Brewer Magazine Q&A: Zappa Hops

Zappa is a newer wild hop native to New Mexico. The neomexicanus varietal was named after musician Frank Zappa, in collaboration with the Zappa family. Used as an aroma hop, Zappa is starting to see some use in the industry both in whirlpool and dry hopping fruit-forward styles like hazy IPAs, fruited sours or mixed-fermentation beers.

Brian Confer, the co-owner and Head Brewer for Stormcloud Brewing Company in Frankfort, Michigan worked with the hop while Juice Drapeau, the Head Brewer for Oskar Blues brewed a​ Zappa​ beer in 2019 ​as a part of the brewery’s Steep Coast ​series​.

Confer had never used a neomexicanus hop variety before, so he said he wasn’t sure what set it apart from other hops that could be classified in a similar way

“It’s definitely different from hops like Citra — it’s more a​ggressive, more of a muscle car than a flower goddess,” he said.

Steep Coast Zappa was an 8% ​DIPA packed with Zappa, along with Sabro and Medusa for a hop load of nearly six pounds per barrel.

“There aren’t many hops that compare with Zappa,” Drapeau said. “It comes at you hard with aroma and flavors of mango, papaya, pineapple, orange, grapefruit, melon, and guava with hints of white pepper and mint.

“It’s an incredibly versatile hop which presents flavors across the hop spectrum.”

​Original Pattern has​​ used Zappa once and ​Head Brewer Andy Crocker and his team were ​’blown away​’​ by it​.

“It’s one of the most unique hops on the market at the moment​,” he said. “​We used it in a West Coast IPA called Zapped on Zappa. We are lucky enough to have a little more on hand, so we will most likely be doing another IPA with it soon as we were super happy with the results of the first one.​”​

BREWER: What styles of beers have you used Zappa in or can you tell us an interesting beer you have used it in?
CONFER: We’ve used it twice. We originally purchased some from Brian Tennis at Michigan Hop Alliance. We were looking for something interesting to dry hop a portion of a Foeder-aged Sour Saison. We used what was left to make a two-bbl batch of Imperial IPA on our pilot system, using Zappa for both bittering and a two-pound/bbl double dry hop. It’s pretty awesome in both beers, with a heavy phenolic-type aroma coming through in the Sour version and an aggressive bitterness in the IIPA. Also the aroma of the IIPA has gone through an impressive transformation over the couple of weeks since we brewed it, starting out heavily phenolic-like — almost a burned tire aroma, that’s transformed into a fruit-loop and hint of coconut aroma — but still with that phenolic aroma underneath. And when I say a “burned tire aroma”, I mean that in the best way possible.

BREWER: What sets Zappa apart from other similar hops?
CROCKER: ​It is very unique, even in comparison to the other neomexicana varieties on the market at the moment. The change in flavor profile throughout the maturation of the beer was like nothing we have seen, it really developed over the 1st week after it was packaged.

BREWER: Are there any technical challenges or tips you have for using Zappa for someone that hasn’t used it yet?
DRAPEAU: Our advice is that a little Zappa can go a long way. Since the hop is so intense, you can utilize it in smaller amounts to find the right groove for each beer. In large volumes, it can overpower other ingredients within your beer so a steady hand is recommended – just this once.
CROCKER: ​Don’t be shy, just go for it! Other brewers have said not to overuse it, we decided to do the opposite. Zapped on Zappa was not a single​-​hop beer, but it was very close. About 90% of the hop bill was Zappa and we dry hopped heavily to allow it to really shine.

BREWER: What flavors did you expect … and didn’t expect from Zappa? How did you use them to your advantage or have to alter the idea of the beer?
CONFER: Well, we certainly didn’t expect the burned tire aroma, it doesn’t smell like that at all in the bag, but the aroma transformed when it hit the boil. It’s been intriguing tasting this beer as it’s flavor has changed and evolved over several weeks.
CROCKER: ​We didn’t really know what to expect to be honest. We looked through all of the hop brokers sites which had very broad descriptions of what you will get from the hop. We found some of them to be what we experienced, a lot of resin, pine, dankness and tropical fruit, but about a week after packaging it, we started to get very strong flavors of coconut and wild grass coming through which added an even more complex layer of flavor to this very unique hop.
DRAPEAU: We expected the diverse tropical and citrus notes which are common in newer hop varieties but the intense fruitiness and subtle mint characteristics of Zappa took us by surprise – in the best way. We chose the running crew of hops within Steep Coast Zappa so these characteristics would stand out. Since Zappa is so diverse we were able to use other varieties as accents to pull out even more hop flavors and aromas like peach and apricot. We are no stranger to big IPAs and we knew we wanted to create a monster DIPA with Steep Coast Zappa.

BREWER: Do you have any ‘out of the box’ ideas for Zappa that you want to share?
DRAPEAU: It would be rad to see what crazy flavors would surface when using Zappa as a subtle dry hop for a mixed fermentation beer.
CONFER: If I can get my hands on more of it, I’d like to try a beer using a lighter hand with the hop, say a Mexican Lager. I’d like to see how a nominal amount of that hop comes through in an easy drinker.
CROCKER: ​I would personally love to brew a ​Lager with it. I think it would really allow the hop to shine and would be one of the most unique ​Lagers out on the market.

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