This post is part of a new column on hops by local hop head Josh Howard. Josh has been homebrewing since 2003 and while he is a hop head to the core, he’s also a big fan of sour beers. And he also likes cats.

It is an interesting time to be a ‘hop head.’ We hop heads are the beer drinkers and enthusiasts who enjoy their beer hoppy; ones who prefer the IPA or pale ale to the sweet and malty reds and ambers of the beer spectrum. Frankly, there may have never been a better time to be a hop head in the history of beers, brewing, and drinking. I don’t want to make that statement too lightly, but when you consider the new hop varieties being developed; the research that goes into flavor and aroma in beer; and the cavalier brewers charging headlong into the fore of featuring these new hops in their beer portfolios…well, it’s an exciting time to say the least.

The Changing Hop Landscape
The landscape is changing from the piney and resinous beasts we have traditionally enjoyed as IPAs and their larger imperial brethren to also include new hop strains that lend more fruity and complex notes to beer. That’s not to say that the former is going away, but rather the complexity and choices are becoming greater, and that bodes well for consumers. I’d also go so far to say that we will likely see some modifications to beer judging categories and types as a result of the new complexity.

A prominent new player on the scene of ‘sweet’ hops is Mosaic. You may have encountered it locally in Pikes Peak Brewing’s Mosaic Pale Ale, where the hop was featured in a ‘single hop’ style, meaning that no other hops were used in the making of that beer. Mosaic was also featured in their massive hop bomb, Incline IPA, which reigned in at 185 IBUs. We’ll talk more about Mosaic in a moment.

An IBU Tangent
I feel it necessary to pause here and talk about IBUs. IBUs refer to International Bittering Units, and it is a means to measure the concentration of isomerized alpha acids (the essential oils from the hops) in the beer, as well as the total bitterness of it. Higher IBU numbers represent additional bitterness. From a brewer’s perspective, you can calculate the IBUs based on the amount and type of hops you use while boiling the beer using a formula for ‘hop utilization’, and arrive at a total number to rate the relative bitterness of a brew. Now here is where things get tricky: there are three different formulae for calculating IBUs, hop storage and age can impact bitterness calculations, and higher malt quantity will reduce the impact of bittering. All of these factors lead to stark variations, as evidenced by professional labs testing the same beers and often coming up with wildly different results from lab to lab.

That’s just the technical difficulties! Even your palate will play tricks on you when it comes to bitterness. That 185 IBU ‘hop bomb’ from Pikes Peak, was actually far less bitter tasting than other beers with a lower IBU number. How can that be, you might ask? A recent article about hops in Draft Magazine shows that beer will realistically hold only around 100 IBUs, and that our palate likely only tops out around 50 IBUs, so anything beyond that could probably be considered a waste, right? Wrong! Aroma and flavor can trick you into experiencing additional bitterness. The interplay of hops and the flavors they impart can steer you towards green pastures, or towards citrus or stone fruit trees, or even into the berry bushes. Hops contribute so much flavor differentiation that a brewer could brew the exact same beer numerous times with the same grain bill, same water, same methods, but change up the hop additions slightly each time and you’d be hard pressed to know they were essentially the same recipe.

The Mosaic Hop

Getting back off the IBU tangent, what we really want to look at here is the Mosaic hop, how it’s being used, and who is using it.

The Mosaic hop variety is a trademark name for hop variety HBC 369 cv developed and released in 2012 by Hop Breeding Company LLC. It is considered an aroma hop by definition, but as we’ve mentioned, it has been used in single hop applications by certain brewers. It is the ‘offspring’ of Simcoe and Nugget hops, and it lends complex fruit, floral, tropical and earthy notes to beer. Some have described the tastes and armoas it imparts as being reminiscent of mango, stone fruit, citrus, blueberry, and earthy pine.

I know in my personal experience with enjoying the Mosaic Pale Ale from Pikes Peak Brewing last fall I definitely got a blueberry finish to the beer. I can contrast that experience with Deschutes Brewing’s Fresh Squeezed IPA where Mosaic was paired with Citra hops. I have very recently enjoyed this beer. I still get the tropical fruit notes from the Mosaic in Fresh Squeezed, especially in the aroma of the beer. The aroma just as it is poured is fresh mango and a hint of citrus, but more of the earthy pine and citrus characteristics of Mosaic is present in the taste; though we can very likely attribute some of this flavor to the Citra hops as well. I really enjoyed this beer, finding it very drinkable and can say without exception that I am really enjoying every experience I have had with the Mosaic hop variety thus far.

Brewers shared their opinion of Mosaic with us as well: Cam O’Connor from Deschutes told us that he’s a big fan, and has been running test brews with it for the past 3 years, and was happy to be able to use it commercially last year when it became widely available. Cam likes it’s aroma characteristics for their strength and ability to remain prominent when used in their beers. Many of these same sentiments were shared by Chris Wright from Pikes Peak Brewing, who professed his love of the hop, and desire to use it again. Jason Wiedmaier of Lone Tree Brewing Company recently used it in their American ESB they were pouring at the Salida Brewer’s Rendezvous.

Our readers expressed a strong preference for the hop as well. In a not-at-all scientific poll conducted on Twitter, you told us in a 7 to 2 margin that you prefer Mosaic over Cascade hops. Though honestly…that’s a bit like a parent trying to choose between their two children; you love them both for different reasons, right?

I encourage everyone to seek out opportunities to try this hop. It’s a different and pleasant experience for beer lovers of all palates, not simply the hop heads. If you can find it on shelves the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA is still available and a worthy experience. Lone Tree may still have their American ESB available; and hopefully we’ll see another Mosaic enhanced beer from Pikes Peak in the near future as well.

Till the next hoppy but not bitter installment in the hop series…cheers!