This October, VinePair is celebrating our second annual American Beer Month. From beer style basics to unexpected trends (pickle beer, anyone?), to historical deep dives and new developments in package design, expect an exploration of all that’s happening in breweries and taprooms across the United States all month long.
The hop variety list can feel endless, as names like Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, and more now adorn beer bottle labels and brewery menus. With new varieties emerging every year, is it worth keeping up with the hype? Or is a hop just a hop, no matter the name? Co-hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe explore this topic in today’s episode of the “VinePair Podcast.”
Geballe also hosts an interview with Ryan Hopkins, CEO of Yakima Chief Hops in Yakima Valley, Wash. Hopkins breaks down what makes hop plants so versatile, how new varieties are engineered, and what it’s like working in the Pacific Northwest hop business during the peak of harvest season.
For this Friday’s tasting, the co-hosts taste all four flavors of Bud Light Seltzer’s Fall Flannel Pack. They share their live reactions to the Apple Crisp, Toasted Marshmallow, Maple Pear, and Pumpkin Spice seltzers and reveal the flavors they enjoyed the most (and least).
Tune in, and learn more about Yakima Chief Hops at https://www.yakimachief.com/.
OR CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” Once we get to the end — which is staring me right in the face — we’re going to do a tasting of some interesting beverages we’ve procured. We’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s talk about hops. This has been a thing for years now. Zach, it’s probably even more pervasive for you than it is for us, because you live in the world of hops.
Z: I do.
A: So many of them are grown in the Pacific Northwest. A lot of brewers have taken to labeling their beers with the hop varieties. I tend to wonder if this is actually more polarizing and intimidating for beer drinkers, especially as there are more and more varieties of hops. I’ve often wondered if I need to try to understand what Cascade, Chinook, or others are actually going to do to this beer. I’ll see a big beer list that’ll say, “This is our IPA with Cascade and some other random hop you have never heard of.” I don’t know what to choose. Is beer going to, unfortunately, make a mistake with this obsession with hops? Or is this a good thing for beer? One of the things that I think people love about craft beer is its accessibility and its non-pretension. I’ve also been suspect of the whole cicerone thing. Like, Why do that? Why are we trying to “sommify” beer? I think that it’s fine to become a beer expert. I respect beer experts. We don’t need a bunch of cicerones, though. I don’t know where I fall on the question of whether we need hop labeling. Does it start to make people more intimidated by beer, or is it just cool because everyone’s getting more into beer and hop varieties are cool?
J: That’s a good question. When I think of all these hops and putting them on the cans, I feel like that’s done for craft beer people. You’re showing off if you can say, “We have Citra hops.” Is that really common? I don’t know. I just feel like it’s super saturated now. There are so many beers out there and so many craft brewers that you have to show your skill by all these different hops that you use. Is that right? Is that why they’re doing it?
A: Yeah, I think so. Zach, like I said, you live in hop world. I think Citra is a pretty prevalent hop, but if you are able to gain access to some of the harder-to-procure hops, it’s a badge of honor.
J: It’s a hop flex.
Z: I think there’s a couple of things at work here all at once. One of them is an undeniable wine-ification of beer, I guess you would say. There’s some kind of creep that’s happening. Some breweries definitely make single-hop variety IPAs, and they might want you to know that now. Could most beer drinkers, even pretty dedicated beer drinkers, sit down and tell you, “Oh, yes, this beer has Centennial hops in it?” I don’t know. Maybe brewers can. Maybe real devotees can. So many fewer people can do that. A casual wine drinker might know Pinot Noir is light bodied and Cabernet Sauvignon is full bodied, generally speaking. I don’t think most people could tell you that Galaxy hops are one way and Mosaic hops are another way. There’s just much less understanding of what that means. Because it’s on the label and description there, in doing that, you imply to the drinker that they should know what the difference is. They should know whether they prefer Centennial hops or whatever. That is done under the guise of giving the drinker more information. In fact, you’re kind of making people feel dumb because they don’t know what to do with that information. To me, it is analogous to this thing in wine that I find incredibly frustrating, when you go to a winery or event and all the person talking to you about the wine can do is recite the technical data of the wine. 99 percent of people don’t know why it matters and how it will affect the wine. It’s data that a winery should have in case someone asks, but it should not be the way you present your wine. Yet, I went wine tasting recently and, at one of the wineries, the sheet you get is full of all this technical data. As a professional, I can look at that and infer something from it. Even then, what matters is what the wine tastes like. The specifics of how it was made don’t matter so much to me. The same thing is true with beer. That’s even more the case with hops because they’re an ingredient. They’re not the base ingredient. They’re a flavor addition.
