Ever since the hazy IPA boom of the 2010s, hop farmers have been cranking out experimental hop varieties at a prolific rate with the shared goal of offering brewers new flavors to pack into their brews. Despite this, many breweries have reached a creative stalemate with the IPA style. There are only so many hop combinations one can play with before inspiration inevitably plateaus. Thankfully, hop cultivators have put on their lab coats and invented alternative methods of exploring the ins and outs of hops, breathing new life into the plant that IPAs rely on. That’s why If you’ve been keeping tabs on the hop industry in recent years, chances are you’ve heard of Cryo hops.
What are Cryo hops?
If you break open a fresh, whole-cone hop, you’ll find a bunch of yellow, pollen-like powder within. That stuff is lupulin, and it contains the majority of the plant’s hop oils, which ultimately impart flavor and aroma in the beer it’s used in. In 2014, global hop supplier Yakima Chief Hops invented a patented process of freezing fresh hops with liquid nitrogen, shattering them, separating the lupulin and the hops’ external green matter (a.k.a. brack), and pressing that lupulin into pellets with some excess plant material. The end result: Cryo Hops®.
Named for the Greek word kryos meaning “frost,” Cryo hops are essentially ultra-concentrated hop pellets. Most commercially available hop pellets used to make beer are billed as T-90 or Type 90 hops — meaning one pound of hops yields 0.9 pounds of pellets — but Cryo-style hops are T-45s, meaning only 0.45 pounds of Cryo can be pulled from a pound of hops. But due to the high lupulin content of Cryo hops, they contain double the alpha acid content of regular hop pellets, making them an overall more potent and efficient alternative. While there are a few different brands of lupulin-enriched hop pellets, like John I. Haas’s LUPOMAX — Cryo Hops and Cryo are also both trademarks owned by Yakima Chief Hops — Cryo has become a broader industry term. There are myriad benefits to using Cryo hops in beer, but where they really shine is in IPAs.
Cryo Hops in New England IPAs
The most common style in which one will encounter Cryo hops is undoubtedly in New England IPAs, which are characterized by hazy, tropical fruit-forward hop flavors and low bitterness. Since the dawn of the category, brewers have taken on the challenge of cramming in as many hops into their IPAs as possible with maximum dry-hopping. But with an absurd amount of hops going in, a lot of plant matter can end up in the beer itself. This generally causes more grassy, piney notes turning up in the final product. While that may actually be a desirable characteristic for some brewers, many find it to be a harsh or distracting quality against the lupulin’s alpha acids — the real bread and butter of the hop’s expression.
“I feel like with dry-hopped IPAs, an overly boozy tannic character is somewhat prevalent,” says Dan Suarez, owner of Suarez Family Brewery. “I think the Cryo bypasses that.” Although Suarez’s beers fall into the lighter, more “crushable” end of the spectrum — seldom surpassing the 6 percent ABV threshold — his experience with Cryo shows that it solves a problem that many brewers face when dry-hopping their beers to high heaven. With lupulin-enriched hops, brewers can harness a cleaner expression of concentrated hop flavor without any disruption from the presence of excess vegetal brack.
Also notable: due to the high level of brack in T-90 hops, more insoluble plant matter will be floating about in the fermentation tank, absorbing beer along the way. With Cryo hops, brewers get a bigger yield of finished beer. Plus, while Cryo hops tend to be a bit more expensive than T-90s, they deliver double the flavor without being double the price.
Cryo Hops in West Coast IPAs
Cryo hops may be touted as a secret weapon in New England IPAs, but rest assured, bitter, bold West Coast IPAs can benefit from them as well with some reverse engineering.
Hazies rely on late, dry-hopping additions to juice the tropical terpene profiles out of hops, but West Coast IPAs are fueled by bitterness, largely imparted by hop additions in the early high-temp stages of brewing. Bucks County, Pa.’s Free Will Brewing Co. makes a West Coast IPA year-round called Kragle, which employs the lupulin-heavy pellets. “The beer is bitter as hell so we use Cryo on the hot side to get extra IBUs,” explains head brewer Shawn Cannon, referring to the bitterness scale used by the beer industry. “I don’t use it in any hazy IPAs on the hot side.”
The bump in liquid yield functions the same way on the “hot side,” so on top of increased hop bitterness, less spongy green matter ends up in the ferment and whirlpool tanks. All this is not to bash green matter outright, as most brewers use T-45s in conjunction with T-90s.
“It makes for a more rounded product when you use both together,” Cannon says. “There’s no right or wrong, but if you go from a regular T-90 to a T-45, the aroma is just that much more intense and that more pungent.”
Cryo Hops in Other Styles
As mentioned, Cryo hops have been around for almost 10 years, but more recently, brewers have begun to explore the potential of Cryo hops in styles outside the IPA umbrella.
“I’ve seen some dry-hopped lagers with it, some which have been really awesome,” Cannon says. Most brewers would argue that there isn’t much to gain from dumping eight pounds of Citra Cryo into a saison or barrel-aged stout, but with widespread palate fatigue from the “haze craze,” hoppy lagers are on the rise thanks to their punchy hop flavors on a light, crispy base beer. The world has yet to see all of what Cryo can achieve, but know that this is progress, and by no means a gimmick or shortcut.
*Image retrieved from Iain Robertson – Unsplash.com