Cluster Hops

Ray Daniels is an asshat. There, I said it; now I have to back it up. Ray is the author of Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beers Styles. He is quite a well respected beer author, and knows a hell of a lot more about beer and brewing than I ever will. Then why do I say he has his head up his ass? Because of his attitude towards Cluster hops, which to me is rather snobbish. Here is how he describes this classic American hop:

Cluster: Once the dominant U.S. hop, it is believed to be the oldest American variety still grown. Probably derived from native American hops or perhaps a cross with European varieties brought by settlers. It has few attractive features. I have never used this hop and see no motivation for doing so!

Now here is how one respected brewing retailer describes Clsuter:

Cluster is classic American hop developed for US large breweries. It is a low to medium acid (5 to 8.5% AAU) hop that imparts a clean, neutral, somewhat floral bitterness. At higher alpha levels, Cluster is appropriate for use in bittering and, at all levels, is good for aroma and finish. Cluster can be used in a wide range of beers.

And here is how another describes it:

Cluster is the oldest variety grown in the U.S. Origin of the rootstock is uncertain. Until the late 1970s, it was one of only a few varieties growing in the U.S. Excellent general purpose hop with medium and well-balanced bittering potential. This hop leaves no undesirable aroma properties. Good for dark beers with roasty and chocolaty aromas. Alpha acids content is 5.5-8.5%, aroma is a strong floral. It has Bittering with good flavor. Storage stability of the alpha acids is among the best in the world. The variety grows with good vigor and cone production.

I don’t know about you, but to me the latter two descriptions are somewhat more flattering than Ray’s. Especially the last one. Shepody fans will remember that about a year ago we put out a cream ale that got rave reviews from our loyal customers. And that beer used 100% Cluster hops. I am disappointed that what was once the standard hop for american ales and lagers is now looked upon with disdain, considered out of fashion, perhaps in favour of high alpha varieties such as Cascade.

In my opinion, too many people think that all American styles ales need to have Cascade-style citrus characteristics. And this one doesn’t. It used to be a very widely used hop, making up something like 50% of the annual American hop harvest. Now it’s seen as old-fashioned and has pretty much fallen out of favor. I think that’s too bad, as it is a very nice variety. It is versatile, as it is the signature hop of Classic American Cream Ales (CACA) and Classic American Pilseners (CAP). I’ve used it for bittering, flavor and aroma with great results.

So Ray Daniels admits he’s never used Cluster hops, then disparages them by saying he sees no use for them. How close-minded is that?

About Mike

I'm the head brewmaster at Shepody Brewery. I'm the one who chooses the recipes, orders supplies, does all the grunt work, and drinks most of the product.
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One Response to Cluster Hops

  1. I agree with the attached comments. Cluster work great. I am originally from Europe and love the highly Hopped citrusy American Ales and they are somewhat originally authentically american in my Humble opinion..but why stereotype such a large country which has such different climates i.e different suitable to different local hops.. As a foreigner i suspect it may come from the ‘American More is Better philosopy’ Highly hopped strong alchol beers. In Europe most beers are 3 or 4 % where in America it is 5 or 6..My fellow expats always complain about this..Too much alchol just gets in the way off the flavor..I love your site..very thorough..post more please…
    In my opinion, too many people think that all American styles ales need to have Cascade-style citrus characteristics. And this one doesn’t. It used to be a very widely used hop, making up something like 50% of the annual American hop harvest. Now it’s seen as old-fashioned and has pretty much fallen out of favor. I think that’s too bad, as it is a very nice variety. It is versatile, as it is the signature hop of Classic American Cream Ales (CACA) and Classic American Pilseners (CAP). I’ve used it for bittering, flavor and aroma with great results.

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