A: Some people would say they’re the main ingredient in certain styles of beer.
Z: Yes. Obviously, they have a huge impact on the flavor. I don’t mean to say that there’s no difference in these hop varieties. I think there are, very clearly, differences. Whether those differences are perceptible, comprehensible, or understood by the beer drinking public, I am very dubious of.
A: That’s what I think. You would have to drink a lot of one style of hop. I get that the brewer does that and maybe a beer expert does that. For me, I can’t say that I’ve drank so much of one style of hop that I could tell you the difference if you blinded me.
J: I would love to do a tasting or flight where I could compare. I think that’s interesting. But, just going to order a beer, I don’t know.
A: It’d be hard. There are also these questions that become trendy that I don’t even think most professionals understand. One that I love to pick on about wine is the question of, “Is this a natural yeast fermentation, or did you inoculate them?” Do you actually know the difference between one or the other? Can you actually pick it out? Can you blind a wine and tell me that you know that it was natural yeast fermentation or inoculated? You cannot. I promise you. This is sort of the same with some of the hop varieties. I just don’t think that most people can pick it out. I don’t
Z: It’s also more complicated because beer asks not just what style of beer you like — do you prefer a pilsner or an IPA? But now also, do you want a West Coast IPA or a New England IPA? Do you want your West Coast IPA with X hop variety or your hazy IPA with Y variety? It’s getting to a point where there’s the question of, who is all this differentiation for? Who does it benefit?
J: I do think it makes it all feel very intimidating.
A: Yes, it does.
J: As someone who likes beer and is interested in trying different things, it’s confusing.
A: I think it also has become even more prevalent with the New England IPA craze. I’m a haze boy. I love them so much. Breweries are now trying even more to stand out. They know they need hazies on their list, but they want to make five different hazies because they can’t just have one. One is made with one kind of hops, and another is made with a different kind of hops. Back in the day, some of the OG breweries, like Bell’s, had an IPA, a double, and a triple. That’s all. As a consumer, you know the double is going to be more aggressive. With Dogfish, there’s a 60, 90, and 120. You knew what you were getting into. Higher was going to be a little more bitter and way boozier. That was about it. They weren’t also saying “This one is made with Cascade, this is Galaxy, and all those different things. It’s the only way that the hazies can differentiate themselves, especially for one brewery.
Z: To bring this back to the parallel to wine. It raises a fundamentally important question to me, which is, is your beer better because it’s a mono-varietal hop? Or is it not? When I pay attention to these things, I generally prefer when beers have more than one hop variety, because no one hop variety produces all the flavors or smells that I want in a beer. Yet, when you put this emphasis on individual varieties, you drive people to associate a single variety with something more premium, special, or distinctive. The same has happened in wine. We are living in this era of mono-varietal wine for mono-varietal wine’s sake, which is unfortunate. We are in that realm now with a lot of these beers, too. As you said, Adam, the way to differentiate your beers is to say, “This is with this hop and this is with this other hop.” Often, I think the best beer that the brewery makes is going to be — if you like hazies, that is — their hazy that’s made with multiple hops, because you’re going to get a more balanced, expressive, complex experience.
A: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Well, you’re about to talk to a hop grower.
Z: I am. The biggest hop grower in the country, in fact.
A: Let’s see what they have to say. Maybe don’t tell them that you don’t think that individual hops are a big deal.
Z: I’ll try to keep it out of my mouth.
A CONVERSATION WITH RYAN HOPKINS, CEO OF YAMIKA CHIEF HOPS
Z: Today, I’m speaking with Ryan Hopkins, who is the CEO of Yakima Chief Hops in the Yakima Valley here in Washington State. Ryan, how are you doing?
Ryan Hopkins: Hey, Zach. I’m doing great today. I’m live from the great Valley of Yakima.
Z: Yeah. Right in the middle of the harvest, yes?
R: We’re right at the peak. The crescendo. The second half of harvest is in sight.
Z: Very cool. Well, we appreciate your time. I know it’s obviously a busy time. Let’s start with a little bit of this. How did you get into the hop business? I assume it wasn’t just about your last name.
