Citra. Just what is it, why are so many of us infatuated with it? What makes this hop so special and constantly drooled over? Are you guilty of hunting down a beer that has the magic word on its label just to taste, well, just to taste what exactly?
The Citra hop, aka HBC 394, has been developed by the Hop Breeding Company and promises to impart ‘interesting citrus and tropical fruit characters to beer’. The hops parentage lay in Hallertau Mittelfrüh, US Tettnang, Brewer’s Gold and East Kent Golding. That may go some way in explaining the varieties of flavours you can expect to receive from the hop, but just what are those flavours?
Now the tropical fruits I get, but what is interesting citrus? I suppose if you crossed a lemon with something like a banana, that could be quite interesting, or could it?
Either way, there is no escaping just how popular the Citra hop is and pretty much every brewery has a beer that includes it. Whether it be a traditional multiple hop beer, or just a single hop variety, there is no shortage of beers available to satisfy your Citra cravings.
For now, I’m focusing on single hop beers and I have gathered together a small collection, of varying styles, that will hopefully show just exactly what it is Citra can offer when used on it’s own.
So, it’s over to the breweries.
This was first brewed back in 2009 after John Bryan, the production director and former head brewer at Oakham Ales, made his annual trip to the hop fields of North West America where he discovered the Citra hop. At the time Citra had never been used in the UK and only a small number of US brewers had brewed with it. Immediately after making the discovery John arranged for a quantity of the hop to be sent back to the UK to start brewing. Unable to contain his excitement, he organised for the hop to be flown home as the boat journey would have taken too long!
Such was the reception and good feedback that the beer received, it was added to their permanent range in 2010. And now, after winning many awards, this beer has definitely brought our attention to Citra, or is it the other way around? Either way, it has set the benchmark for all other single hop Citra beers.
Tasting this beer is quite special, and if you have never sampled Citra before, then it will open your eyes.
The aroma is prominent and formed of a good load of passion fruit and mango with a nice hint of citrus. It’s like chucking your nose in a fruit bowl and bringing out a beer. To taste there’s no hint of malt and the fruits carry on nicely with that citrus edge. The finish is dry and bitter, and then the malts show their face, leaving behind a slight breadiness all ready for the next expectant mouthful.
At 4.6%, you can have a great session with this and the bitterness is set just so to keep you coming back. But if you do fancy a little more, then you must seek out their Green Devil IPA. Also brewed with only Citra, this is the original Citra’s bigger brother!
Brewed locally to me in Dawlish, Devon, this beer has had a troublesome life. It went about upsetting the locals as apparently it was too far from the norm; And I thought Devon was full of Londoners?
But this didn’t stop Isca and brewing of this beer has continued, like Brunel’s GWR, at full steam.
After Isca Ales had sampled Oakhams offering, they decided that Citra was the hop for them. Brewed using Maris Otter malt, wheat and Nottingham ale yeast, it ended up at a truly breakfastable 3.8%. This is one of the lightest Citra beers I have come across and certainly the lightest here.
The aroma is delicate, as you’d expect, but it holds itself well and the spring freshness coupled to pithy passion fruit is subtle but inviting. On the tongue it’s gently malted and the fruits really get to work leaving quite a dry finish along with a mild bitterness.
This is a pale brewed to 4.5% where bitterness and carbonation have been kept deliberately low to allow the full fruitiness of the hop to shine through. The aim of this beer was to make it taste as close as possible to the smell of sticking your head in a bag of Citra hops. Having never done that myself I can’t vouch for it’s success, but as it’s brewed using mainly pale malts, with a little touch of Munich, and an American style yeast strain, which adds little to the flavour and offers a very complete fermentation, the hop is allowed to shine without being hampered by the other ingredients.
There are no bittering hops used at all, with a small amount being added 30 minutes from end of boil, followed by a large amount at the end of the boil and another large amount being used for dry hopping.
