Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Pale Ale
Bottled On: 7.18.2013
Appearance: amber gold, ample head, good retention, hazy
Smell: strawberry, melon, tangerine, faint English / pear esters
Taste: strawberry, blackberry, tangy citrus, melon, orange creamsicle, balanced bitterness / sweetness
Mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium bodied, creamy, dry finish
I've brewed a lot of single hop IPAs over the last year — in fact, far more than I've brewed "normal" IPAs with a standard blend of American C-hops. It's generally assumed that single hop beers won't achieve the complexity of a well-balanced hop blend, so you may be wondering: why bother? Well, I feel the best way to approach those careful, balance hop blends is to understand each component on its own. And new hop varieties may not have the most helpful or accurate descriptions simply because so few people have brewed with them... plus, taste is a bit subjective.
Pacific Gem isn't actually very new, but it never seems to have gained the following of other Southern Hemisphere hops. Which I always felt was a little strange, because the descriptions of this one make it sound quite unique from hops from any part of the world. Per my Hop Variety Guide, Pacific Gem is described most frequently as having an "oaken woody character, with a blackberry aroma." That just sounds strange and new and intriguing, doesn't it? I could think of all sorts of uses for a hop with an actual oaky character, paired with some rich blackberry notes. I first tried Pacific Gem in a black IPA earlier this year, paired with similar-sounding hops like Brewer's Gold. The beer came out great, intensely drinkable and creamy, but my chief complaint for the batch was the dulled, indistinct hop character. I suspected that the hops I had selected — being mostly forgotten and/or unpopular varieties — were perhaps not very aggressive in character, with flavors that would simply seem muted in an American IPA. But rather than abandon the idea, I decided I should get a better feel for these poor neglected hops on their own.
Pacific Gem is a New Zealand variety, and New Zealand hops tend to be tropical fruit bombs. And this is a fruity hop, yes — though maybe minus the "bomb" part. Upon opening my first about a week and a half after bottling, I was shocked how similar this tasted to last year's Belma single hop IPA. Not as good, but that batch had the advantage of Conan yeast behind it, and the English yeast in this one make their presence known with a mild background of general English esters.
Over the first couple weeks, the hop character has morphed quite a bit, losing some of those distinct "strawberry" aromatics that my Belma IPA had in spades. From one character shift to the other, I would describe Pacific Gem's primary character as an indistinct "berry medley" of sorts, with strawberry and blackberry there, but sort of hard to pick out precisely. There's a bit of citrus, a tangy quality that's similar to the tart berry character I get from Nelson Sauvin hops, and another flavor I'd describe as orange / melon 'creamsicle', as it's more of a sweet, candy-like version of those fruit notes.
All these of course blend together and make for a hop that is rather difficult to write about meaningfully. That I can pick out all these fruit notes (from time to time, sometimes bottle to bottle) by no means implies that Pacific Gem is bursting with them — it is probably the vaguest hop I've brewed with in a while. Again, the flavors are all super nice and pleasant and I enjoy them — but they're muted and indistinct compared to my favorite varieties. Would I use Pacific Gem again? Yes, but carefully. For starters, the price would have to be right — a hop variety can be made or broken by the price per ounce and scarcity. In an IPA, most of the popular hop varieties would absolutely bury this. It might add an interesting, subtle character if used in the right proportions, though, particularly if you wanted a less-aggressive IPA in the first place. A summery light-but-well-hopped pale wheat ale would be a nice fit for Pacific Gem. Due to the fairly soft bitterness (despite its high Alpha Acids), Pacific Gem should also be nice in a stout, porter or brown ale, where you could grab the IBUs needed with a small early addition, then add some extra in late for a subtle touch of unique hop character without stealing the show.
A few other notes: as I had just retired my stock of Conan yeast (it was approaching a year since I harvested it), I decided to try out an entirely new strain with this batch. There's a new dry yeast company on the scene: Mangrove Jack, appropriately also from New Zealand. Hopefully someday there will be a "New Zealand Ale yeast" native and sold from that wonderful country, but for now, Mangrove Jack has a promising line of dry yeast emulating popular strains from around the world. As I've never quite managed to find an English strain that really wows me, I decided to give their Burton Union yeast a go. It performed pretty much as one could hope, with some faint esters clouding the early bottles, but cleaning up pretty fast after that. No complaints there, and I'll be using the yeast again for some darker beers this fall.
4.25 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 150 F for 65 minutes
Boiled for 60 minutes
Fermented at 66 degrees F
80% 2-row malt
6.7% Golden Naked Oats
0.5 oz Pacific Gem @FWH
0.5 oz Pacific Gem @5 min
2 oz Pacific Gem hop stand for 30 min
1.5 oz Pacific Gem dry hop for 8 days
1.5 oz Pacific Gem dry hop for 5 days
Mangrove Jack - Burton Union Dry English Ale Yeast