R: It was not. A lot of people have tried to tell me that’s why. Maybe there’s some cosmic beam that caused that to happen. I actually grew up here in the Valley, many moons ago. One of my first jobs in high school was drying hops in the Moxee area. That’s when hops officially got into my blood, back in the ’90s. Unbeknownst to me, about 20 years later, I came back to work for Yakima Chief. I was in a bit of a career change at that time. I was in higher education prior to coming back into hops. I’m incredibly honored and proud to be a part of this industry and part of Yakima Chief Hops. There are some very exciting things happening, not only in the industry, but within this fine company.
Z: Awesome. I look forward to getting into some of that. Let’s get a little bit of the backstory and the history first. One thing that’s true about Yakima Chief Hops is that it’s grower owned. Can you talk a little bit about that and the history of the company itself?
R: For sure. Yakima Chief Hops is 100 percent grower owned, meaning owned by hop growers. It’s a very unique thing in agriculture. It’s even more of a unique thing in hops. In the ’90s, we had three families that came together with a couple of other families, and they really wanted to change the way hops were purchased and placed into the market. Hops have been grown here in the Valley for over 100 years. Many generations worked on a broker model, where there was a broker in the middle, making deals with farmers on one side and brewers on the other. We had some wise growers who had the foresight to say, “Wait a minute, we can do this ourselves. We want to create these relationships with brewers. We want to bring this conversation directly to the brewhouse.” That started in the ’90s. Since then, several families have joined this group. Now, we are the largest hop broker in the U.S.
Z: Very cool.
R: We definitely have a very clear vision to be the global supplier of choice. Right now, we have 15 families who own the company. We receive about half of our hops from our owners. We receive the other half from non-owners. The very cool thing about this company is that, whether you’re an owner or not, you’re treated exactly the same. This model was 100 percent focused on returning the highest value back to the family farm. Because of that model, we’ve been very successful in creating value for growers and brewers. What we continually hear is that brewers and beer consumers want to know where their product is coming from. They want to know that it comes from a family farm. That’s provided us a lot of momentum to get to where we’re at today.
Z: Very cool. What is it about Yakima Valley that makes it such a great place to grow hops? For people who’ve never been or are unfamiliar, it might be sort of surprising that so much of the country’s hops are grown in one valley.
R: The Yakima Valley is a unique place in that it has a large access to irrigation. Water is one factor. These hops need a lot of water. They’re very thirsty plants. Irrigation is a key component of what occurs here in the Yakima Valley. But, hops are not only grown in Yakima Valley. Several of our families grow hops in Oregon in the Willamette Valley and out in Idaho in the Treasure Valley, just west of Boise. We have families who are growing hops here in the Pacific Northwest. The largest growing region is here in the Yakima Valley, and a lot of that is due to access to irrigation. More importantly, in that 47th parallel, is daylight. You can grow hops in any area and any climate, but in order to get the flowers, you really need a day length change. Hops are photoresponsive. That day length change that we get to experience here around the 47th parallel is why they’re so productive in flowering.
Z: Pardon my ignorance, and I imagine the ignorance of a lot of our listeners, but from a botanical sense, what are hops and what are they related to?
R: Hops are an amazing plant. They’re one of the fastest-growing plants. You plant a root or a rhizome, which is a perennial that will stay in the ground. There’s some hop yards in this fine valley that are 50 years old.
R: They grow annually. They begin growth in the early season. In April, they sprout out of the ground. They climb a twine. A hop is a bine, not a vine, meaning that it needs something to climb on. A vine, on the other hand, will grow on itself. We call them hop bines. They travel up a string that is tied by a person, and they climb all the way up to the top of that trellis, which is large poles, cables, and things. They do this in the midst of their growing season in June and July. They’re growing over a foot a day. A lot of people will say that bull kelp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. I would love to see the race if we could have both competing against each other.
Z: I’m not sure you could find a neutral playing field.
R: No, unfortunately not. That’s it. It’s a really impressive, sturdy, aggressive plant. Humulus lupulus is its taxonomic name, which in some ways translates to “dirt wolf.” That’s because of its aggressive growing nature. You can see that in the fields when they grow so quickly and aggressively up. They are photoresponsive, so if you have a change in day length like we do here in the Pacific Northwest — and Germany, England, and Czechoslovakia in the Northern Hemisphere — that’s when you get these flowers. Those flowers are what we are harvesting and what goes into beer.
