A few meaningful details about Marquee Moon, the latest entry in Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.’s Dirty Hop Water series, immediately stand out at first glance. One, the brewers dig the NYC rock legends Television—specifically their genre-defining debut album Marquee Moon. Two, they have a sense of humor: the beer clocks in at a hairy 10.4 percent ABV, which is just a tick higher than the 10:38 duration of the Television song “Marquee Moon.” Three, and most importantly, it’s clear that the Arizona Wilderness team loves experimenting with hops outside of the main hop varieties brewers use. In particular in this case, the new McKenzie hop variety.
For the last few years, give or take, Arizona Wilderness has used the Dirty Hop Water series as a canvas for trying out new hop combinations and varieties. IPA detractors and apostates excepted, it’s not hard to love an easy-drinking Citra IPA. But even half-seasoned brewers can knock out an easy-drinking Citra IPA in their sleep. To make things more interesting, brewers need to change up the formula. Dirty Hop Water is the catalyst that Arizona Wilderness uses to introduce newness.
“Everytime I think I must be getting close to having used every hop imaginable, I find a few that I’ve never heard of and get excited all over again,” head brewer Ashley Benson tells me in an email exchange. New hops don’t pop up on the market every day, though, so discovery takes effort. It means working with hop suppliers and staying on top of news from the hop grower world, waiting for word of what’s next. “If I see anything that pops up that looks like a good fit, I buy it immediately for a future batch,” Benson says.
This is like gambling, to an extent. When you don’t know a hop’s tasting notes, and how those notes play with others, you’re rolling the dice. Benson readily admits that not all hops and hop combinations work out as planned, noting occasions where sensory notes clanged against the finished beer.
“We’ve had some duds that we won’t be using again for a while here and there,” she admits. “For the most part however, we tend to enjoy the process and the outcome and it gives the customer something really interesting to try each time they come in.”
The Arizona Wilderness patron base welcomes the brewery’s experiments with spotlighting new hop varieties.
“Our customers know what to expect and tend to get excited about the chance to try something new,” Benson notes. “Even though no one is ever quite sure what the outcome will be.”
With Marquee Moon, the outcome of the hop experiment is interstellar. Triple IPA is a notoriously difficult substyle to balance, especially as opposed to making a regular-strength IPA, which is all about following a process. Stick to the recipe to the letter, and boom, you’ll have a Mosaic-hopped IPA just like the two, three, 50 you see on shelves at your local beer cellar. What separates good IPAs from workaday IPAs is a mastery of the standard process combined with the instincts of a chef and chemist. The same is true when you bump up the style to triple, but with the added challenge of stopping the malt side of the brew from smothering the hop side. Triple IPAs demand more thoughtfulness from brewers, in addition to more ingredients—more malt, more yeast, and especially more hops. Which for an entry in the Dirty Hop Water series means a whole lot of new (and relatively new) hop varieties that many drinkers haven’t even had in a more subtle beer.
Technically, Arizona Wilderness started Marquee Moon with a 1970s punk reference. The base of the beer starts with a grist bill of Sonora white wheat (for a foamy touch) and rolled oats (for hazy density). If you’re a prankster, empty out an orange juice carton and replace the drink with this beer to see if your friends notice the difference before the first sip. That’s what happens when you make smart grain choices.
The hop bill comprises Citra, king of kings in hoppy beer, Belma, and McKenzie. The effect of the hop choices might actually keep anyone from figuring out the swap until they start buzzing. Marquee Moon’s hop blend goes hard on fruit, a trait common in most hazed-up IPAs, but the natural excess of the triple style breeds especially intense citrus and fragaria aromas and flavors.
Where the beer makes a compelling argument for itself is in the use of the McKenzie hop, the new kid in class, grown by Oregon’s West Coast Hop Breeding Company and named for the McKenzie River. Belma may sound unfamiliar to a chunk of craft beer aficionados, but that’s been on the market for years now. The McKenzie hop piqued Benson’s interest in part because it’s “the first variety to be released by the West Coast Hop Breeding Company and was specifically bred to highlight Oregon’s terroir.” Newness is wonderful, but newness homegrown on McKenzie’s level sparks a whole other level of excitement. Again: Brand new hops don’t happen every day.
The McKenzie hop’s character is, of course, the bigger draw, giving Arizona Wilderness the chance to stay simpatico with their established flavor profiles while exploring new ones. “On the aroma side, the fruity notes of grapefruit, lemon, nectarine, and melon is always a welcome addition to our hazy DHW series,” Benson says. “But I was also interested in how the pine, resin, and wood would play out. So I paired it with Citra to pull out more of those citrus notes, and then offset with the sweet fruit of Belma.”
Hops like Simcoe, Columbus, El Dorado, and Nugget are front of mind when talking about pine, which expresses nicely as a background note in Marquee Moon—a necessary check on the hefty lemon, melon, and strawberry qualities imparted by the Citra and Belma.
There’s a pepperiness too, black pepper, nothing that registers on the Scoville scale but instead adds a lively bite as a secondary counteraction on Marquee Moon’s fruitiness; it’s subtle, and you may have to go looking for it yourself. But the lingering possibility of a pop of spice is one more detail among many shaping Marquee Moon’s complexity. If all triple IPAs were this good, more people would gravitate toward them than their lower ABV siblings. Then again, if all triple IPAs were this good, we’d all need a DD with us on every trip to the local brewery.