Friday, February 19, 2016

HBC-438: The Homebrewers Hop, for now.

Hop breeding is a mind blowing science to me, I have virtually no understanding of what goes into breeding new varieties of hops but the little I do know kind of blows my mind. I can barely grow a damn hop plant and get a decent yield, let alone understand cross breeding varietals. We laud Lambic blenders for their years of experience in doing, but how about waiting 10 years from breeding to commercial release of a hop? That's a lot of time to put into a possible failure, and some people think aging a sour beer for one year is a long wait, pfft. Yet it seems there are loads of new types of hops coming to market each year, clearly these folks know their trade. Its nearly impossible to keep up with all of them but I am always looking to see which might work best in an IPA or Saison, sometimes it's both. Last year HBC-438 caught my attention as one of those new varietals that could work in the types of beers I like to brew.

By the ounce...where are the 1 Lb bags?!?!
I first heard about this hop via in the series on Neomexicanus hops, fascinating reading, Derek does a great job on that series. But it wasn’t until a few friends returned from NHC 2015 in San Diego where samples of the hop were given out that I got interested in giving it a try. I unfortunately did not get a chance to try the conference beer Ron Mexico from Russian River, a single hopped HBC-438 session IPA, so my first sensory experience with HBC-438 was my buddy Tom’s homebrew.  

Tom‘s beer was bright, tropical, crisp and a bit dank, a pretty complex single hop profile. so I was pleased to find some 1 ounce packs at Philly Homebrew. I was even more pleased to learn after the fact that all sales of the Homebrewer only release of HBC-438 went to Ales for ALS, a great new hop supporting a great cause.

Sticking with what I know so I can get as good an impression of what this hop is all about I brewed up a single hopped version of HopWards, my Tired Hands HopHands clone-thing. I stuck with CTZ to bitter and replaced all the boil and dry hop additions with HBC-438, fermented out with Wyeast London Ale III 1318. Water profile was adjusted for a target mash pH of 5.3 and close to a 2:1 Chloride:Sulfate ratio for maximum creamy texture.  I suppose this isn’t simple enough a base beer for some folks, but this the style of pale ale I brew so it will give me the best idea of how the hop will perform in my beers. Which for me is the goal because I want to know if I will ever brew with it again, plus I gotta brew something I want to drink you know?
Hop carnage.
Beer specs and recipe are below, but first the tasting notes and impressions on HBC-438.

HopWards: HBC-438

Appearance: Hazy AF (as my little sister would say), Mustard yellow thing going, thin white head but significant lacing on the glass. The beer is looking like a shook up glass of OJ, as is tradition.

Aroma: Very fruit forward with tropical citrus notes, peach/apricot, a big orange zest character but there is also a Melon note on top of a bed of raw oats. Honeydew and a bunch of cantaloupe with an underlying dank/grassiness.

Taste: Quick sharp hop bitter bite, giving way to a silky smooth body and some tingle on the tongue. Every sip leaves you with a lingering dry/bitterness and a dank, sticky hop bite that makes you want to reach back for this citrusy/melon-y/juicy oat-y cocktail. Super drinkable yet assertive and complex for maximum refreshment. 
This beer lights up a room.
Impressions: As far as single hopped beers go this holds up very well on its own. Its got a fairly unique profile, but all the citrus and stone fruit you could dream about in your IPAs. In my example here I am getting that melon character, Im wondering if thats somehow the way this hop is interacting with the Oats and London Ale III because I hadn't gotten that from other HBC-438 beers. I had a few other people try the beer and none mentioned the melon so it might just be me, but I dig it alot and this is an extremely drinkable beer. 

I had a few friends try this beer and nobody noticed the melon note that I am getting, doesn't mean one of us are wrong (I'm probably wrong actually) just what we all picked up on. Everyone got the tropical and stone fruit and two people mentioned a spice note, specifically thai basil giving credence to the herbal note on the package. Maybe that's what I am confusing for melon, melon or thai basil it's doesn't much matter this is a pretty cool bouquet. 