Z: A thing that I think has become very important in the understanding of hops and how most of us relate to them in beer is this understanding of all these different varieties, strains, or however you talk about it. Has that always been a part of the hop-growing business, or is this emphasis on all these different name varieties something new?
R: It has always been part of the hop industry. Traditionally, hops were bred and varieties were sought after for their alpha acids, the bittering units aspect of hops. There were very few varieties originally. As we got into the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, more and more progression was centered around flavor and aroma in hop breeding. That has become very prolific. It’s happened a lot with our breeding program and others that have really pursued this flavor and aroma profile, and not just the alpha acid component of hops.
Z: Traditionally in beer, hops were used more for their ability to be a preservative, right? They were also a flavoring agent. But, that heightened bitterness was about keeping the beer drinkable longer, more than necessarily giving it the best possible flavor. Or is that wrong?
R: That’s correct. Those preservative qualities are why hops became part of beer. Early on, with the pursuit of sending beer from England to India, they would load up some of those barrels of beer with extra hops so that they could travel by boats to make it to India. The wonderful beer style of the India Pale Ale came to life, which we all know and love here throughout the U.S. and the world.
Z: Gotcha. When that transition was happening — with growers and breeders looking not so much at just boosting alpha acids, but getting more flavor and aroma compounds — how did that work? We may not need an in-depth scientific explanation, but was it just a matter of trial and error? Would someone cross two existing varieties of hops, make a beer with it, and hope? Or, can you assess that while the plant is growing or before a beer is made?
R: A couple of parts. It is crossing a male plant with female plants in order to have separate offspring plants of those. That’s how breeding happens. The impressive thing that occurred about 25 years ago is that there was this direct conversation with brewers and growers about what they were looking for. At that same time, there was a breeder — one of our grower-owners by the name of Jason Perrault — who was learning from his mentor, a gentleman by the name of Chuck Zimmerman. Jason had this insight, foresight, and true passion for something unique and different in some varieties. 22 years ago, he and Chuck worked together to bring to life and bring to the market a variety called Simcoe. At that same time, craft brewers in the Northwest and West Coast of the U.S. were looking for something new and different to promote their IPAs and their pale ales. It was an opportune time for two passions to collide. That started what I consider a real change in how breeding was pursued with hop varieties and how these hop varieties were used in beer. We’ve been riding that wave ever since, with new varieties coming out all the time, new beer styles coming out, and more conversations happening directly between brewers and growers.
Z: One thing that I’m vaguely aware of but would love more insight into is that hop varieties and new varieties start out almost like a barcode. There’s some letters and numbers. Maybe, if it’s desired enough or successful enough, then it gets a name. Who names them? Is that you guys? Who is responsible for giving them the names?
R: That’s a good question. It’s an amazing process. This fall, we will cross tens of thousands of unique plants. Those will start the path. It will take about three years to see if they are viable to be grown. Are they disease susceptible? Are they not? That usually takes about three years of a fast fail process. After three years, we start to plant them outside and see if they’re actually agronomically viable. It usually takes eight to 10 years for that initial cross to have the potential to make it to market. We’re talking percentages of percentages of success rate. Then, we work together to do some elite lines. That number goes out into the world, and you’ll start to see some of these. We work through a program called the Hop Breeding Company (HBC), and those numbers are out there now. This year, you’ll see things like, HBC 630 which is out there in the world. It will be in this elite line doing beer trials for around two to four years before the brewers say, “We want this so much,” that we decided to make it commercially viable throughout the globe.
Z: Is that something where, either your grower owners or other growers can then access it? Or, are these crosses held as a proprietary thing? How does that work?
R: The varieties are proprietary. They are distributed throughout to different growers and growing regions within the Pacific Northwest, so that we can ensure that it’s going to be viable not only in Yakima but in Oregon and Idaho.
Z: Gotcha. I want to talk a little bit more about harvesting and preserving hops, since you’re in the midst of that. You can start with when Yakima Chief Hops got started or just historically how hops were preserved, and maybe some of the newer technologies that have been brought to bear.
