Beer For Skiers: New Belgium’s The Hemperor HPA

The beer that's banned in Kansas because it's made with hemp.
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The Hemperor HPA from New Belgium Brewing

One fine looking beer with a unique smell.

You just caught last chair and now it’s your favorite time of day: après ski. You get to your cooler in the dusty ski area parking lot and crack open a brand new, super hoppy double imperial pale ale, and, being a smart beer drinker, pour that fancy ale into a glass (or stainless steel cup) to allow the aromas to expand properly before you taste it. As the exquisite, bubbly hop juice comes within inches of your nose, you can’t help but wonder if someone in the parking lot just lit a joint. Are there olfactory notes of marijuana in your beer, or is it some type of new hop flavor?

Well, unless the car next to you is blaring The Doobie Brothers and smoke is pouring out of the windows, it might be your beer. Hops and ganja are actually genetically related, and both plants produce aromatic compounds called terpenes. Brewers know this, and a new beer from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing blurs the lines between the two by using hemp.

“Let’s face it, brewers have been trying to get cannabis-like aromas from hops for years, but it’s always missing a certain something,” says New Belgium’s Research and Development Brewer, Ross Koenigs, in a press release. “The Hemperor HPA is possibly the first beer to deliver meaningful hemp flavors and aromas.”

By using hemp hearts, or the meat of the hemp seed with the shell removed, The Hemperor HPA stays on the right side of the American law that forbids the use of hemp flowers and leaves. Mixed with four types of hops and three malts, The Hemperor is a pale ale that smells like whacky tobacco, but contains no THC or CBD, the two ingredients of marijuana that make you feel funny.

Just past the strong aroma, however, we found that the beer tastes like sharp, heavy IPA, as would be expected considering the plentiful dry-hopped Simcoe and experimental HBC 522 hops. Once on the tongue, it's earthy, complex and robust, with just the slightest hints of licorice and skunk, er, hemp.

The Hemperor HPA bottle

A big bottle of beer.

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“This beer has been over two years in the making, most of the time spent learning and reacting to laws that really suppress this crop’s usage,” Koenigs said of the beer that is currently banned in Kansas. “Flavor-wise, this is the beer we wanted to make, but due to misinformed laws governing the use of industrial hemp, we had to take a creative and long-winding road to get to this point. We’re happy with where we landed, and we’ll be working to change federal regulation so that one day we can brew The Hemperor HPA with hemp flowers and leaves as we originally envisioned.”

Beyond the flavors and smell of this dank ale, New Belgium is working with Willie Nelson’s youngest son Micah and former Bernie Sander’s Deputy Campaign Manager Rania Batrice to help modernize and educate the American public about the benefits of using hemp. You can learn more about their efforts on the Hemp 4 Victory website.

The Hemperor HPA

Malts: Pale, White Wheat and Midnight Wheat
Hops: Nugget, Cascade, HBC 522 and Simcoe
Yeast: Ale
Color: Light golden
Aroma: Herbal cannabis in a big way
ABV: 7%
IBU: 55
Special ingredients: Hemp hearts and natural flavor

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