Fast forward to 2015. Sierra Nevada is now the nation’s 2nd largest craft brewery and their beer is available in all 50 states. New breweries propel their growth by brewing more beer and expanding into new markets. Sierra Nevada maintains its share in the craft beer market by creating new and exciting beers that emphasize beer’s complexity. The Harvest Series is a 5 beer IPA lineup that showcases different uses of hops: single hop, fresh hop, wet hop, and wild hop.
The fifth beer in the series is the Harvest Wild Hop IPA – Neomexicanus varietal and is everything you would expect from Sierra Nevada. It is a crisp, clear, extremely well balanced IPA. The use of whole cone Neomexicanus hops gives this beer a unique twist with subtle notes of apricot and lemon. At 55 IBUS, this is not a hop bomb: it is a finely crafted IPA, brewed to highlight the aspects of this unique hop.
Perhaps, more interesting than the beer is the story of the Neomexicanus hop. For decades, American brewers used hops that were created from hybridizing European hops with American hops. European hops are typically milder and less aromatic and over hundreds of years of development have been cultivated to maintain qualities that make them disease resistant. Wild American hops have been considered unfit for brewing because the high concentration of alpha acids give them excessive bitterness and objectionable aromas. By combining European and American hops, hop growers have been able to develop strands that maintain the desirable qualities of both.
The Neomexicanus hop is an American wild hop varietal that is indigenous to the Southwest. It was discovered by Todd Bates near Taos, NM in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. He was using it to make homemade medicine and beer before deciding to bring it to commercial production. Through years of selective breeding and some help from local brewers, he would ultimately take it to Yakima Valley where it would be cultivated by CLS Farms. Sierra Nevada would bring this obscure hop to the forefront by showcasing it in their Harvest Series.
Turns out, after years of blasting our taste buds with high alpha acid hopped beers, those objectionable aromas have become desirable and true hop heads have trouble finding beers that are bitter enough. Sierra Nevada, has once again, changed the American beer landscape by highlighting this distinctive and fascinating hop. It is exciting to see what the future will hold for the neomexicanus.
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