R: I think it’s important for everyone to know, and I would invite everyone to take a look or come to the Valley to watch this process. One of my favorite things about hop harvest is seeing someone’s experience who has never seen harvest and when they have the “aha” moment of how much goes into harvesting hops, putting them into a bale, and getting them to a place where they can get into beer. These large bines, which are 14 feet tall, are cut into the trailer of a vehicle. Those are then transported to what we call a picking machine. A picking machine is on every farm, and it separates the cones from the leaf and the bine. From the picker, those cones will go into a kiln. You’re taking a 70 to 80 percent moisture hop flower or hops cone, and you’re dropping that down to 10 percent moisture. That usually takes about six to eight hours in the kiln. Once that occurs, from the kiln, it is transferred into a different building where things are cooled and homogenized. That usually takes about 20 hours in a cooling room. Once they’re cooled, they’re put into bales. Most bales are 200-pound compressed bales. Those bales are then delivered to Yakima Chief Hops, where they’ll be stored and further processed through a pelletizing process or our cryo process, where we’re taking those whole cones and separating them out into more advanced, new technology that’s come out in the past few years.
Z: With that sort of processing, how much of the hop cone itself is lost? What is retained in terms of mass? Obviously, you’re losing water weight in the drying process. Does the yield reduce pretty significantly, or is most of the hop cone usable for brewing?
R: Most of the hop cone is usable. With over 100 years of different technology, every year, innovations are occurring on the farm and through the harvesting processes. When they receive to an organization like ours, we have very efficient processes to maintain good and solid efficiencies.
Z: Let’s talk a little bit about the relationship with brewers. We’ve talked a lot about the growing side of it, and that’s very interesting to me. You mentioned the Yakima Chief was founded to directly foster these relationships between the growers and brewers, who are the people who are planting the hops. My frame of reference is much more for wine. I think about how a lot of wineries will have long-term contracts with a grower where they may have a purchase arrangement based on many years of a relationship. With breweries, do you have the same kind of thing? Does a brewery say that it wants X number of tons of Simcoe and whatever other varieties are growing? Or, is it more that things come in and then it’s an open marketplace?
R: It’s both. Our whole business is based on that relationship and that communication between the grower and brewer. It’s an ongoing relationship that is, for many brewers and growers, on the family level. It’s very close and intimate. This time of year, we’ll host almost 500 brewing customers here to the Valley for them to look at individual lots of hops that they want. That’s custom processing for these brewers. We work with brewers all over the globe. Some of them go through this selection process. Others of them work through us to make sure that they’re getting the hops that they need. Brewers are contracting into the future. That’s a great thing for the health and sustainability of this market. It involves a lot of very close and intimate conversations among brewers and growers, which is amazing. That didn’t happen 30 years ago in this industry.
Z: I’ve been personally interested in the idea that products like hops — and other parts of beer and beverage alcohol — maybe can’t be completely removed from the commodity system. One thing that does seem exciting, though, is that whether it’s more attention paid to individual varieties or these fostered relationships that you describe, there is a little bit of a change, from what I understand. The raw materials coming into the brewery are no longer just interchangeable or could be from anywhere. How do you connect, whether with local breweries or people around the world, to the idea of these specific hops from this particular place?
R: Our process, along with that mission of connecting growers with brewers, is also rooted in the insurance that there is traceability throughout the supply chain. Our systems can tell you exactly which field a specific hop pellet or hop that’s going into beer goes back to. There’s a lot of technology, documentation, and processes involved with that. Because our mission is to make those connections, we leverage a lot of that information to ensure that the brewer and, hopefully, the beer consumer knows where their hops are coming from. We are a value-add organization, and we truly believe that that adds value to the brewers’ dialog with the beer consumer. It definitely adds value to our hop growers to know where their hops are going, which breweries are selecting them, and what kind of beers they’re making with them. It’s more meaningful. That gets a lot of our growers through a very long 30- to 35-day harvest season,
Z: In the Seattle area, where I am, and in the Pacific Northwest more broadly, we’re in the midst of one of my favorite times of year for beer, which is fresh hop season. You have a whole number of processes around getting the hops harvested and in a form where they can be usable throughout the year or for years into the future. There is a sort of special element to this idea of fresh-hop beer, though. Maybe you can explain it more accurately than I can. Does that require something different on the grower and harvester side?
R: Oh, man. Fresh hop beer season is incredible. When we say fresh hops, it’s referring to those hop cones that are picked and are unkilned. They’re coming directly off the bine and transported into beer, usually within 48 hours. That’s the proximity of time and closeness. There is a pretty large time constraint because a fresh hop ages quite quickly, which gives these amazing and unique flavor and aroma profiles for beer. That’s what we all get to experience here in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the U.S. Every year we overnight-ship these fresh hops throughout the U.S., and amazing beers are made. So, it’s an exciting time. We have just started a new product, which is frozen fresh hop. We’ve taken fresh hops, deep frozen them, and now they’re going to be transported all over the globe. What we get to celebrate here in the Northwest with the seasonal beer will now be available to people throughout the world.
