Chinook, Columbus, Summit, Cascade. We all know where these hop varieties come from. You can picture now the sweeping acres of bines in the Yakima and Columbus valleys of Washington state in the USA.
Well, that’s what I thought, too, until I received three bottles of beer from the Four Lions Brewery, in Leon, Spain. Three IPAs, coming in at 6.5% ABV, hopped with, respectively, Chinook, Summit and Columbus which had been grown in Spain. They arrived in cans and were brought before the Beer Today tasting panel (convened on a Friday afternoon at Coastal Brewery’s Cornwall Specialist Beer shop in Redruth, Cornwall).
The beers certainly had their hop characters well defined. I thought they might have been the same beers, save for different hops, but each was a different colour with distinctive malt notes.
The Chinook was smooth, in great condition (as they all were) nice slightly caramel malt and a good hop bite. The Columbus had a little dankness in the background, but was more lemony and zesty, with a pine aroma and more lupulin from the hops. The Summit was peachy and orangey with bready malt. Hard to pick a favourite, but Summit was probably my highlight.
The Spanish Yard, which is now bringing the Spanish hops to the UK, explains that hops have, in fact, been grown in Spain for more than a century, even though we prefer to think of the country as a grape grower.
Some date the first harvest to 1904, but it was during the two world wars that hop production took off. As a neutral, Spain was able to supply beer-making countries involved in the conflict.
These days, Spanish hop growing is centred in Leon. Orbigo Valley, which provides the hops for the Four Lions beers, represents just 1% of the harvest, but is the only grower selling direct to brewers. Four Lions is an Orbigo Valley brand.
Working with Leon University, the company grows a range of varieties, such as Nugget, Magnum and Cascade. Production is small, but “absolutely concentrated in the same land so we can guarantee a homogeneous quality”.
As if the story didn’t interest me enough, Orbigo Valley’s Oscar Muñoz Martínez tells me that Cornish brewery Dynamite Valley, just down the road from Coastal, will soon be brewing with these hops. That will be interesting.
In a world where hop purchasing can be complicated and expensive, it’s good to see another region, which is clearly suitable to production, offer new options for brewers.