This makes for a proper English style session beer, albeit with a strong American influence. And in the words of the brewer, when you’ve finished, you want another. And I’m afraid I’m inclined to agree with that statement!
The tasting of this beer is fairly similar to the Isca offering but the aroma is fuller and there is more of it. There is a satisfying tropical flavour with the slightest hint of nettles. It’s also quite pithy too. The beer has quite a light body but it’s far from being thin, and the fruitiness of the hop is presented cleanly with the malts staying well back.
If you think Citra is the only hop Great Heck have used for a one hop wonder, then you’d be wrong; they usually brew one to try out a new hop variety and will continue to do so each time a new hop is unveiled, just to see what it can bring to the party. And in the cases of Citra, Simcoe and Columbus the results have been so good they were brewed again!
But just brewing the same beer over and over isn’t one of Great Hecks rules; each time a beer is brewed again it’s tweaked to ensure there is continuous improvement.
A Citra Saison? Interesting I hear you say. Well, you’d be right. This is Brew By Numbers own, modern interpretation of Belgian farmhouse ale which uses the Citra hop in a classic Saison recipe.
Both Dave & Tom, being big fans of the Saison style, explored its versatility through experimentation, and discovered it was a great blank canvas that they could enhance by using different hops, fruit, spices, tea and many more ingredients that you may not necessarily associate with beer. And this, their first take on a Saison has been brewed to show exactly what they can achieve with this style.
The Pilsner malt, low colour Maris Otter, along with wheat malt and flaked wheat, make the base of this beer conform to the style and gives the beer a slightly hazy in glass presence with a nice pillowy head; which is characteristic of malted and unmalted grains.
The flavour profile of a French saison yeast is preferred, as it yields a nice dry and peppery finish, without too much banana. The spice and funk present in the yeast also play off well with the passionfruit and mango supplied by Citra, which itself can be quite funky; a trait that works well with the farmhouse style and unusually so for a US hop. In this case, hop pellets were the preferred tool as opposed to leaves, due to the greater flavour given up. On top of this, coriander and crushed black pepper were added to enhance the characteristics of the fruity yeast.
The strength has been determined mainly by tradition; you have to remember the origin of the Saison was to provide refreshment for farm workers when the water was less than safe. It also aims to be refreshing and light but without the heavy alcoholic content found in some other beers of this style.
The aroma of this beer is very different to all the rest here; it’s zesty, yeasty and a little spicy too. The appearance is exactly as previously described, although mine was a little less hazy than I was expecting. There is the mildest hint of banana on tasting but it’s so small it doesn’t interfere with the spice and passion fruit contained within. It’s also very yeasty and bready, which makes it feel nice and wholesome. It’s so full of flavour, each mouthful varies slightly as the beer opens up but that just adds to the satisfaction the beer brings. The finish is quite dry and really does lend itself to a sequel.
When it comes to single hop beers, Brew By Numbers believe they can be used as good educational tools for brewers and drinkers alike. As quite often, the more ingredient laden the beer is, the more muddled the flavours can become and nuances that can be discovered in a single hop beer can sometimes be lost.
This Saison isn’t their only single hop beer either, Mosaic has been used in an IPA, session IPA, Tripel and also a Saison. The scarce Nelson Sauvin is another hop that they love, and they’re also very interested in the new Noble varieties such as Hallertau Blanc.
Where do you start with The Kernel? With such a concise catalogue of beer it’s hard to not find the beer you want. And their Citra IPA isn’t the only beer they’ve produced using only this hop; they also offer a table beer at 3%, a pale at 5% and this the IPA at 7%.
And there are some very good reasons for this too; they find that different characteristics of the hop are apparent in
different intensities at the different abvs. So when it comes to selecting a beer, you are offered a real choice to suit your mood, food or just whatever your preference may be!
The Kernel brew a lot of beers in this form as they often prefer the singular expression of, and essence, that you only get in single hopped beers. Pretty much every conceivable hop has been used too, so if you want an IPA or a pale with a specific hop, you’ll get it here.
