Do you like hops? Hate them? Do you know what they look like, smell like, feel like?
The Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery will elevate hops appreciation today by carrying mugfuls of beer's most-loved ingredient right to the table and allowing customers to experiment with its subtleties and its power on their own.
Here's how it works: Order any Bull & Bush beer on tap and then pick one of five hops varietals grown by Jack Rabbit Hill Hops in the Western Slope town of Hotchkiss. The beer will be served in a French press with the crumbled hops cones added. The customer can then choose how long to wait before pouring the beer and tasting the effect.
A one-minute wait will add a bit of hops flavoring, depending on the beer. Three minutes will infuse a significant amount, and five minutes will give you an eye-opening hop wallop. Wait ten minutes or longer and the plant adds a peppery taste and feel that will burn the back of your throat -- in a good way, at least if you're true hophead.
"You'll be able to dial in how hoppy or how bitter or how much aroma you want. There's a huge difference between three and five minutes," says Erik Peterson, who owns Bull & Bush with his brother, Dave. The idea is similar to what brewers do when they add hops infusions to a beer after it has been brewed to give it a different flavor. The process, called dry-hopping, is common, but also expensive and time-consuming.
Bull & Bush is calling the process the Whole Hop Infusion -- and they'd better Trademark it because other places around the country are bound to follow suit. In Denver, Table 6 has already agreed to start offering Whole Hop Infusions with Bull & Bush beers, which has on tap, come February.
Peterson got the idea a few weeks ago when he was trying to think of something new to do with a bunch of whole hops he'd bought from Jack Rabbit Hill. He wanted to use them to dry-hop one of the beer Bull & Bush brews, but didn't have a way to strain out the hops cones afterward. Most beers are brewed using hops pellets, a ground and compressed form of hops that dissolve in the beer when it is brewed.
It's an idea that wouldn't have worked five years ago -- or even two years ago. But the innovative concept is the perfect way to show off the maturation of the craft beer scene in Denver, where the culture of beer and beer drinking has finally come of age.
Bull & Bush has three kinds of hops ready: Cascade, Chinook and Crystal, and will have another two, Nugget and Northern Brewer, soon. All five types were grown in Colorado by Jack Rabbit Hill, an organic farm that also makes Jack Rabbit Hill wines. Down the road, Peterson plans to add other varieties as monthly specials.
Cascade is a standard in West Coast-style IPAs, imparting a strong floral aroma and notes of spice, citrus and grapefruit. Chinook, another common IPA variety, has a grassy, smoky character. Crystal gives off an almost tropical, coconut-like flavor.
And the different varieties do indeed have a dramatic effect on the taste of the beer, depending on which kind of hops you use and how long you wait.
Customers can order either a twenty-ounce beer for $8 or a forty-ounce pour for $15; either way, about a pint glass's worth of hops will be added to the French press, which Peterson has dramatically named the Hop Inciter 3000.
"It's educational," says Peterson, who has tried out the hop infusions on a couple of groups of people. "People who have no idea what hops are or what they smell like or what they look like can put it all together when they have a beer."