In the western brewing tradition, beer is spiced with hops like foods are spiced with, errr, spices. Hops, the flower of the herbaceous vine Humulus lupulus, used to be responsible strictly for only the bitter, herbaceous quality of many beers. As growers developed new varieties and brewers developed new techniques, we've seen a profusion of beers that feature the more subtle, unusual flavors and aromas of the hop flower. Now, it's possible to find beers that feature soaring, “cosmic” fusions of fruit and herbs, and flavors that are frankly otherworldly. This week, we'll try a few beers whose name or composition evokes some of the more “spaced-out” flavor possibilities of the hop flower.
Foundation Brewing Company Cosmic Bloom
Format Sampled: 16 oz. can
Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market and Bakery
Tasting Notes: Pours a hazy lemon yellow with a thin white head. Aroma mixes jasmine, asphalt, pineapple, and citrus. The initial flavor combines a firm bitterness with skunky, resinous qualities. As the flavor develops, exotic tropical flavors like pineapple, guava and coconut develop, gentle and ephemeral, drifting away through the stratosphere. All the while, that firm initial bitterness supports and grounds the fruit flavors. The body is light and quenching, with just enough gentle sweetness to reinforce the fruit and balance the bitterness. This beer is a burst of light as bright as a tropical sunset, just the thing to enjoy on a cold, drizzly night.
Elysian Space Dust IPA
Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle
Availability: Purchased at Hannaford
Tasting Notes: Pours a rich gold with a sticky white head. Aroma soars with resinous pine, citrus peel, and sticky herbs. Initial flavor is bitter, with sticky coniferous character and burnt, candied citrus. The bitter herbal flavors are balanced by a complex caramel sweetness. As the sweetness fades, the bitter background rears up again — building and lingering in the back of my throat. This second wave of bitterness distracts me a bit from the increasingly sticky body, which spackles the hop character to my palate. For a beer with such airy “galactic” flavors, the hefty body of this one is firmly anchored to the earth.
Aeronaut Brewing Hop Hop and Away
Format Sampled: 16 oz. can
Availability: Purchased at Bow St. Beverage Public Market
Tasting Notes: Pours a pale, hazy yellow with a thin white head. Aroma is sharp and piney, with hints of basil, citrus, and tar. Initial flavor melds heaven and earth — soaring, sparkling citrus and tropical fruit with earthy bitumen and wet herbs. I want to embrace the cosmic bunny on the label, and cry, “Beam me up, space bunny!” The body is thin and quenching, lending this tipple a dangerous degree of chugability. The floral, bitter character proceeds through — even as warm, toasted malts move to the foreground, and finally subsides into a lightly herbal aftertaste.