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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Like a Comet

There's a man who lives in Dayton, Ohio.  He homebrews.  He blogs.  Recently he was inspired by my post riffing on Wahl and Henius's description of funny old American beers, particularly an odd duck called American Weissbier, and so he brewed it.  In the extremely near future I shall discuss that beer, but today I'll mention the other beer he sent--a single hop IPA made with Comet hops.  It's a variety I mistook for one of the many new ones.  Turns out that's exactly wrong; it's more like an heirloom:
Although not very popular, Comet was one of the first uses of a North American wild hop for a new U.S. cultivar. Comet was an offspring of a wild male hop that was collected from Logan Canyon, Utah, and crossed with an English hop, Sunshine.
The USDA adds (this now slightly out-of-date) information:
Seedling selection of cross 6185 made in 1961 at Corvallis, Oregon. Relatively high alpha acids content; Wild American aroma that is objectionable to some brewers, highly resistant (perhaps immune) to Prunus Necrotic Ringspot virus infection, yellowish green leaf color early in the season. Released as high alpha hop primarily for production in Washington and Idaho. Acreage expanded to 635 acres in 1980 (1% of US production), but declined after 1981 following the release of super alpha hops. Comet today is no longer grown commercially.
Ah, but it is grown commercially!  I was about 17% into my beer last night when I began learning this info, fascinated as I was by the striking characteristics of the Comets.  To my palate, they are quite rough--when I saw the information about wild stock, I totally believed it.  There's a very slight touch of lemon, but it tends more toward rind than fruit, and it's supported by other beguiling elements such as cat, soap, and weeds.  The finish is especially rugged, with a long, raspy weedy bitterness.  I was drinking the beer with friends and was surprised to hear universal acclaim--though everyone described it in really different terms. Based on the hubbub on the intertubes, I take it that a large group of other people have taken a fancy to it as well, which makes me think that maybe its time has come around again.

At What We're Drinking, the Ohio homebrewer describes the hop this way.  (He used it in a saison as well as this IPA):
There is a slight earthy gaminess behind the citrus and tropical fruit that may throw off some people, but it still finishes clean and bright. While I want to say I prefer the Saison to the IPA, I can’t honestly admit that: each beer plays to different strengths in regards to this hop. The Saison foregrounds the earthy components of the hop (and it is a bit longer in the tooth), while the IPA highlights the complex citrus and tropical fruit aspects of it. Either way, I’m hooked: Comet is the hop de jour at this house.
I think there's something about American palates that like this hoppy rusticity.  We like our beers big and bitter, often hazy, and a bit of roughness adds to the experience.  It's a very American hop, and the wildness does accentuate some of these rawboned qualities.  My palate tends toward the delicate and I like the classics--German hops, EKG, Saaz, and Cascades.  Of the new varieties, I like the ones that are almost sweet with tropical fruit.  (Base Camp has a single-hop Meridian IPA that sends thrills up my spine with its fruit salad flavors.)  But Comets are a bit of native Americana, and possibly a great alternative to Clusters if you're making some of the old classics.  Not my cup of tea, but a hop to consider for your next 19th Century lager.

4 comments:

Jeff Alworth said...

Sorry, for some reason, part of my text went missing. Not that any of you lot could be bothered to mention. But I've fixed it.

jfwellspdx said...

Still looks like some words missing in the first paragraph to me.

Jeff Alworth said...

Good lord. I would kill to have a fairy god-editor follow me around and clean up these messes. Fixed. (Maybe?)

Matthew McInnis said...

Appreciate what you do, thanks for the write up

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