Sans light, still doesn't portray the true color of this beer. It's much more pale than this.

Single hopped beers can be pretty one dimensional if the hop isn't complex enough to carry the beer through. But from the citrus to stone fruit to melon (Thai Basil?) to sticky dank bitterness HBC-438 is a hop fully capable of supporting a hoppy beer on its own. I can also I can see this pairing really well with Simcoe, Centennial, Nelson Sauvin, or any other trendy IPA hop that's overpriced. I think it will work incredibly well in a Saison, especially with this Thai Basil thing people are picking up on. Hopefully we will be able to find this hop by the pound soon, because I don't normally purchase by the ounce but I am glad I made an exception for HBC-438.

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Estimated OG: 1.050 SG
Measured FG: 1.010 SG
ABV: 5.2%
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 45 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.9% - 8lbs 8oz - Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
18.1% - 1lbs 14oz - Flaked Oats

First Wort Hop - 0.30 oz CTZ [13.0 %] - 16.3 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 2.00oz HBC-438 [16.60 %] - 24.8 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 3.00 oz HBC-438 [16.60 %] - 5.8 IBUs
Dry Hop: 5 days - 5.00 oz HBC-438 [16.60 %]


Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.37, Water Profile ( 132ppm Ca, 5ppm Mg, 7ppm Na, 155ppm Cl, 76ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.

Notes: Fermented at 64f for 7 days, bumped to 70f for 3 days then kegged and dry hopped in the keg for 5 days. Tapped 15 days from brewday. Slurry was harvested via my standard method after kegging.


  1. I tried that Ron Mexico beer twice, I wasn't a fan at all. I still want to give the hop a shot on my own to see how it comes across.

    1. I wish I got a chance to try Ron Mexico, especially now hearing it seemed to be a pretty divisive beer.

  2. Well that sounds awesome! I'll have to be on the lookout for it. Love me some hazy AF pale ales! haha

  3. I have to agree with Marshall. I was in the crowd listening to Vinny talk in San Diego and had a couple beers during the speech. I didn't like it at all. However I loved the base recipe as a session-ish IPA. Just change the hops. However, I did grab about 10 1oz packs hops. (dont worry, there was plenty)

    My thinking was to try the beer at home, maybe all the horrible beer at NHC ruined my ability to taste good beer. Remember this was a Russian River hop. AKA Simcoe godfather. Plus I had the RR conference beer in my hotel room. A week later I (with a clean pallet) drank the beer. Still, I hated it. Hated the hop. It was dirty and raw, right what I didnt want in a pale ale or IPA.

    Now in a different recipe? Maybe, I used the base grain recipe and used Simcoe and it was a phenomenal session IPA.

    Sorry for my rambling... Maybe I need another taste to be sure/ ;)

    1. Interesting. The profiles of this hop seems to be pretty divisive, based on the feedback I have been getting. Some people truly love the hop, so far I am in that camp, and some people really seem to despise it. Maybe it just fits for the type of hoppy beers I am brewing and the profile that I target. I will absolutely use it again, but I need to find a source for lbs of it bc its too spendy by the oz. I think it will work in a hop forward Saison with DuPont.

  4. I've been enjoying this malt and oat base in several single hop beers since I saw your clone recipe. Currently matching CL to S04 at around 120ppm but be interested to duplicate your profile here with the 2:1 for comparison. We have a new hop out in NZ called "Brooklyn" that is worth a try if you see it. Cheers

    1. Hadn't heard of Brooklyn, oh man, grapefruit and Passion fruit? Sign me up.

    2. Brooklyn has been ordered, thanks for the tip!

    3. Great! Look forward to hearing how it works out. Matt

  5. I madre a single hop Pale Ale with that hop and was AMAZING the hop character, I really really really hoping to see these on Lb package.

  6. Hi,

    I have 5oz of this hop and wanna give it a shot. But I´d like to use a little bit more hops in the recipe. Would you blend it with El Dorado?