There it sits in the glass, a gleam of gold suggestive of the end of the rainbow, a snowy, alpine-like collar of foam on the top, inviting and enticing. In the slow tick-tock, lunchtime-shadowed confines of the pub, the Live and Let Live in Cambridge, where I once used to go when I lived in the city, the pint glass of Oakham Ales’ Citra is like a beacon of afternoon sunlight, a reflection of my upbeat mood, an anticipation of the glory to come.
The nose has a fruit salad of lychee and grapefruit, sensuous and joyful, while the first gulp (this is a beer you gulp rather than sip) is more fruit, alongside a bracing dryness and a gracious bitterness.
This is a beer I forgot and have now re-discovered; a beer that I have re-tuned into after several years of white noise (a lot of it enjoyable I hasten to add) permeating the wavelength of contemporary beer.
Citra was the first British beer to use this gracious hop, back in late-2009 when the head brewer John Bryan had encountered it on his annual visit to the hop-fields of the Yakima Valley. Now it’s the brewery’s bestseller, having overtaken JHB, and I’m sitting rediscovering it with John (now Brewing Director) in the Live and Let Live.
‘The story really goes back to 2002,’ he says in between sips of Green Devil, a 6% beer that has twice the hopping rate of Citra but is also rather inviting in its blossom of fruity hop and golden sheen, ‘which was the first year I convinced Paul Corbett at Charles Faram to organise a trip to go and look at hops in the US.
In 2009 Paul and I went out there and flew into Seattle before heading towards the Yakima Valley to see John I Haas, of the Barth-Haas Group, who are a major hop supplier. ‘We were told that there were some spare and I really rubbed it in my hands and it was the most exciting thing I had ever enjoyed in brewing up until then. I knew instantly that I wanted to brew with it and also wanted to be the first, so I had my hops flown back, while the others were shipped. I brewed it on November 20, 2009 and it was out on release the following month.
‘When it was delivered to the brewery it smelt even better than it had in the US. I was rubbing my face in it and taking bits of hessian hop sack off to wear. There were only 1,500kg in the UK and I got the whole whack. Throughout 2010 the hop supply was eked out and Citra brewed every other month and also always sold out quickly. So it became a regular in 2011.’
The advent of Citra 10 years ago happened during what seems these days such an innocent time. BrewDog were a small but noisy outfit; Jaipur was crushing all before it and black IPAs divided beer lovers. Citra’s emergence probably paved the way for what became called C-hops (Columbus, Centennial, Chinook and the retrospective addition of Cascade), taking a road, that for good or ill, would usher in today’s fruit juice beers and all manner of Sunny Delights.
On the other hand, beer should never stand still and brewers should continue to inculcate a sense of movement as frenetic as John Bryan in that November brewhouse a decade ago.