All of their single hop beers have been brewed with just one goal; to smell and taste exactly like the hop by letting the hop express itself, and in this case, Citra.
Brewed with a low colour Maris Otter to provide a firm body but not interfere with the hops, a Cal Ale yeast, which is fairly neutral, is also used but takes a back seat to allow the hop to shine through. The same malt and yeast is used in all of their beers for the same reasons and also to get consistent results where the hops takes the lead. And when I asked the brewery what they thought made this beer work, their answer was simply, Citra.
On to the tasting,
And I just happened to have a nice fresh beer which was bottled just one month before my tasting.
Darker in colour than the previous pales, the massive passion fruit aroma just leaps out of the glass and plants itself right in the depths of your nostrils. This is fantastic, and tasting is full and luscious . It’s quite sweet, but not sticky, with the fruits there in abundance and a slight bready maltyness is evident too. The finish leaves you licking your teeth to try and get every last drop! The higher abv certainly gives it a lot more presence and this is definitely one to savour, possibly.
But if this wasn’t enough, and you were looking for something a little more, lets say intense, then the Kernel have in the past brewed a Double Citra at around 9%. Now I am yet to sample this, and I do know there is quite a demand for this beer to be brewed again, so it’s over to the Kernel to fill the void as it were….
Now if the earlier mention of HBC 394 didn’t get your adenoids twitching, then the beer spotters amongst you will notice that this is their 19th brew, and another unique one at that.
Citra Nocturnum is a beer designed to showcase the awesomeness of the hop Citra, but in a bit of a different way, porter style rather than pale like many breweries have already done.
The malt base of the beer itself is an adaptation of a Barclay Perkins porter recipe, with the addition of Citra for bittering, flavour and aroma, followed by a double dry hopping.
And in using Maris Otter, brown, chocolate, Munich, black and crystal malts, along with US-05 yeast, the big hop flavours are backed up with a smooth roastiness after their initial impact.
I was lucky enough to obtain a few bottles of this on the same day that they arrived in the shop, again, making this one fresh beer. And it’s freshness is so visible on just the slightest crack of the top. The smell just oozes out of this on pouring. It’s quite viscous, which you’d expect for a good porter, but that intense aroma is baffling. With your eyes closed it’s a fresh bowl of fruit in a tobacconist come coffee shop; The passion fruit and tobacco aroma coupled with coffee is intriguing to say the least.
Tasting on the other hand, is just staggering. The punchiness from the hop is awesome and the deep malty flavours really add to the complexity of this beer. Never before have I sampled a porter that tastes this fresh and inviting.
Brewed to 6.7%, it has a bit more kick, but it’s not something you couldn’t still enjoy a few of.
And in case you were wondering where the name came from, Nocturnum is the Latin adjective of Noturnus. Meaning ‘of, or belonging to the night’. Which in the mind of the brewers, seemed pretty appropriate for a dark beer that has a little something about it, and rightly so.
This has been good fun, trying all these beers and having a little Citra off. Although, as good as they are, I do often wonder why there are quite so many pales brewed.
The Porter and the Saison show that by using a little lateral thinking, Citra can be used to create a beer that truly does stand out from the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d happily drink all of these beers again, but it is nice to see something a little different.
But then equally, the high number of pales is largely irrelevant as they are all different, and they do have their own place. Let me put it this way, if these beers were the results of a brewing contest where the rules were to use only the Citra hop and then have complete freedom over the rest of the ingredients; then you can now see that each brewer has interpreted the instructions in their own way and we have ended up with six unique beers. Even though in reality one may be emulating another, they are all still different.
So to finish, I must say a massive thank you to all the breweries for their Citra beers! And thank you for providing the information that without which this post would not have been possible.
Nigel Wattam at Oakham Ales
Andy at Isca Ales
Denzil Vallance at Great Heck Brewing Company
Dave, Tom and Chris at Brew By Numbers
Evin at The Kernel Brewery
Toby & Fin at The Occasional Brewing Company