Fostering the Equinox Hop

Hops are a hot commodity. With the meteoric rise of IPAs and other hop-forward beer styles, the entire craft beer community is crazy about hops—specifically, new hop varietals with unique flavors and aromas.

One of the newest varietals making waves among brewers is the Equinox hop, so new it just received a name this past April—prior to that, it was known only by a number: HBC 366 Varietal.

We’re showcasing this new and exciting hop in our latest Harvest series release, Harvest Single Hop IPA: Equinox Hops. This beer is hopped solely with Equinox from beginning to end, which highlights the different properties of the hop as it’s used for bittering, flavor and aroma additions. The finished aromas are incredibly interesting, with a complex mix of grapefruit and lemon-lime citrus notes, a woodiness and a fruity green pepper note unusual to hops.

Equinox is no stranger to us, in fact, we have quite a history with this exciting new hop.

We’ve always had a passion for hops and a knack for working with newly developed varieties. As a whole-cone hop brewer, we often get dibs on the first hops of the harvest, and because of the decades-long relationships we’ve forged with growers, breeders and hop-brokers, we’re one of the handful of brewers who get the newest experiments.

In 2007/2008, our in-house hop wizard Tom Nielsen, the Technical Lead for Flavor and Raw Materials—whew, what a title—met with Gene Probasco, one of the principals at the Hop Breeding Company (HBC), and made arrangements to get all of the experimental lines in HBC’s portfolio—over 100 varietals. Over the next few months, Tom ran all of the varietals through our GC-MS-O (Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer with Olfactory)—an instrument used to break down hops into their individual molecular components for analysis. As each compound is separated, the user can smell the aromas of the compounds that make up the hop, giving an indication of what the finished hop aromas might be.

Out of the hundred-or-so samples, Tom isolated six varietals with lots of promise—high oil content, good concentration of stable aroma compounds and unique aromatics. We used each of the six in small-batch pilot brews based off a simple pale ale-like recipe. Our sensory panel agreed that two of the test beers were good—ready for prime-time—and we released them as draught-only beers: Audition 66 and Audition 44. (Coincidentally these beers were the code names for experimental hops HBC 366 and HBC 291, which are the single-hop stars of this year’s Harvest series.)

Tom was the first to identify the green pepper aroma, and some of that original analysis he did defines the hop to this day. He and the rest of our crew were so bullish about 366 that others in the beer community started referring to the hop as “Pinto,” Tom’s middle name—and many still do! Based on our enthusiasm, the planted acreage in the Yakima Valley expanded to commercial size, with us contracting for the lion’s share. The spring of 2012 brought the release of Ruthless Rye IPA—the first commercial beer to contain 366.

Today, the newly-named Equinox is primed to be the next big thing in hops. Orders from brewers all over the U.S. have exploded and next season, the varietal will be a fixture in the new wave of IPAs. We’re honored to have had a hand in the development of this new hop, and we’re excited for the opportunity to showcase its intense and interesting flavors in this newest member of our Harvest family. Look for Harvest Single Hop IPA: Equinox Hops in stores before the month’s out.