In the Northwest, beers that showcase hops usually come in the form of Pales, IPAs, or Imperial IPAs. Once upon a time, a brewer pondered, “Just how many hops can I fit into a beer?” Throw in high alpha hops for bitterness, big citrus hops for flavor, and tons of dry hops for a huge floral nose, and you’ll end up with some of big hop bombs known around Portland.
Brewer Paul Bergeman of Laurelwood Brewing Company loves hops as much as the next person, but decided to carry out a different type of hop experiment: the Single Hop Red Series. Paul chooses one hop variety and uses it for all of the hopping stages in a Red Ale: bittering, flavor, and aroma. The idea is simple, yet multi-faceted in it’s payoff. First of all, we get to try great new beers–the best benefit of all! Second, the person with the pint in front of them gets an education on different hop profiles. Doesn’t it feel good to get smarter as you drink? And third, brewers that push themselves are ultimately going to make better beers through experimentation and self-education. Again, a win for those of us bellied up to the bar or walking out with a growler.
“CTZ, Magnum, Cascade, Centennial, Liberty, Saaz, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Summit, Northern Brewer, Nugget, Crystal, Amarillo…”
I asked Paul why he started the program and why he chose Red Ales. “The program was developed to give people a better understanding of each hop variety’s components in beer as well as to utilize and identify each hop variety’s bitterness, flavor, and aroma qualities,” Paul stated. “Generally, people are given beers and assume that because of it’s color, it’s going to a have a certain profile. Whereas with Reds, each one you taste is almost always different. The idea is that people don’t think right off that bat that it is going to be either extreme, it will be in the middle. People believe that Pale’s are going to be hoppy, and Browns are going to malty. With Reds it can go to either side of the spectrum or land right in the middle.”
If you’re new to this series, you’ve already missed out on a big chunk of Paul’s experiment. He has already crafted single hop Red Ales with: CTZ, Magnum, Cascade, Centennial, Liberty, Saaz, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Summit, Northern Brewer, Nugget, Crystal, Amarillo… Here are the descriptions and stats of a few of his creations:
- El Rojo: ”Red ales have become quite the thing since we first brewed our flagship Free Range Red years ago. This style now encompasses such a wide range of flavors from malty to hoppy that we thought we’d showcase another side red ales. El Rojo is a brilliant ruby colored heavily hopped beer. Using only Amarillo hops, this beer acknowledges the malty side of the style, then kicks it aside and gets all kinds of hoppy.” (IBU: 75 Plato: 15 ABV: 6)
- Gayle: ”Alright, hop nerds. Here’s our latest single hop beer- with a little something for all you that like both kinds of music- Country and Western. Gayle was brewed exclusively with Crystal hops. These low bitterness hops are similar to Mt. Hood and Liberty varieties. Pungent, Oregon-grown hops, Crystals are used primarily for their aroma qualities.” (IBU: 57 Plato: 16 ABV: 6)
- Le Rouge: ”Number six in our series of single hop Red Ales, Le Rouge brings us the wonders of the Ahtanum hop. Also used in our Boss IPA and Stout, Ahtanum hops are a fairly low bittering variety known mainly for their similarity to cascade hops. This beer is hopped like an American Pale Ale, with medium bitterness and a bit of dry hop aroma.” (IBU: 44 Plato: 14 ABV: 6)
- Liberty Red Single Hopped Ale: ”The seventh beer in our series of single hop Red Ales, Liberty Red brings us the wonders of the Liberty hop. Liberty hops are the American version of the German Hallertau and are known for their aromatic properties and mild bitterness. This beer features a nice citrus flavor with subtle earthy tones. Liberty Red is hopped like an American Pale Ale, with medium bitterness and a bit of dry hop aroma.” (IBU: 48 Plato: 14 ABV: 6)
- Saaz Single Hop Red: ”Another in our series of beers brewed with just one hop variety. This time we’ve looked to one of the greatest brewing countries and selected the Czech Saaz hop. Saaz hops are known for their spicy, herbal quality. Typically used in lagers, we’ve found they make great ales too.” (IBU: 35 Plato: 15 ABV: 6)
It’s not fair to the other hops if you pick a favorite, but when posed the question: ”My stand alone favorite for personal taste would have to be the Centennial hop because of it’s sharp bitterness and it’s floral aroma. However, my fall back—and most consistent hop—would have to be the Cascade hop because of it’s versatile use. Cascades can be used in anything from an IPA for it’s clean bitterness and citrus like smell, to a Porter because it has hidden qualities that give the beer a hint of hoppiness but doesn’t take away from the maltiness that people prefer to enjoy in the darker beers.”
You can find El Rojo on tap at the NE 40th Avenue location—if you hurry. And keep an eye out for the next beer in the Single Hop Red Series when Paul hopes to use Sorachi-Ace hops: “I am excited to use this because I have yet to brew with this variety. This hop comes from Japan and is said to have a lemon/citrus like characteristic.”