Part of my series on neomexicanus hops.
Think about all the hottest new hops you know about: Mosaic, Azacca, Hallertau Blanc, Equinox–scores more are bursting onto the scene every year. Did you know that your favorite new hop is one of a small handful of its sisters that started its journey over a decade ago? The path to naming and releasing a hop is a long and highly selective process in which vary few varieties make it past even the first year of cultivation.
Breeders begin by crossing popular existing varieties that they think will 1) produce interesting flavor characteristics and 2) possess the right agronomic traits (e.g. disease resistance, high yield, good storage, etc) and whittle the plants down year by year until only the fittest and most interesting make it into the market. In the latter stages of the process–years 8-10+–select breweries are given the opportunity to experiment and give feedback to the growers; Russian River Brewing famously rescued Simcoe from the brink and popularized it back when it was still an experimental hop variety. Finally, when the breeders, growers, and brewers all agree the variety is worthwhile the hop is given a name and released to the general market. In the mean time, the variety will unceremoniously be referred to by its codename (e.g. HBC 123, YCR 456, USDA 123456, etc).
Those of us fortunate enough to attend the 2015 National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego this past year were treated to a special debut: a single-hop session IPA made by Russian River Brewing named Ron Mexico, the nickname of HBC 438, the experimental hop variety used to make it. The offspring of a Neomexicanus variety “Chuck’s Mexican” cultivated from the wild by Chuck Zimmermann and an unknown Lupulus father, HBC 438 is a rising superstar amongst the brewers who have had the rare opportunity to use it. Described as “tropical and stone fruit” with notes of “exceptionally unique herbal and mint” and possessing high levels of total oils and alpha acids, HBC 438 has taken an unusual path and jumped from a single hill to becoming commercially available much faster than most other varieties.
The biggest treat of all, however, was for those those in attendance of the seminar titled Brewing With Experimental Hops: A New Hop Variety Just For Homebrewers led by Jason Perrault, Karl Vanevenhoven, and Vinnie Cilurzo: a double whammy of 1) the breaking news that HBC 438 is going to be available to homebrewers exclusively starting this August/September and 2) that everyone in attendance was going to take some home with them! Through some finesse and friend-wrangling I managed to grab a total of five ounces of HBC 438, three of which I decided to dedicate to a single-ish hop review beer and two to blend into a multi-hop beer in the future.
Read on for details and my review.