Back before Breaking Brews was an actual thing, I was nothing more than a fan of good craft beer. I had gravitated towards the hoppy styles and, to this day, dig the bitterness of an IPA. Sometimes, after a long day, there’s nothing better than getting washed away in a sea of hops to snap things back into perspective.
It was September 19th, 2013, that I found myself perched on a stool at The Beer Market in Pittsburgh’s North Shore, relaxing over a couple pregame brews before taking in a Pirates game that evening. As per usual when the Pirates take the field, The Beer Market was packed with a crowd of rabid baseball fans frequenting the establishment based on its proximity to PNC Park, as well as a large number of craft beer enthusiasts who love the diverse selection The Beer Market features.
If you’ve followed Breaking Brews for the near two-years it’s been around, you’ve probably heard me tell the story of the guy who wandered in on that fateful night, squeezed in right next to me at the bar, and made it his night’s work to give the bartenders hell because they didn’t have Miller Lite or Bud Light. Even as they made suggestions that would offer comparable taste and satisfaction, he was in utter disbelief that macro beers were banned from the premises.
Then, once settled on a Yeungling, he looked me dead in the eye and said “How does this place think it’s going to survive without Miller or Bud products?”
And from that statement, a beer blog was born. One to provide education. One to point people towards the destinations doing great things with craft beer. One to shine the spotlight on Pittsburgh’s booming beer scene. And one to celebrate craft beer in the most fun and laid back fashion possible!
I tell this story only to lead into the meat and potatoes of this feature: the beer I had in hand when the idea struck me that maybe, just maybe, a beer blog was the right move for me, was East End Brewing’s flagship: BigHop IPA.
BigHop has always been one of my local favorites. Long before so many new breweries rose to prominence, East End was producing a solid trendsetter in the IPA department. In fact, as you’ll learn in a couple seconds, BigHop has been recognized as Pittsburgh’s first IPA. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Instead of listening to me go on and on about BigHop, I decided to pose seven “big” questions to East End owner Scott Smith about BigHop, the first of many beers we’ll be featuring in this new monthly feature called Pittsburgh Beer of the Month. And while Scott gives you the skinny on BigHop, I’m going to crack open a can and enjoy. Hope you do the same!
In your own words, tell us what we need to know about Big Hop.
BigHop was the very first beer we brewed at EEBC, way back in 2004, when the “we” was just me. It was recently called “Pittsburgh’s first IPA”, which I never really thought about before…but I guess that’s also true.
Where did the inspiration for Big Hop come from?
The idea was to brew a beer with a significant (or BIG) hop character, but not so much that it burns out your palate… Hop-forward, but still repeatable. And at the modest end of the ABV scale (5.8%) – again, allowing for the possibility of having a few without getting hurt.
What characteristics should we know about Big Hop?
Next month will mark 11 years of brewing BigHop for us. It was our very first beer and is often the first beer people taste from us. It still continues to be our most popular beer overall. We brewed something like 35 different beers last year, and about 35-40% of that volume is BigHop.
I won’t say that we’ve changed the recipe much since that first year, but we have made some SIGNIFICANT process and quality improvements to it over the years, moving the profile toward more consistent, brighter, richer flavors that we’re really happy about. It’s all grown up now.
What particular flavor notes should people expect to discover in a Pint of Big Hop?
Cascade and Centennial hops set the tone in this beer, with a focus on late-boil hop additions for flavor and aroma (as opposed to hop bitterness). But a significant portion of the malt bill is Munich malt, which I personally think works really well with these hop varieties, and brings a lot to the beer. So you’ll get notes of citrus and pine from the hops, against a biscuity, bready character from the malts.
What foods pair well with Big Hop?
I’m a big fan of enjoying this beer with Indian cuisine. Aside from the obvious connection to the name of the beer style, I think it works well with the spicing…the food tastes spicier and the beer tastes hoppier when paired together. What more could you want?
Any fun, interesting, or crazy stories come from brewing Big Hop?
Scaling up the formula for that very first batch of BigHop was a little problematic. I didn’t account for the increase in hop utilization in a commercial setup, compared to a 10 gallon home-brewed batch. It turned out to be so over-the top, chew-up-an-aspirin bitter that it was absolutely undrinkable. To remedy the problem, I brewed a second batch with no bittering hop addition and blended the two together to strike the perfect balance…thankfully!
But now I had twice as much beer to sell to the bars – which offered some motivation to our sales force at the time…me.
Can we find BigHop at any craft beer destinations in Pittsburgh?
If you find any beer from us around town, chances are good that it’ll be BigHop. Or possibly one of the BigHop variations we’ve released over the years…BiggerHop (Double IPA), LittleHop (Session IPA), or even more likely at this time of year, BigHop HARVEST Ale (wet-hopped IPA).
You can also find BigHop in cans now, both at the Brewery and at our Growler Shop in the Strip. And some time early next year, when we’re 100% sure the shelf life and quality of the package are where we need them to be, we’ll be distributing BigHop cans around town to bars, restaurants, bottle shops, and beer distributors. So, keep an eye out for that!