Part of my series on neomexicanus hops.
In my last post about neomexicanus hops I noted that Sierra Nevada recently released an IPA made solely from (almost the entire worldwide crop of) neomexicanus titled Harvest Wild Hop IPA: Neomexicanus Varietal as the final release in this year’s Harvest series. Since publishing that post have made it my personal goal to search every bottle shop in San Diego until I found some to try; it took me nearly three weeks, but I finally found my white whale. This blog is usually not a place where I review commercial beers, but since this beer is the closest many folks will come to trying this new variety I am making an exception.
Description: A few years back, we caught wind of rogue hop heads in the Southwest who began collecting some of the wild hops they found while scrambling down hillsides near their home in New Mexico. These bizarre, multi-headed, native U.S. cones have a flavor like nothing we’ve tasted, and for the first time, we’re showcasing their unusual melon, apricot and citrus aromas and flavors in our beer. Neomexicanus is the literal wild card in our five-bottle Harvest series which features single hop, fresh hop, wet hop, and wild hop beers.
Neomexicanus Variety: While not explicitly stated, the “multi-headed” variety they are referring to is likely Medusa.
Malt: 2-row Pale, Caramel [60?]
Availability: Nationwide in December/January.
Reviews: RateBeer | BeerAdvocate | Untappd
Additionally, I uncovered a thread on BeerAdvocate where ‘sierranevadabill,’ a Product Development Manager at Sierra Nevada, discusses the development of the beer as well as his extreme enthusiasm for the neomexicanus hops. In particular, I found this exchange by ‘sierranevadabill’ enlightening:
Hops are typically assigned a “brewing value” based on alpha levels and oil content. 2.4% A.A. is very low for a bittering range and the oil content is considered “moderate” for the potency, so right now, the most recent crop of NeoMex would be said to have very little brewing value. However, the oil it has is so interesting, it’s worth the extra additions to get enough of it to shine through…
In essence, what I’m getting at is the NeoMex is an atypical hop to use in an IPA style beer because of low potency. The NeoMex is an odd one. Low potency, but man, what a flavor. It practically screams for a big-ass IPA. If it had a little more oomph it would be the new citra/simcoe/mosaic hop du jour across the world…
Alpha Acid can also vary quite a bit from year-to-year (due to growing conditions, seasonality…etc.) and as the agronomics improve it might boost the alpha and oil. We can only wait and see. Nevertheless, I love this hop and can’t wait to use it again.
Though neomexicanus is not yet 100% ready for primetime, it is exciting to see that there are a growing number of serious brewers that are bullish on this hop. This is how I imagine early lupulus hop farmers/brewers felt when they discovered an interesting variety. With a few more years of experimentation and cultivation neomexicanus is poised to really cause a stir in the brewing world!
Confession time: lots of reviewers claim this beer smells really “weedy,” like dry hopped with marijuana “weedy,” but since I am King of Squares™ I do not have that particular aroma in my palate. However, I do get an interesting strawberry/peachy/herbal hop aroma followed by a slight malty/caramelly sweetness. Otherwise, the aroma is very clean with no ester or vegetal character.
Crystal clear and dark gold/light copper from the caramel malt. The head is fluffy and long-lasting, like whipped cream or custard. Certainly the head is bolstered by the caramel malt, but I am curious if the neomexicanus hops are contributing additional head-building attributes. ‘Sierranevadabill’ mentions they had to use a ton of hops to get the AA and hop character they were looking for, so this is likely a factor as well.
Sierra Nevada is the master of making a balanced beer and this one is no different: there is a solid bready, lightly caramelly malt background that does not quite get out of way, but is not unwelcome. The hop character has nice, but not overwhelming melon, stone fruit, sweet apricot, light citrus, and herbal notes. There is a good herbal/earthy earthy collaboration between the malt and hops and the flavor reminds me of my wife’s black tea blends. A clean fermentation with a super-smooth bitterness and no harsh aftertaste.
Great full mouthfeel, which is not surprising based on the FG of ~1.014 and the truckload full of hops they used in this batch. Medium carbonation and a nice creaminess which the pillowy head indicated. Very little astringency, very smooth, and not at all hot.
Man, this is good. Like most of Sierra Nevada’s seasonal releases, I am going to miss this once it is gone. After spending so much time researching neomexicanus hops I was secretly worried that this beer would be garbage and I would have to recommend to everyone that they stay away from neomexicanus until hop growers cultivate varieties that are worth our time. The beer as “just an IPA” is well balanced and worth drinking, but as a showcase for neomexicanus it absolutely accomplishes its goal. I can’t speak to it’s “weediness,” but there are a variety of interesting flavors going on that I have not seen from other hops. There are plenty of hops out there with tons of citrus and tropical fruit character so it’s refreshing to see a hop with some interesting herbal and earthy character as well.
I have to give Sierra Nevada major props for taking a risk on not only a new hop variety, but an almost completely untested native American hop breed. If this beer is any indication of the future for the variety, I cannot wait until more hop growers and brewers get on the neomexicanus train. If you live in an area where Sierra Nevada’s Harvest series is distributed keep your eyes peeled and grab as many of the freshest pints and bottles as you can get away with–you will not be disappointed!