I've mentioned before on this blog, that I have a mixed relationship with our local, independent regional brewery, Distelhäuser. For as long as I have been visiting Germany, whenever there was a family gathering or other party, the beer shopping instruction was usually not to buy Distelhäuser Pils. At our local, people say don't try the Pils, but the Export is drinkable. High praise indeed. In fact, I do drink the Export when at the Stammtisch, but then the only other choices are Bitburger and Paulaner.
However, I fear I am at risk of becoming a Distel fan boy, at least since Spring 2014, when they were showing a stout, a porter and an IPA at Braukunst Live! For the best part of a year, I hadn't seen these beers again, but in the meantime I had begun buying Distel Blonde, a dry-hopped top-fermented golden affair that is now a permanent fixture in my beer cellar, and Spezial, an amber beer supposedly harking back to an old-fashioned recipe, but more on them another time.
So, having thought those three beers were more or less specials done for a beer festival, imagine my surprise earlier this year, when a friend sent me a photo asking "have you tried these beers?", picturing Lucky Hop IPA, Black Pearl Porter and Loch Ness Stout. And he'd bought from a large drinks market only 20km away! Well... what could I do? I went to our local and ordered a crate of each. A crate being the smallest unit of transaction that she'll do for out of the ordinary beers. A week later, two crates of Lucky Hop arrived (the other two were no longer available), and I was the talk of the village. As the crates sat in the drinks markt, waiting for me, people asked what they were, and were told the price. Just over €40 for a crate. I reckoned they thought I was either rich or stupid, or most likely both. I admit, I was a bit shocked, but felt I had to take both (in two installments). But at c. €1.80 a bottle, in hindsight, it wasn't so bad. It's just that people don't normally buy 48 bottles of this kind of stuff in one go!
So, I've had quite some time to consider Lucky Hop IPA from Distelhäuser. I even started sharing it, experimenting on neighbours, as is my wont. And then I met Jonas at Artbrau in Heilbornn last April. Jonas is a friend of a friend, lives nearby (said we met before at a Schlachtfest), and works at Distelhäuser. He told me to look out for a new, improved version of Lucky Hop coming soon. I was thinking, what the hell am I doing with a full crate of the old one!
Fast forward to early June. I'm working in the cellar, and this bloke appears at the cellar door, with bottles of beer in his hands. I welcome him in, but it's 10 seconds before I recognise him as Jonas! Well, of course I'd welcome in anyone standing at the door bearing beer! And what did he bring? The new Lucky Hop, now brewed on the main brewkit in Distelhäuser.
Lucky Hop, both the old and new version, is 7.7% ABV with 77 IBUs. Lucky number 7, I guess. But it "only" uses 5 hop varieties, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, First Gold and Simcoe, with Pilsner, Munich and Caramel malts. Full marks for listing detailed ingredients. Though I was tempted to do a blind tasting, I opted to just got for a side-by-side comparison, and boy, that really did show differences.
The old Lucky Hop (of which I still have half a crate) is pretty straightforward on the aroma stakes. Classic US-influences worn on its sleeve, with a healthy dose of grapefruit and bitter orange on the nose. It's got a decent enough malty backbone, reminiscent of barley sugar, or perhaps orange barley, now that I think of it, but with a rather interesting tobacco - cedar wood undertone. The finish is uncompromisingly bitter, focussed on that orange pith effect, and long lasting indeed. But it has a rough, twiggy note, that began to grate after the first 20 bottles.
The new Lucky Hop is a tad less hazy than the old version, but with a less impressive head. The aroma is considerably fruitier than the old. It still has the same orangey foundation, but backed with sweeter elements, suggesting tropical fruits and soft caramel. The body is rounder, smoother. It's still got the orange barley thing going on, but with mango sorbet added on top. The overall effect is somehow more refined, and though the rough edges of the former version may have accentuated the bitterness while drinking, this one also maintains a long-lasting finish, with the pithy, gum drying back-end one might expect, but without the twiggy catch at the back of the throat.
Quite a decent effort, and although I really quite enjoyed the original Lucky Hop, twigs and all, this puts me more in mind of some of the classic US IPAs I had when first discovering them in what feels like a lifetime ago, which is no bad thing in my book. Now if only they would produce more stout and porter!