There is a tendency when a new hop variety becomes available commercially to present it to the drinker in its most extreme form; to express the characteristics of this particular hop flowers’ oils and acids as vividly as possible, so as to demonstrate its potency.
Case in point – when the latest variety, Talus (formerly known as HBC 692), became available, its distributor Yakima Chief Hops sent me a range of beers demonstrating its prowess. What followed was a battery assault to the senses in the form of a range of double dry-hopped double IPAs. SLAM, there’s some coconut. BAM, have a bit of lime. WHACK, take that lemongrass, you cur. OK, I now know what this hop is capable of, but getting there wasn’t the enjoyable, relaxing experience I seek from my favourite beers.
Another relatively new and exciting hop variety is Strata, (which before being named was designated as the Area 51-invoking X-331). Like Talus, Strata is a pretty intense and aromatic variety, but leaning closer to flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. Its characteristics land somewhere between the Mosaic and Simcoe varieties, and again as with Talus, breweries sought to present this at full volume, rather than choosing to showcase its balance and nuance.
Which brings me to today’s beer, because it does focus on the latter. If you follow me on social media or read my magazine, Pellicle, you’ll know I’ve been banging on about Macclesfield’s RedWillow Brewery a lot recently, and that’s because it is genuinely making some of the best beer in the country right now. The brewery celebrated its 10th anniversary at the end of 2020 by brewing a smoked chocolate and banana imperial stout, which – trust me – is far more delicious than it sounds (you can pick one up while it’s still available at HB&B). Typically though, the RedWillow folks are masters of balancing flavour, that their beers focus on the malt character as much as the hopping is what makes them stand out for me.
Weightless Strata is a riff on RedWillow’s best-selling core beer, which typically uses Mosaic, but this time substitutes that with, guess what, Strata. However, this is no DDH DIPA, it’s a 4.2% session IPA. A beer that slides down more effortlessly than an Olympic bobsleigh champion. The magic of this beer is not just its sessionability, but how defined and pronounced the hop character is, without needing to batter the senses into bloody oblivion.
Expect mango – like, a whole fruit cart of it. And then some more mango with a little grapefruit and raspberry vibing in the background. What makes this a real winner though is an ever-present touch of dry, biscuity malt character; the magic carpet to Strata’s Aladdin. If you want to know what all the fuss is about RedWillow, this is the perfect place to start.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like Redwillow's Weightless Strata every month (without fear of them selling out!) plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.