In November of 2014, shortly after finishing our fall hop harvest, I received a call from a young man named Tariq from Revel Cider.
He was looking for hops to ‘dry hop’ his hard cider.
He explained that a member of the Niagara College Brewmaster program had given him our name to see if we could help. He had tried all of the American hops, and the only one that came remotely close to what he was looking for was Citra. Even then he said “the taste was not right.”
I had never heard of dry hopped hard cider and really felt out of my element here. I asked him to explain the hard cider process and then what flavor profile he was looking for. I recommended he try a few different hop samples. I would send him Perle for its lemon oils, Santiam for its complex aromas, several others, and then I thought of ‘Hop X’. “Hop X” he asked, “What is that?” It was a question we had been asking ourselves since our harvest.
In 2012 we planted what we thought was a high alpha hop rhizome from an American supplier in the Pacific Northwest. Due to the extreme drought here in Ontario, nothing grew and we realized we would have to replace it. But the following year, we noticed a few shoots came up in the spring. But, that was as far as this plant grew. Because we had to replace 60% of our crop in 2013, we ignored that area of the hop yard, still thinking we would have to pull what was there.
Then a strange thing occurred this past year. After all of the hops had been spun up for the season, we looked at the location of Hop X deciding if we should pull then or wait until the fall clean up. The plants had shoots about 6 inches long and this was already the second week of June, way past the usual spinning timeframe. My husband convinced me to get down on our hands and knees and try to spin what was there. It was a joke really, since they were so small we could not get very many up the strings. In fact, we had to go back and re-spin as most of them fell off. We finished, turned our backs and proceeded with other plantation work.
A week later we looked over, and they had jumped 3 feet in a week. The following week, the bines were up another 3 feet. By the second week in July, those plants had hit the wire, an astonishing 20 feet in four weeks. By the 1st of August the hops were formed and we did not recognize them. They did not look like what we thought we had purchased back in 2012, as the shape was different and the size was different. We started our usual harvest in mid-August on other varieties, and kept and close eye on Hop X, pulling the hops, smelling and feeling; No oil, No aromas.
But they continued to change and again, the hops had no resemblance to anything we had. As harvest came to a close, I went over and pulled some hops off to see if they were no longer of any use since they had been on the bines so long. I was stunned. Oily lupulin coated my palms and the aroma of Hawaiian fruit punch. Gary Matthews from Muskoka Brewing said he smelled mangos.
We quickly got them processed into pellets and sent samples to KAR labs in Michigan. The alpha came back at an 8, certainly not a bittering hop. I gave a sample to Jon Downing at the Niagara College Brewmaster program, who told me it did not match any of the hops from their global supply. Niagara College brewed with it and said it was definitely a dual purpose hop.
In the meantime, Tariq at Revel Cider was doing his own testing.
He contacted us in January extremely excited. “You have to taste this” he said, “you won’t believe the results we got with your hops, and especially Hop X”.
We drove to his facility, and sampled what was brewed. The dry hopped cider samples were like nothing we had ever tasted. The hard cider enters your mouth like champagne and then…WHAM! the hops hit your pallet, and linger. Incredible experience. And it was not just Hop X doing this. I had given Tariq other samples to try, one of which was a hop we grow with an incredible lemon aroma. The lemon was so strong in his cider, it was like lemon meringue. The other hops used also worked, with different flavor profiles and complexities coming through. All of us were in amazement. The Marriage of Ontario apples with Ontario hops, was not just a success, but a celebration of local Ontario agriculture.
The question remains though, ‘what is Hop X, and why did our hops work where the American hops did not?’ Three reasons… mutation, the terroir of Georgian Bay, and our high essential oils. Without high essential oils to coat the palette, the hops would not deliver the flavor.
We believe ‘Hop X’ is a mutation. Mutations are rare, but do occur in hops. The conditions of the 2012 drought, the uniqueness of the soil on our plantation, and the microclimate we experience there, has created something unique. No test tubes or genetic patents. Just something Mother Nature decided was important for Ontario to have and important for Tariq’s business.
Enjoy this Ontario creation, and congratulations to Revel Cider for finding a home for our ‘Hop X’.
Clear Valley Hops