Good Beer Hunting

Boston Beer Updates Rebel with Exclusive, Proprietary Hop

Boston Beer Co. has reformulated its Sam Adams Rebel IPA to showcase a new proprietary—and exclusive—hop varietal the company developed in collaboration with a Yakima Valley hop breeder. In a blog post appearing on the company’s website Thursday morning, Boston head Jim Koch formally introduced HBC 566, a new aromatic hop varietal characterized by “unparalleled lemony-lime, orange and eucalyptus notes.”

“Our goal was to showcase the intricate aromas and flavors of hops, especially with new, experimental hop varieties,” writes Koch. “Rebel IPA now has a more intense juicy, tropical and citrus flavor supported by a leaner body and a crisp, clean finish to optimize the hop character.”

Rebel’s always felt like a bit of a black sheep in the Boston Beer portfolio, perhaps because the beer conformed to at-large industry trends rather than bucking them. As Boston Magazine wrote this time just two years ago, in a well-worth-your-time feature story

“When Koch talks about IPAs, including his own Rebel and the new Rebel Rouser, his energy level visibly flags. For a man possessed of such demonstrable passion for beer, it’s telling that he appears to view these beers as necessary evils. They are, in essence, a Hail Mary attempt to bounce back into the craft scene, where drinkers’ interest in his flagship Boston Lager is waning.”

This makes all the sense in the world. If you’re going to play ball with the so-called “necessary evils,” you might as well throw your considerable weight around and secure yourself an exclusive hop varietal. With regards to beer, that’s about as sure a way as there is to differentiate a product while simultaneously remaining faithful to the broader trend. Think: “It’s everything you love about an IPA, but with a hint of a little something you literally can’t get anywhere else!”

While it seems the company is promoting HBC 566 as the hub around which the new Rebel revolves, it’s actually one of three new hops in the beer’s bill. The updated recipe also calls for the addition of Mosaic hops and HBC 682, another experimental variety, though this one isn’t listed as exclusive to Sam. And for what it’s worth, original Rebel hops, including Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, and Chinook, are staying, too. “This is the first time we’ve significantly changed the recipe of a flagship beer,” Koch writes.

As for HBC 566, the company didn’t specify with whom it worked on development. But a review of its patent credits Jason Perrault, of hop breeding company Select Botanicals Group, and Eugene Probasco, now retired, but formerly of the hop supplier John I. Haas, as its inventors. Together, Select Botanicals and Haas run a joint venture, Hop Breeding Co., which is responsible for creating a number of now ubiquitous varietals, such as Citra, Mosaic, and Equinox.

Probasco retired in June, but was honored and recognized for his contributions to the industry at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference. Perrault, meanwhile, who helped develop Simcoe, is similarly exalted: Tony Magee of Lagunitas once called him “the most important person in U.S. craft brewing,” while Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River (which created the world renowned Pliny the Elder explicitly to make use of Simcoe) dubbed him a “hop whisperer.”

A Boston Beer spokesperson confirms GBH’s findings that Perrault and Probasco were involved in the collaboration, covertly dubbed “Project Lupulus.” As of press time, we’re still waiting on additional information regarding whether HB 566 will remain exclusive to Boston Beer or be made more widely available at any time, and how much acreage of the flower is under trellis. We’ll update accordingly.

—Dave Eisenberg