Personal preference for hop variety seems to come and go like preference for beer style. It’s probably a combination of things, the number of single hop beers that brewers are making these days, access to hops in their raw state for home brewing, picking out a flavour in beer that’s easily attributable to a specific hop and developing a taste for it.
Well, I’ve got this thing for Columbus hops at the moment. It started with some pellets I got hold of for home brewing, then I started to pick the same flavour out in big American IPAs and more recently I’ve enjoyed both The Kernel Columbus Pale Ale and Columbus IPA.
The Columbus variety was created by Charles Zimmerman in the USA, it was released for commercial use in the early nineties and, whilst the exact lineage remains unknown, it is believed that the Brewers Gold variety is the main component in its breeding line. Tomahawk is a proprietary hop variety owned by Yakima Chief Inc, widely accepted as being identical to Columbus, it differs in name only. And then there’s Zeus, similar to Columbus or the same thing again? Who knows for sure, it tends to have a slightly higher alpha acid content and better yield, but popular opinion is that the two are similar enough to call the same. Next time you see a hop listed as ‘CTZ’, you’ll understand why.
At percentages in the teens, Columbus hops have a massive alpha acid content, making them an obvious choice for bittering any style of beer. More recently however they are being used as aroma and dry hops in American IPAs and pale ales. They lend a clean, sharp bitterness to beer, a bitterness that fills the back of the mouth and builds after the swallow. When used for flavour and aroma they really stand out from the crowd; if bright, citrusy c-hops are the Rebel Alliance then Columbus hops are the Galactic Empire. Dark, muddy and dank; they add flavours and aromas that could be described as: wet leaves, undergrowth, bark, vegetal, herbal, woody and even Cannabis.
I’m a fan, at least for now. Look out for The Kernel Columbus Pale Ale and IPA if you’re interested in tasting a great showcase for the Columbus hop. Alternatively, Otley Columb-O is very good too.