dorado, Pekko, and Idaho 7. We recently purchased some Slovenian hops—Styrian Wolf and Styrian Cardinal—and we’re looking forward to testing them in a beer.

We’re not the biggest fans, but a lot of breweries have really embraced Southern Hemisphere hops, particularly those from New Zealand and Australia. Some brewers really like Nelson Sauvin, Galaxy and Motueka hops for what they perceive as dank and tropical flavors, but I think they smell/taste like grass, diesel fuel and a tire fire. To each their own I guess.


“OTHER” STUFF:

We are now going even further to distinguish some of our hoppy beers. We have Hopocalypse Red Label, a Double IPA with blood orange where the citric notes blend well with the hops we use in that beer.

New England-style “Hazy” IPAs are becoming a thing. In their simplest form, these are IPAs distinguished by low bitterness along with huge flavor and aroma hopping at such high rates that the hops throw off a polyphenol haze. Often these brews are made with raw wheat or other grains to enhance the mouthfeel and haziness. Some brewers chase the enhanced mouthfeel thing right down the rabbit-hole, using stuff like apples (for the pectins), raw flour and lactose to create an ever-thicker/creamier mouthfeel. There is actually a “style” out there called a “milkshake IPA” that I will speak no further of…

We do love our hoppy beers, so playing with all these variations is really fun for us. With everyone in the industry really feeding off of each other, it’s a great time to be a hophead.

-John Gillooly, Brewmaster
‘Unfiltered’ is a blog written by our Brewmaster, John Gillooly, where he dishes on whatever topic he’s inspired to prosthelytize about. With over 20 years of brewing experience ranging from Red Hook (back when they were independent) and Dogfish Head to the last five year’s at the helm of Drake’s, John’s take is always uniquely his and we do our best to bring it to you as it is…unfiltered.

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