Beer Sherpa Recommends: pFriem Cryo Pale Ale

One of the more interesting developments in recent memory is a product category called lupulin powder, where the oils and resins from hops are removed from the leaf matter. It's being marketed by YCH Hops as "Cryo," and a number of breweries have been experimenting with it over the past few months. Patrick and I also gave it a whirl in a homebrew. So far, I'd describe the verdict as mixed: brewers have been cautiously optimistic that powder would give them more intense flavors and aromas, but worry that they may also be more evanescent. My own skepticism arises from a philosophical question: in many cases, it's seems like we've already reached a point of terminal hop saturation; is it possible to go above 100%?

Here's a data point for Oregonians to consider: pFriem's new Cryo Pale Ale. It is a wonderful, unusual beer, and it suggests the potential of hop powder without settling the matter. Let's begin with the unusual. The chassis is pFriem's base pale ale, which is a 6.3% beer--actually closer to IPA strength than a classic pale. It has a nice neutral sweetness that accentuates and balances hop flavors. I suspect the brewers have discovered this is an ideal base for hop expression--strong enough to balance a hoppy hurricane, but light enough to allow those hops to express themselves fully.

The second unusual dimension is how different the aroma and flavors turned out to be. Thiol-heavy dankness dominates the nose. Thiols, recall, are those sulfur compounds in hops responsible for savory aromas and flavors like onion, chive, and cannabis stickiness. If you continue to snuffle the fumes rising from that snowy head, you do find a sweet tangerine note trying speak, but it's subtle. Learning that Mosaic and Citra were the two powdered hops used, I understood from where those thiols came: Mosaic, my old frenemy. But then, miraculously, as the liquid enters the mouth, those aromas transform into something far fruitier and less savory. The caraway seed is there, but minimally. Now the tangerine is doing the shouting. 

The most interesting thing is a kind of creaminess in the beer that really enhances the juicy effect. (Cryo Pale is a proper Northwest hoppy ale and as such has a nice spine of bitterness; the juiciness is accentuated by it rather than turning fully OJ as in many newer juice-bomb IPAs.) There's a particular unfermentable sugar in pears called sorbitol that gives perry (cider made from pears) a creamy mouthfeel, softer and lighter than lactose. The character in Cryo Pale is akin to sorbitol. I asked Josh pFriem about this and he didn't have any ideas, but when I sampled the single-hop Loral pale, which uses the same base, this quality was absent. Curious.

So what's going on? Perhaps Stan Hieronymus would have a clue about the advanced chemistry here, but I suspect there's something going on with all that resin and oil that bonds with malts and, err ... something. It is pronounced, though, and is what makes this beer truly spectacular. The synesthesia-like effect of having the mismatched aromas and flavors were interesting, but in absolute hop character, I can't say that this was any more intense or saturated than other superb hoppy beers I've tried. But the way everything came together, the marriage of those hops and the creamy mouthfeel, was unusual. Definitely something to watch and study.

For those of you who live in Oregon, this is your homework: go try the beer. See if you can detect what I'm talking about, or anything that particularly identifies this hop powder thing. I believe the only way we're going to figure it out is through long, arduous study sessions. Time to get to work.

GOOD PHOTOS: PFRIEM FAMILY BREWERS. (I took that crappy one at the top.)