Z: Fantastic. Just one last question, Ryan. As far as the health of the industry goes, it would seem to me that the most popular beer style of the last five years has been hazy IPAs. These are, from my understanding, very hop-intensive. It certainly seems like demand is very strong for hops. You would know better than I do. Are there challenges in meeting that demand? Are there challenges in just growing enough hops? What, if any, are the challenges?
R: There’s always challenges in growing any agricultural product. Hops themselves are incredibly resilient plants. This growing season, in late June, we had temperatures over 115 degrees for three days. That was really intense, but these hop plants rebounded. We’re really excited for a good harvest. To keep up with demand, our growers have done what they can. They’re doing great. With the conversations that we’re having directly between growers and brewers, we have a much better handle and success in making sure that supply and demand are met.
Z: Very cool. Well, Ryan, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I know it’s a very busy time of year for you. It’s been fascinating to learn more about this crucial ingredient in beer. I think a lot of people might know some of their favorite varieties, but they probably don’t think a lot about how it’s grown and how it gets to the breweries near them. Again, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
R: Hey, Zach, thanks for making the time and thanks for being passionate about beer and hops.
THE VINEPAIR TEAM TRIES THE BUD LIGHT SELTZER FALL FLANNEL PACK
A: That was awesome.
Z: No hops left in the episode. We’re past the hop period.
A: I would love to say that we’re going to drink something with hops. Zach, I think that you had promised to send us some freshly hopped beers. You clearly didn’t make that happen. I don’t know what your pull is in the Washington area, but I don’t have any fresh-hop beer.
Z: Oh, I’m pretty sure you wanted to drink what we’re drinking today.
A: No, I don’t, dude, but I’m going to. This needs no introduction. It’s the Bud Light Flannel Pack. We’re going to try all four flavors. We have a tasting order that was determined by Joanna. It’s going to be Apple Crisp, Toasted Marshmallow, Maple Pear, and then I’m not even going to talk about the last flavor. I don’t want the words to come out of my mouth. We’ll talk about that when we get there.
Z: Before we start, what are your predictions on which one you will like best and which one you will hate most?
A: I’m going to, for sure, hate the last flavor the most. Joanna, you make the prediction first, and then I’ll say which one I think I’d like.
J: I’ve tried them all, full disclosure. I can predict what I think you’ll like best.
A: OK, go.
J: I think you’ll like the Maple Pear best.
A: I was going to say that.
J: It seems the least offensive, right?
Z: I also think that’s the one I will like the best. I suspect I will dislike the Toasted Marshmallow most.
A: Does it all taste like disappointment?
Z: No more leading the witness.
J: Let’s also just revisit if hard seltzer will replace cheap beer after we have this.
A: We’re going to take this really seriously. Can No. 1: Bud Light Seltzer Apple Crisp. Ingredients: water, cold fermented cane sugar, natural flavors, cane sugar, citric acid, sodium citrate, malted rice.
Z: All right, let’s go in. It definitely smells like an apple crisp.
A: It smells like apple juice.
Z: There’s cinnamon.
J: There’s a little spice.
A: It smells like apple juice. So, I say, just drink cider.
Z: It’s all right. I find this one to be inoffensive. I don’t think I want to finish it. But, it’s drinkable.
A: It’s gross. This tastes like drinking a Yankee Candle.
Z: It’s like Joanna said a couple of episodes ago. They all taste like candles.
A: This one, though, is real Yankee Candle vibes. You know the one that’s burning in a nursing home as you come in and it’s trying to keep the smell of death out. This is what that tastes like.
Z: You’re leading strong here. OK, are we ready to move on to Toasted Marshmallow?
J: I feel like it would have been fine. There’s just that bitterness that’s really there.
Z: It’s that artificial flavor finish. You can’t dodge that.
