Beer styles ebb and flow in popularity, but it appears the IPA is here to stay for years to come. Of Craft Beer & Brewing’s Top 50 Beers of 2020, a whopping 24 of the listings were IPAs, and another 5 were hop-forward Pale Ales.
It all “boils down” to the hops (see what we did there?).
Brewers have more than 80 different hop varieties to choose from, and yet it only takes a couple IPA-packed beer delivery boxes to notice that certain ones are trending. Sure, part of this is due to the brewers’ accessibility to different varieties. That said, it’s also because of the preferences brewers have for specific aromas and flavors. Some hops are also easier to work with than others, although there are many craft brewers who don’t shy away from a challenge.
Here are 5 Hop Varieties That Dominated the IPA Scene in 2020 and some brews that showcase them:
This popular hybrid variety was first developed in 2008 by the Hop Breeding Company in Yakima, WA, who bred it from a combo of Hallertau Mittelfruh, U.S Tettnanger, Bavarian, East Kent Golding, and Brewer's Gold Hops.
As seen in IPAs like Imagine Nation’s All-Citra, this hop really goes the extra mile with juicy flavors, particularly citrus. Brewers usually coax out bountiful orange, grapefruit, and tangerine flavors, though undertones of lemon and lime show up as well. Other tropical fruit flavors, like mango and passionfruit, are also present.
Because of Citra’s malleable citrus flavors, they also pair well with many other varieties. Case in point: the Citra and Mosaic-packed King Fallen Flag from Narrow Gauge Brewing Co. The dual hop recipe in this Imperial New England-style IPA works so well, it’s popped up on multiple “Best Of” lists across the nation.
Speaking of Mosaic...
Kegerator once called Mosaic “the fruity hop variety that changed craft beer,” and that was back in 2017. Mosaic remains so popular today because its flavor profile is extremely versatile, and it works wonderfully when trying to add complexity into IPAs with other hops.
First released in 2012, Mosaic was developed by a Yakima Valley hop farmer as a daughter hop of the earthy, bitter Simcoe. Though it boasts “berry medley” aromas, Mosaic’s flavors range widely from stone fruit and mango to earthy pine and florals.
While Mosaic is frequently paired with other varieties, it stands excellently on its own when in the right hands. Mountains Walking daringly brewed their Mosaic Cloud Curtain with over 7 lbs of Mosaic Hops per barrel, plus additions of oats and lactose for a peaches ‘n cream experience.
Simcoe is right up there with Mosaic and Citra in terms of popularity, and the three are often seen together in the same beer (like Barebottle Brewing’s Wonder Dust). Yakima Chief Ranches introduced this highly aromatic variety in 2000, and recent years have seen it boom in popularity. Cultivated almost exclusively in the Pacific Northwest, it’s the 6th-most grown hop in the U.S. today.
Brewers especially love Simcoe for double IPAs. It offers commingled flavors of both fruit and earth, though notes of citrus, apricot, melon, and berry can become more pronounced when Simcoe is dry-hopped. Liquid Simcoe Crystals IPA from Modist Brewing is one example that displays Simcoe’s complexity through double dry hopping.
Galaxy is an Australian variety that was developed in the 1990s, and its citrus, peach, and passionfruit aromas helped it take the world by storm! It’s also notable for having an incredibly high percentage of essential oils that make its fruit flavors come through loud and clear.
Because of the high oil content, experienced brewers often pair Galaxy with other hops so it doesn’t become too overpowering. Cypress Brewing dry-hopped their Imperial Runway Models IPA with over 5 lbs of Galaxy per barrel alongside Vic Secret, a New Zealand variety that is very similar to Galaxy in its flavors and aromas but with a lighter profile.
Azacca is a newer variety, but it made quite the impact when it debuted in 2013. It didn’t take long for brewers to notice its delightful mango, papaya, orange, and pineapple character backed with aromas of pine, grass, and citrus. Named after the Haitian god of agriculture, Azacca was developed by Washington State’s American Dwarf Hop Association. The hop’s growth has been tremendous. Production of this hop grew by an impressive 339% between 2014 and 2019 alone!
As with many newer hops, Azacca’s popularity spread through its appearance in IPAs alongside more established varieties. For example, for 4 Noses Brewing’s Whimsy IPA, they paired Azacca with Idaho 7 Hops for big notes of mango, tangerine, and pine. In 2020, however, beers like Reuben’s Brews’ Azacca Crush let the newer hop stand on its own to deliver full flavors of tropical fruit and zesty citrus.
It’s certainly exciting when you see other hop varieties pop up in your IPA beer delivery. After all, it’s a chance to try new flavors! However, when you spot an IPA brewed with any of the hops on this list, the brewer knew exactly what they were doing.
Will different hop varieties take over America’s IPAs in 2021? Only time will tell!