New Belgium The Hemperor HPA, Fort Collins, Colorado
Date: November 28, 2018
The Story— I’ll admit this from the start: I am no expert in marijuana. Somehow I missed bus of the 60s revolution in drugs (the one for the sexual revolution was pretty much on the other side of the street as well) and I’ve never really seen much need to fill that gap in my life. I have, however, attended a number of activities populated by people who were regular passengers on that bus and I’ve learned a bit from a nephew who has spent much of the last two years working on a very legal pot farm in California.
The dankest beer we have encountered was a beer brewed for the State Theater in Falls Church by the Mad Fox Brewery down the street. It was a “Smash” – single malt and single hop– that used exclusively Comet hops. We’ve run into a few Comet-heavy beers since and they’ve all had to varying degrees a very nice dankness.
So could a beer be danker than those dank doozies? We were eager to try the Hemperer to see what levels of authenticity people who presumably had far more experience than we did created from the inside of a hemp seed?
Disappointment ensued. Maybe it had to with expectations so high. My local pot experts also said the Comet hop had reached closer to a specific giant hop from my nephew’s farm in California.
However, just because it doesn’t taste like you’re favorite strain of cannabis doesn’t mean that it’s not a good beer. The hemp, we think, needs habituating much like the smoke in a good rauchbier or a great lambic (see our notes on habituation in our November 23, 2018 beer of the day.) We haven’t consumed an entire sixpack in a sitting to find out how much of an instant boost habituation could give it, but we have returned to it several times — and each time we’ve rated it higher. It’s risen to enough esteem for us that we’re going to get that additional sixpack and make a dinner of it (yah, OK, we’ll have some side dishes like steak and potatoes).
Perhaps the most telling point comes from Ross Koenigs, New Belgium’s Research and Development Brewer, as he is quoted as saying thing the brewery “is working to change state and federal regulations about hemp that would let them brew the beer “with hemp flowers and leaves as we originally envisioned.”
Our first tasting caught us by surprise. We expected the danky richness of a Comet Pale Ale, but got something much edgier. It featured a huge aroma – pine, fruit and skunk and well, yes,dank. But the malt was a sulfury toast and a the modest early bitter leaft it underwhelming. But keep drinking: once you get your head around the significant hemp, it’s more dank than anything else and not at all bad.
Our second tasting was more pleasant – and exceeded our memories of the first. There was so much hemp it could come across as skunk, but it’s not. Malt is smooth, toasted and evenly smooth. Fruity hops join the funky hemp and some sugars sneak in late. Surprisingly even as it drinks. Distinctive, for sure.
Value — Fair. Our biggest gripe about this beer was the price. We paid fifteen bucks for a six of it, which certainly isn’t beyond reason, and I have no doubt they’re not gouging us — who ever is scooping out the insides of those hemp seeds has to be paid and probably has to get long breaks as well (please – no letters). New Belgium is pretty big these days– they’re the fourth largest American brewery, but they’re still good people and I’m pretty sure we’re getting a product at a fair price. But we’ve had beers as deliciously dank for 30% less. In short – if you want the hemp, you’re going to have to pay for it; if you want dank, you have, at least for now, alternatives.
This week we focus on the US to highlight some great American craft beers, some of which we’ve found in researching out first US Beer publication: Brews and Snooze-– Breweries you can visit and walk back to a fine place to spend the night. Look for it in 2019.
Next week we return to HIGHLIGHTS OF EUROPE– Some of the great beers we’ve found in our European travels. A few may be some of the surprisingly good beer we’ve found in “bad beer cities” as we researched our next book – a guide to great beer in European tourist cities. (Planned publication 2019.) We’ll shift back to great American beer finds next week.
COMING IN DECEMBER: THE TEN BEST IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS. We count down to the New Year by thinking back of some of the greatest beers we’ve found in the last five years of hunting. These beers are in our top 0.2% of the beers we’ve tasted recently.