Cascade, the workhorse hop in our Pale Ale, was largely unknown when our founder Ken Grossman tossed it in his hand-built brew kettle. He and his wife Katie drove his rare 1964 Toyota Crown (suave, yeah?) to Washington’s Yakima Valley just to get his hands on one-pound “brewers cuts” of Cascades that were packed with notes of citrus and pine.
Ken ingrained in our brewery culture that resolve for finding new aromas and flavors. Today we eagerly comb hop farms in search of rare whole-cone hops poised to delight our palates and yours.
We’re sharing some of our novel hop experiments throughout 2014 with our five-bottle Harvest series. You may have tried our Northern and Southern Hemisphere Harvest® beers, and we’ve introduced three new IPAs to round out the lineup. By using diverse hopping methods—single hop, fresh hop, wet hop, and wild hop—we can showcase each varietal at its best.
The first of the five Harvest bottles, landing on shelves this month, is a single hop IPA featuring the unnamed hop 291. Collaboration among several hop breeding groups—a patient cycle of planting, harvesting, and tinkering over several seasons—yielded 291 as we know it now.
“We’ve vetted  for four years,” said Tom Nielsen, our raw materials guru, “and now have some diehard fans at the brewery.”
The diehards include Tom, who during the course of 2008 surveyed more than 70 experimental hop varietals. For each varietal, he made a tea that endured rigorous sensory and analytical tests. From that collection, a small handful moved to round two: test brewing. Tom worked in our 10-barrel pilot brewery with Scott Jennings, now our head brewer in North Carolina, on a baseline pale ale recipe to which they added the experimental hops. In a blind tasting, Ken Grossman, head brewer Steve Dresler and other sensory wizards paused at 291 whose ripe fruit flavors are resoundingly led by blueberry.
Blueberry in a beer! The consensus? That’s flavor fit for a bottle. We’ve patiently waited for the acreage of 291 to reach production volumes, not to mention production quality. And at last, it’s time. Our first Harvest single hop IPA has a creamy, mousse-like head that’s the opening act for up-front hop bitterness that dissipates in the wake of a blueberry, blackberry and lemon entourage that evolves on the palate.
Come May, blueberry will make way for Kiwi (the people, we mean). Southern Hemisphere, the second beer in the Harvest series, uses fresh hops from New Zealand, where the annual hop harvest happens during our spring.