Part of my series on neomexicanus hops.
I am a firm believer that there is a certain terroir that should go into the beers you make. The local combinations of water, malt, hops, and yeast created the beer styles we know and love today; true ingenuity comes from working to make the best with what you have. To this end, I am constantly on the lookout for truly local ingredients to use in my beers. This usually means using San Diego tap water, California grown barley, and yeast from White Labs. But where are you, sweet hops? Am I forever doomed to use varieties derived from European lupulus hops?
If you recall from my primer on neomexicanus hops, the genesis of this series occurred at the end of 2014 when I was tipped-off about a monastery in New Mexico that had successfully cultivated and began selling homebrew-sized batches of neomexicanus hops from their website. I was intrigued: here was a a brand-new set of hops that no one has even heard of from a variety that is 100% native to the American Southwest; up until this point, the only reference to neomexicanus I had seen was as a footnote in Stan Hieronymus‘ For the Love of Hops. At $8.33/oz shipped these might be the most expensive hops anyone has ever purchased, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I picked up 3 oz each of Chama (“citrusy, herbal, fruity”) and Latir (“spicy, herbal, flowery”).
As a way to justify the cost I resolved to do a bit of research and share the details, which became this series. Due to travel and the holiday season it took me a longer to actually brew with the hops than I was anticipating, but I am excited to finally share the review of my batch made with Chama hops. Stay tuned in the near future for my review of the Latir hops.
The Holy Hops website does not have the same broad analysis of the composition of Chama that they have for Latir, but they do provide the following. Interesting to note the high levels of beta acids, which are about the highest I recall seeing.
Availability: Holy Hops
Description: Citrusy, herbal, fruity.
HSI: 22.1% (stores decently)
Chama Pale Ale
The base I am using for this beer is a solid pale ale that I use to tweak for different hop additions, malts, or yeast varieties. I have brewed it (or a variant) so often I can use it to test and calibrate all kinds of variables in my system. More importantly, I know it will make a tasty beer that is solid backbone for whatever element I am trying to test. If I learned one thing from Brulosopher’s exBEERiments, it is that even when you are experimenting you should make a beer that you will want to drink. 🙂
My approach in designing this beer has two main points: 1) capitalize on the flavor and aroma qualities of the hop and 2) stretch the 3 oz of hops I purchased as far as they would go; I did not want to flush my investment down the drain by using them for bittering. I debated using first wort hopping, but decided against it as I had no idea if the hop would exhibit excessive vegetal or catty character from an extended boil (like can happen with varieties like Citra). Thus, I settled on using a small addition of Warrior to get the clean bitterness I was looking for then even additions of Chama at 10-minute, hop stand, and dry hop additions. I opted to use WLP090 because it is a monster fermentor that is clean and drops bright, leaving the hops the star of the show.
Folks often claim that neomexicanus hops are especially “weedy” in character. Like I mentioned in my Sierra Nevada Neomexicanus IPA review, I am the King of Squaresville: “weedy” is not a well-stocked aroma in my palate. But damn Chama is weedy. I definitely get herbal out of the aroma… and by herbal, I mean herbal, though it also has a certain minty character to it. Herbal character is dominating, but there is a passionfruit fruitiness behind it mixed with some orange citrus character. I would say 70% herbal, 20% fruity, and 10% citrus. No vegetal, earthy, spicy, or piney character.
Otherwise, I get the faintest hint of caramelly sweetness and biscuit from the malt, but I am really having to dig to find it. No discernible yeast character and hops are front and center, WLP090 was the right call.
Okay, I know this is a hop review and it is not really important how this beer looks, but darn this beer just looks nice. The beer is a beautifully clear dark gold/light copper color with a fluffy, long-lasting white head that leaves some sticky lacing on the glass. I have always believed that you drink first with your eyes and boy howdy, I could look at this all day!
When I first poured this beer out of my lagering freezer (~32ºF) all I could taste was intense weedy(?) and slightly minty herbal character–danksauce in the truest sense. However, after warming up to proper serving temp (~50ºF) the herbal character mellowed out and the same passionfruit and light orange character from the aroma came forward; I would say 50% herbal, 30% fruity, and 20% citrus. I get a bit more juiciness out of the flavor than the aroma and the citrus has a pithy character to it, like sucking on an orange peel. Again, no vegetal, earthy, spicy, or piney character. It is interesting to note that although the flavor is “weedy” there is little or no dank or resinous quality like you would find in Simcoe or Columbus hops, it is strictly herbal.
Nicely balanced with a clean fermentation and a lightly toasty/bready maltiness. The non-hoppy characteristics are not super important other than they are clean and did not get in the way of the hop character.
The beer is crisp, but has a nice body to it. Moderate carbonation and a mild creaminess from the flaked wheat. There is a slight astringency, which I liken to when you accidentally eat the pith from an orange. It is not overwhelming or off-putting, indeed it helps add to the citrus character from the hop. A very slight alcohol warming.
To cut to the chase: is Chama worth your time? Absolutely. If you are the adventurous type and/or an herb enthusiast I recommend trying it in a single(ish) hop beer like the one I used in this recipe. Otherwise, I think this hop would be an excellent pairing for a dank, resinous, and piney hop like Simcoe or Columbus. Alternately, balance it out by pairing it with a fruity and citrusy hop like Citra. Just keep in mind that hop growers have not yet squeezed the oil content out of neomexicanus that you might be used to from lupulus derived varieties, so be careful not to overwhelm the Chama character.
Though I should note, Chama might not be for everyone. If you are not a fan of herbal character in beers (I know some folks who are not) or do not like “weedy” tastes or aromas then this hop is not for you. Otherwise, I am 2/2 on being delighted by neomexicanus; take any opportunity you can to taste or brew a beer with neomexicanus hops!
On a personal note, this might be one of my most perfectly made beers to date. I hit my OG, FG, and volumes on the nose and the finished beer is clean, crisp, and crystal clear. I have not been 100% pleased with a few of the beers I have made lately (I think I have the same grody batch of Amarillo that ericbrews mentions) and I was worried I was losing my touch… but I am worried no more!