spotlight on citra
I take it as a sign of maturation within our beer market that the general public can name specific types of hops. Hop varieties are listed in descriptions on many beer menus, and several very popular beers are named for the hops they contain. Within the last year, several varieties have become popular by name among the drinking crowd – Mosaic, Simcoe, and Citra seem to be getting the bulk of the buzz lately.
Without going into too much detail, I’ll remind you that while hops are one of the sexier sides of beer, they weren’t always a part of the process. 500 years ago, when the German Beer Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot, came into effect, hops were a named ingredient in the brewing process.
Long before modern botany and chemistry could explain exactly why it was so, brewers soon discovered the numerous benefits of using hops in brewing. Namely, ale that had hops added did not spoil nearly as quickly as ale that had herbs and spices instead. Over time, what was acceptable became preferred, and drinkers soon developed a taste for hopped beers.
Today, that preference certainly has not changed. In fact, beers that were one considered very hoppy are now only moderately so. For example, take Anchor’s Liberty Ale. It was the first India Pale Ale brewed after prohibition, but according to most experts, it would now be filed under “pale ale”. Palates evolve and tastes change.
About 100 types of distinct hops exist in brewing today, plus innumerable experimental, hybrid, or un-named varieties. Citra hops are one of the most popular types in brewing right now. They are used for both bitterness and aroma, and as you might expect, they’re very good at delivering a citrus kick to beer, along with more nuanced tropical fruit like guava and lychee.
Surly’s new session ale for summer is one showcase of Citra hops. The Xtra-Citra is a very effervescent, light-bodied pale ale with only 4.5% ABV. The beer smells like a fresh hop cone and a Sprite. Despite the intensity of hop flavor, the bitterness is only moderate. An herbal potpourri forms in the glass with each sip revealing something new – rosemary, lemon balm, and sage. Tangerine and pineapple intensify as the beer warms slightly.
This is an extremely drinkable beer, so much so that it borders on thin in the mouth. It will be perfect for very hot days.
Xtra-Citra is an excellent example of hop utilization for aroma and flavor rather than bitterness. Have you ever tasted a beer that was stupid bitter but also bland? This beer has the opposite effect. This flavor punch arises from addition of hops later in the brewing process, when the heat is off, or even when the beer is done fermenting (known as “dry-hopping”). It is not a single hop beer, though, as Warrior hops are used for bittering earlier in the brewing process.
Citra hops were first named in 2009, and they were made famous by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. The variety is featured in the groundbreaking Torpedo IPA and remains an excellent example of what Citra can do.
For a little more body, Fort Point Beer Company out of California also makes a killer Citra beer called Park. This take is made with wheat, which bouys the body nicely and adds a softness in the mouth. Unlike the Surly, this is a single hop beer. It uses acidulated malt for brightness and Pilsner malt for a bready balance.
Fort Point refers to this beer as a modern interpretation of the witbier style. The Citra hops seem to be the interpretation of the citrus and spice derived from the yeast in witbier. It is also on the lighter ABV side, at 4.7%.
Citra hops have been a crowd favorite since their release, and their properties make them perfect for adding aroma and flavor. Next time you see a brewery go out of their way to name a hop variety, especially if it is the only one used in that particular batch, take some time to appreciate the specific flavors it delivers. And go taste some Citra! There’s a reason they are in demand.