In 2017, you’d be hard-pressed to find a brewery that isn’t producing at least some hop-forward beers. But Portland, OR-based Breakside Brewery has just taken that a step further, opening a brewpub specifically designed to highlight their favorite ingredient.
Breakside’s Slabtown brewpub, located at 1570 NW 22nd Ave., has been deemed the “Hop Lab” for a reason — every inch of the custom designed, 10-barrel system was put there with a specific goal in mind: to produce the best versions of America’s wide array of regional IPAs, while adding their own spin.
“In the quest to discover the next Citra, Mosaic, or Simcoe,” the company writes of the relatively new varietals which form the flavor profile of some of the most popular IPAs, “hop breeders have grown and developed numerous other varietals, many of which are wonderful hops but not great for American IPAs.” It’s these “non IPA” hops the lab intends to focus on in an effort to broaden the American understanding of what hoppy beers can look, smell, and taste like.
Instead of bickering over which region produces the best IPAs, the Hop Lab will brew them all, as part of their “Seeker” series:
- The golden, resinous, strong IPAs of Southern California typified by friends at Pizza Port, Bagby, Beachwood, Noble Ale Works, and Ballast Point.
- The soft, hazy and estery IPAs of New England in the vein of Hill Farmstead, Nightshift, and Trillium.
- The piney and citric IPAs of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California made timeless by Firestone Walker, Russian River, and Barley Brown’s.
- The over-the-top, weighty IPAs of the Midwest inspired by Fat Heads, Columbus Brewing, Brew Kettle, Three Floyds and Surly.
- The rich and saturating IPAs of the Mountain West, a vein that runs from Melvin in Jackson WY south through Denver to Albuquerque, home of Bosque, La Cumbre, and Canteen.
- The fruity and oily IPAs from the Southern Hemisphere.
Brewmaster Ben Edmunds filled me in a bit on what a brewery designed for “optimizing hop flavor and aroma” actually looks like. And as expected, it got a bit technical, but here’s the gist.
The Hop Lab gives its brewers ultimate control over things like temperature of the boil during a critical phases of the process, “so that we can retain more aromatics and flavor…without picking up as much bitterness as we normally would,” Edmunds said.
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The brewery is a complete custom job, with enough tech to allow brewers to control temperature at every point in the brewing process, a major factor for how hops interact with the beer, and limit oxidation, which destroys delicate beer. Everything is designed to increase the contact between hops and beer — with long narrow fermenters (which maximize hop/wort exposure) dominating the room and a full hopback, a sealed chamber filled with full-leaf hops that adds aromatics normally lost in the boil, capable of being operated by just one person, another newer brewing innovation.
All this adds up to an opening lineup of beers that is as diverse as it is enticing. From a New England-style IPA featuring Mosaic and Citra hops to a summer ale with Lemondrop hops, a tropical gose with lychee fruit to a hazy coconut beer brewed with a Vermont-style yeast, the Hop Lab is open for business and determined to change that way Americans think of — and drink — IPAs.