A: I’m reading the ingredients of each one on purpose. This was 100 calories. You’ll notice that all three of the others have an ingredient in there that this one didn’t. Usually, why I hate a lot of these seltzers is because of this ingredient. It’s interesting that this doesn’t have it. The next one is Toasted Marshmallow. We’ll reveal the ingredient. This is water, cold- fermented cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid sodium citrate, malted rice, but also stevia leaf extract. They do that to keep the sugar high but the calories low. For whatever reason, when they came up with the lovely recipe for Apple Crisp, they didn’t need the stevia. It was already low in calories. Usually I hate it because it has that weird aspartame.
J: This smells like Rice Krispies Treats.
A: It does. It really does.
Z: Oh. I don’t particularly love marshmallows, which is why I didn’t think I would like this one. My fears have been confirmed.
J: We don’t hate it.
A: I have a bold thing to say.
Z: You like this?
A: It tastes weird.
J: Like a diet cream soda?
Z: The Rice Krispies Treat is an absolutely perfect call because it’s just toasted rice and marshmallow.
A: Dunkin’ Donuts French vanilla iced coffee.
J: Yes, you’re right.
A: It’s not for me, but it tastes like Dunkin’. I would not drink the whole thing, but it does taste like that.
J: I mean, America runs on Dunkin’.
A: OK, so now we have Maple Pear. Ingredients are water, cold-fermented cane sugar, natural flavors, malic acid, sodium citrate, citric acid, stevia leaf, malted rice, 100 calories.
Z: This has a different ingredient also. It has malic acid. It should make it taste more like pears.
J: It smells like shampoo.
Z: Maybe. I don’t know what your shampoo smells like. There’s a weird mushroom that kind of tastes like maple syrup. We used to do a weird infusion of those mushrooms into whiskey back in the day.
A: Pacific Northwest vibes. Not all of us are out ‘shrooming, Zach.
Z: Yeah, I guess not.
A: I’ve never heard of the maple mushroom. Are you on mushrooms right now?
Z: As far as I know, I am not.
J: There’s a celery aftertaste.
Z: Yeah, I get that.
A: Woody and celery.
Z: I actually kind of like this. I think I’m correct. We’ll see about Pumpkin Spice. Oh, sorry, Adam. The seltzer who shall not be named.
A: I don’t get the appeal of any of these besides marketing so far. I don’t know who would really love these.
J: You don’t think young people would love these?
A: Yeah, maybe at an ugly sweater party.
Z: I think you drink two of them and never buy it again.
A: Yeah. I think that’s the point. They got a ton of press around this. OK, Pumpkin Spice. Keith loves this flavor so much.
Z: I can’t wait. I’m so excited.
A: I hate this flavor. Ingredients are water, cold-fermented cane sugar, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium citrate, stevia, and malted rice.
Z: Hey, this one doesn’t have any artificial flavors in it. It’s got that going for it.
J: It smells like pumpkin loaf. Keith loves it.
Z: It smells like sweater weather. Oh, my God, this is amazing. I think I’m actually with Keith. I actually like this one more than I thought I would.
J: This tastes like eating a handful of pumpkin spice mix.
A: This is frickin’ gross.
Z: I’m with you, Keith. That’s actually the best one in the pack.
A: This tastes the most artificial. It has the most stevia. The spice is just not doing it. It literally tastes like you have a spice loaf and just liquefied it, then mixed it, watered it down, and added a bunch of just, Sweet’N Low, and then mixed it with seltzer. And you got this.
Z: Adam, you’re going to have the Bud Light people after you for figuring out their secret recipe.
A: I know. I don’t like this, man. I go back to Toasted Marshmallow.
Z: I might be team Pumpkin Spice, much to my surprise.
J: I think they all capture their flavor very well. I just don’t know that I want to drink a hard seltzer flavored like Toasted Marshmallow.
Z: That gets us back to the fundamental question of, do you actually want to drink any of these flavors in this format? No. Still better than Cacti, though. 100 percent better than Cacti.
A: Oh yeah, for sure. I agree.
Z: That’s still the worst thing we’ve tried.
A: In a ranking so far, I’d put Snoop Dogg, Twisted Tea, this abomination, and then Cacti. For those of you who have tried the Flannel Pack, let us know what you think. Go out and get it. You might surprise yourself at how much you hate it.
J: Or don’t.
A: Or don’t. It’s just not for me.
J: Not for me, either. Very much for Keith, though.
A: I’m going to sign off now. Sad…
Z: Hopefully you’ve got something else to drink.
J: Let’s go get a drink.
A: Bye, everybody. See you next week.
J: Bye guys.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.