By Gary Dzen
Chances are that if you can smell the citrus and pine in an India Pale Ale before you raise the glass to your mouth, that beer was dry-hopped. Dry-hopping is a cold infusion technique meant to impart hop aroma into a beer without adding much or any bitterness. The process is fickle, reliant on temperature, and executed with varying degrees of success depending on the ingredients and methods used by the brewer.
Historically, brewers would dry-hop by adding a large handful of dried, whole-cone hops to a beer before placing it in a cask (“The Oxford Companion to Beer,” edited by Garrett Oliver). The process is now often performed in a conditioning tank; after a beer has cooled and most of the yeast has drained, brewers add hop pellets, and sometimes still whole hops, to the brew. On occasion, various contraptions — Sierra Nevada’s proprietary “torpedo” system is one — keep the hops submerged. The alpha acids that make hops bitter aren’t isomerized (“Oxford”) at lower temps, though some taste testing has shown that people perceive dry-hopped beers to be more bitter than they are. If all goes well, though, you get the spicy, citrusy notes from the hops without the pucker.
Because of these added aromatic qualities, dry-hopping is a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. You can dry-hop an IPA, and you probably should, but breweries around the world are dry-hopping all sorts of beers. You can dry-hop a big, sticky chocolate stout to help cut the perceived sweetness. You can dry-hop a fairly restrained beer like a pilsner to add something interesting.
Portland, Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing Company is heavy-handed in its use of hops. Peak’s IPAs and seasonal beers alike are infused with crisp hop character. The brewery has embraced the dry-hopping trend in its most recent release, “Fresh Cut” pilsner. The pilsner style as born in the Czech Republic is spicy, floral, and crisp. It seems like a logical step to dry-hop a pilsner with Chinook hops grown in Maine to add the aroma without the bitterness. “Fresh Cut” checks in at only 38 international bitterness units.
“Fresh Cut” pours a pale straw into a pint glass. The aroma is light grapefruit and lemongrass. It’s a pleasant smell with which to wrap up the warm weather.
This is a clean, drinkable beer of 4.7 percent alcohol by volume. That’s important because most IPAs carry an ABV a percent or two higher. This beer provides the flavor profile of some of those beers with the clean, dry finish of pilsner. It’s chewy and bready but never manages to feel too much so. This is a trend I can get behind.
Peak co-owner Rob Lucente says he is “really proud” of this brew. It retails for a suggested price of $8.99.
Why the bad rap?
On my last visit to Montreal, friends remarked on the proliferation of Molson products at the local bars, which were fairly indistinguishable considering we were in town for a bachelor party. For better or worse, the conversation that weekend focused more on my buddy’s bravado for wearing a Bruins hat in Canadiens territory than the beer flowing from the taps.
Before the hate mail starts, this blog is fully aware that Montreal is a culinary center and destination. Canada, of course, is a big country, with various regions and cultures. This is not an all-encompassing review of Canadian beer, but if there’s one overarching “theme” here, it’s that Canadian craft beer gets a bad rap, or almost no rap at all, below the border. After Quebec’s Unibroue, it’s hard for the average American craft drinker to identify a Canadian brewer that has captured our imagination.
South Boston’s Social Wines takes care of me in terms of bringing in beers I’ve yet to try, including some I’ve never heard of. Last week’s haul produced “Herbe à Détourne,” a beer out of the Quebec brewpub Brasserie Dieu du Ciel that immediately captured my attention. Some key words from the label — “tripel,” “citra,” “new world,” and “10.2 percent ABV” — jumped out at me.
This was a heavily hopped, Belgian-style tripel with a twist. The beer pours a golden orange into a tulip glass. The nose is wild, equal parts sour and citrus and yeast.
The taste of this beer is bright up front before getting down and dirty. Citra is one of those en vogue hops, a high alpha variety packed with lemon and guava and stonefruit notes. Underneath is a Belgian tripel with a tinge of funk. None of that lasts too long on the palate . And, the brewer manages to pull this together into a smooth finish. At 10.2 percent ABV, this has a remarkable levity to it.