Inside every exceptional beer are terrific hops, the green flowering cones that furnish bitterness as well as distinctive flavors and fragrances. And as with beer styles, hops also fall in and out of fashion. Ten years ago, brewers were keen on pungent, piney cultivars such as Chinook and Simcoe. Now tastes have turned to fruity, tropical varieties, notably Citra and Mosaic—sometimes to excess. “They’re phenomenal hops, but I think they’ve really saturated the market,” says Zak Schroerlucke, the marketing manager of Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn, Oregon. “Brewers and consumers are looking for new flavors.”
To stay ahead of demand, hop researchers and farmers have been busy breeding new varieties, which can take upwards of a decade to come to market as growers grapple with yield, disease resistance, and the question as to whether a hop smells or tastes desirable. Now their latest labors are bearing fruit, with fresh varieties primed to set beer on delicious new pathways. Here beer industry experts identify six key hops for 2019, including the coconut-like Sabro and the pop of passion fruit and pot that characterizes Strata. Now is the time for brewers to start planning for future beers and hops contracts.
Washington State University released this beguiling variety in 2013, and after a slow burn, it’s finding fans for its mixture of citrus and stone fruit flavors. “We’re excited about Cashmere,” says Ted Rice, the owner and brewmaster of Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It’s really melon-y, juicy, peachy, and a ton of fun.” Rice plans to contract this fall’s harvest of Cashmere from BSG Hops, in Wapato, Washington, and incorporate the variety into his Southwestern-style hazy IPA, but other brewers are already using Cashmere, including Stone Brewing in Escondido, California, which features the hop in its Tropic of Thunder; the lager retails for around $12 per six-pack and emphasizes Cashmere’s cantaloupe notes.
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Another example is the session IPA Haze Sesh, a collaboration between Oskar Blues, headquartered in Longmont, Colorado with a brewery outpost in Brevard, North Carolina, and Hi-Wire Brewing, based in Asheville, that was released in April and retails for $12 per four-pack. “Cashmere brings a big citrus punch,” says Luke Holgate, the head brewer for Hi-Wire in Asheville. “Lots of lemon and lime character makes it well suited to these low-bitterness, low-dankness, hazy IPAs.”
Sometimes a hop is ahead of its time. In 1974 the U.S. Department of Agriculture released Comet, a variety that flaunts a potent profile of grapefruit zest cut with fresh grass. The hop found few takers, and farmers phased it out in the mid-’80s; today, though, the variety’s distinctive flavors align with modern tastes, turning Comet into a shooting star. Seek out the variety in the popular Hazy Little Thing by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, based in Chico, California, which retails for around $10 per six-pack, and the newly released River Trip table beer from Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, which sells for around $12 for a four-pack. Growers have now begun planting Comet acreage in Oregon, where the local terroir uniquely affects flavor development. “We’re getting these super-sweet citrus and tropical notes,” says Schroerlucke. “The way that wine lovers really focus on terroir and where the grape is grown—I think beer lovers will feel the same way.”
Doug Wilson, the director of sales and marketing at the international hops supplier Hopsteiner, which operates a location in Yakima, Washington, digs into the freezer to describe Lotus. “We lovingly call it the orange Creamsicle,” he says. “There’s nothing out there like it.” Lotus was released in early 2019 and is now entering production schedules at breweries such as Ithaca Beer, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, which will release Lotus Be, Lotus Be IPA in early May for around $14 per four-pack. Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, Illinois, also regularly uses Lotus in its White Van, a Belgian-style witbier, which sells for around $8 a four-pack in Chicago. “We love the beautiful orange blossom and vanilla tones,” says Andrew Mason, Solemn Oath’s director of brewing operations. “[Lotus] allows us to ever-so-slightly nudge White Van away from a more traditional witbier profile.”
One of America’s most wanted hops at the moment is Sabro, which evokes the flavor of a piña colada blended with tangerines and tropical fruit. “I tried to get 11 pounds [of the hop], and it’s impossible,” says Niko Tonks, the head brewer at Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis. “It’s all gone.” Sabro—short for sabroso, Spanish for “delicious” or “tasty”—was released commercially in 2018 and earned admirers for its coconut-like contribution to beers, especially IPAs. Sabro’s aromas are apparent in the Tropic-Hero IPA—around $13 per six-pack—from Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, and in Dabble, a double IPA from Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, which retails for around $14 for a six-pack. “Sabro,” says Eric Bachli, the brewmaster and vice president of operations for Sixpoint, “is symbolic of the shift from a dank and resinous hop character into more fruit-forward and tropical profiles that are shaping hop farming and craft brewing.”
With a profile that’s often described as “passion fruit meets pot,” Strata, a collaboration between Oregon State University in Corvallis and the hop merchant Indie Hops in Portland, was released commercially in 2018. “It fits that new-wave hop bill,” says Schroerlucke. “It’s the next big hop.” Fair State was an early adopter. “We started using it when it was an experimental variety called X331,” says Tonks, who was taken by the passion fruit flavor. Fair State showcases the variety in its hazy, single-hopped Strata IPA, which sells for about $14 per four-pack, while Worthy Brewing in Bend, Oregon, won a silver medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival for its Strata IPA, which retails for $10 a six-pack. Says Meghan Hoey, Worthy’s director of marketing, “It’s a perfect representation of the hop’s unique attributes—tropical with a touch of dankness.”
New Mexico’s mountains are home to the indigenous neomexicanus hop variant, which contains one member destined for stardom: Zappa, a hop as wild as Frank, its famous musician namesake. “I’ve never had a hop like it,” says Schroerlucke. “The best way to describe it is if you could taste the color purple. Think of purple Skittles—that kind of sweet, sugary, grapy flavor comes out.” Currently, Zappa is used mostly in experimental or one-off beers—most prominently, Sierra Nevada’s draft-only Zappa Wild Stache IPA—but Schroerlucke foresees a bright future once this year’s crop is harvested in the late summer or early fall. “It will be all over the U.S.,” he says, “and hopefully will go international.”
Joshua M. Bernstein is a beer, spirits, food, and travel journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide, event producer, and industry consultant. He writes for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York magazine, Wine Enthusiast, and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. Bernstein is also the author of four books: Brewed Awakening, The Complete Beer Course, Complete IPA, and the just-released Homebrew World.