Yesterday, Beverage Daily reported that Heineken is revamping Heineken Light in response to slumping sales in the first quarter of 2013. This type of thing happens all of the time in the macrobrewing world, and it’s usually addressed with branding tweaks and a shift in marketing tactics. Heineken is doing all that (wait for the glitzy packaging and a rollout in New York, Vegas, and Miami), but what’s more unexpected is an actual change to the recipe, which will now include Cascade hops—a staple ingredient of the American craft-brew scene, but one that’s rarely seen in mass-market lagers.
Craft-beer preservationists will surely read this move as yet another example of ‘crafty’ tactics by Big Beer powerhouses, who have been widely accused of coopting craft beer trends and passing them off as their own—see Blue Moon’s aggressive positioning in the wheat beer market, and Budweiser’s Black Crown, which matches the higher ABV of popular small-batch beers.
But beer politics aside, it’s interesting that a brand as massive as Heineken would even consider adding more hops to a light beer—particularly ones that pack as much of a punch as Cascade. Clearly, the American palate has evolved since the heyday of generic, watered-down lagers.
Whether you see Heineken’s new formula as predatory or simply a natural evolution is up to you. For now, let’s focus on the taste and get more familiar with Cascade hops.
Cascade: A Brief History
The Oxford Companion to Beer describes Cascade as “a US-bred aroma hop that is particularly popular with the craft brewing industry in the United States. While it remains popular, it was once so prevalent that it virtually defined the flavor of American microbrewed beer. It was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hop breeding progrm in Corvallis, Oregon, and released in 1971.” Today, it is the “top U.S. hop in production for US craft brewers the past five growing seasons,” according to CraftBeer.com.
What do Cascade hops do to my beer?
Cascade hops add moderate bitterness to beer, as well as floral and citrusy characteristics. If a beer reminds you of grapefruit, it’s likely got some Cascade hops in it.
Three beers to try
Cascades hops are often found in West Coast IPAs, though they’re used widely throuhgout the craft beer world. Here are a few ales that’ll give you a taste of what they’re all about.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Though it’s not hopped 100% with Cascade, it’s the brew most beer lovers think of when think Cascade—a perfectly balanced pale ale, with subtle floral notes.
Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale. Brewed as an homage to Paul Revere, Liberty is a liquid time capsule of early American IPAs, which were dominated by Cascade.
Deschutes Mirror Pond. A quintessential West Coast pale ale, hopped exclusively with Cascade for notes of orange and pine, plus a big, citrusy aroma.