The story of Japance Off really began in a hop field in the Alsace region of France in 2014. I was lucky enough to be able to visit with some hop growers and distributors there on a trip to evaluate a hop called Aramis. The growers in the region were having a hard time. Weather and crops were ok, but the recent buyout of Anheuser Busch had meant that they lost most of their hop contracts for the major hop that they had been growing for centuries – Strisselspalt. The distributor was scrambling to sell alternate hops in different areas and Aramis was a hop that the brewery I was working with at the time had just signed a large contract for. The distributor wanted us to visit not only to form a relationship and evaluate Aramis, but to show the growers that there was interest in some of these new hop varieties and to instill confidence in them to keep growing hops. Our trip took us to several different farms where we got to see growing facilities that had been in operation for hundreds of years. One memorable farm included a trio of father, son, and grandfather working on a farm where the original barn structure had been built by hand with hammer and nail many generations ago.
We also visited with a well known hop cultivator, Peter Darby, who runs many experimental hop programs throughout Europe. The breeding program that he had started years before was essential now to the success of future hops in this region. One of the hops that he had bred there was Mistral. It had been around for 5 or 6 years at that time but only recently had become commercially available. The first thing I noticed when smelling Mistral was its amazing floral aromatic property. It was very unique, light, and refreshing.
Fast forward a couple of years and I received a visit in Denver from my friend Francis who runs the Cophoudal hop distribution company in France. Francis and I shared a couple of pints on the Denver Beer Co patio and he updated me on the latest news in French hops. Shortly after his visit I received some hop samples to play with and was very interested in the Mistral. I had always thought about that hop and wanted to design a light, easy drinking beer around it to feature it. The timing was perfect as I had just spoken to the head brewer of Altitude Chophouse in Laramie, WY about doing a collaboration brew. Jesse Brown, their head brewer, had a similar vision of creating a unique, refreshing, well attenuated and drinkable beer for our collaboration. I knew I had the perfect hop, we just needed to complete the rest of the build of the beer. When I mentioned to him that I had been brewing with sake yeast for a couple of years he was quite interested. We knew we could create a drinkable beer with unique flavors by combining the sake yeast with the right malts and correct hop dosing to create the balanced and drinkable product that we wanted. In the end we decided on blending the sake yeast with a French ale strain that finished very dry with moderate ester production. We wanted to have complimentary flavors from the yeast but balance with the delicate hop flavor and aroma. The first collab brew went off without issue and we were all blown away by the results. The beer went over very well and the response was great. After several more test batches and some minor tweaks to the original recipe, we had a great beer that was ready to can. The only last obstacle was to get enough Mistral to make the beer. As much success as Mistral has had in Europe, it hasn’t hit commercial availability in the US yet. So the final hurdle to getting Japance Off in cans was to import it!
I’ve been blown away with the versatility of Japance Off in food pairings. It goes really well with lighter foods such as fish and salads, especially when a citrus or fruity component exists. But I’m surprised by other foods such as sweets that it also goes well with. We recently paired it with some ginger molasses cookies and the spiciness of the ginger with the floral component of Japance Off was phenomenal.
My favorite aspect of Japance Off is the fact that the beer is very approachable, very drinkable, and uses a unique combination of brewing ingredients. It’s refreshing and dry with great flavor and can be enjoyed in many different settings. Cheers to dancing off with Japance Off!