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Two bottles of hop terpenes extracted from different varieties of hops at the Oast House Oils facility in Lafayette. The liquid terpenes are added at the end of the brewing process and contribute to a beer's aroma. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Aroma gushes from beer can. A pop of citrus. The dankness of pine. And even a hint of pineapple. 

The bouquet packed in Telluride Brewing’s rotating Colorado-style IPA series showcases how hops — those leafy cones depicted in so many brewery logos — can add an aromatic punch to beer. But the beer also represents what brewmaster Chris Fish calls a potential “revolution in brewing.” 

The innovation comes in how the azacca hops are added to the beer, called Galloping Juice. Instead of the typical addition of cones or pellets at the end of the process, Telluride is just using hop terpenes.

Terpenes are the aromatic and flavor compounds found in all plants, and when extracted from hops and put into liquid form, they contribute a huge burst to the taste of the beer. Telluride is one of the first brewers using them to replace traditional dry-hopping.

The new approach is part of broader experimentation by the brewing industry with hops — one of the four basic ingredients in beer and the star of IPAs, the top selling craft beer style in America.

Jaimie Rogan, a chemist at Isolate Labs, analyzes hop terpenes produced by sister company Oast House Oils at their shared facility in Lafayette. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Other Colorado brewers, like Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette, have tested lupulin powder and Cryo Hops, which are frozen with liquid nitrogen. Odell Brewing uses a unique “grind process” for hops in its Rupture IPA that releases oils that flavor the beer.

“For some traditional brewers, we do feel like we are cheating the system using some of these products,” said Nicole Reiman, the Odd13 head brewer. But she added, “the end product is just as high quality.”

No more bitterness, hops are all about flavor and aroma now

All the new hop forms share the same goal: emphasize the fruit-forward aromas and flavors without the bitterness that once came to define IPAs. This is what led Telluride Brewing toward terpenes for aroma.

“We are just getting started with these things,” Fish said, but so far, “these are some of the most flavorful and juicy beers we’ve ever gotten our hands on.”

The terpenes are produced at Oast House Oils in Lafayette. The company, a division of Isolate Labs, is one of the first — if not the only — in the nation to extract the aromatic goodness from hops. 

“When we approached this project,” Rob Kevwitch, the company’s director of research and development, said, the question was “how do we maximize the usage of the most overused raw material in the brewing industry.”

“Hops are abused, especially by craft brewers,” added Kevwitch, who holds a doctorate in organic chemistry and helped launch Grist Brewing in Highlands Ranch. “It seems like the answer to craft beer is to always use more hops. And maybe that’s not the answer. Maybe the answer is we should use them more efficiently.”

A Willy Wonka conversion to produce the hop terpenes

To produce the terpenes, Oast House packs liters of hop pellets — which are compressed whole cone hops — into an extractor. 

Rob Kevwitch, the research director at Oast House Oils in Lafayette, demonstrates a machine that extracts terpenes from hop pellets. The terpenes are added to beer in liquid form and contribute an aromatic burst. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Then supercritical carbon dioxide — when the gas becomes a fluid at a certain temperature and pressure– pulls out the terpene compounds and its collected in a liquid.

The machine, built by sister company Isolate Extraction Systems, is a series of compact chambers and tubes that looks like a miniature Willy Wonka’s factory for hops and produces a magical oil that smells better than a buffet of fresh tropical fruit and flowers.

Near the end of the brewing process, Telluride Brewing adds a few milliliters of terpene oil per barrel of Galloping Juice IPA, instead of hop pellets, and gets the same aromatics into its cans. “We barely dry-hopped that beer, but it’s just insane the flavor and aroma we are getting out of these terpenes,” said Fish, the brewery co-owner.

With a small dry-hop addition, the beer is clearer. There’s also more of it because the hop matter is not absorbing the beer and being filtered out. The increased efficiency in the brewing process is the true advantage, explained Kevwitch. “I truly believe what we are doing here is probably the biggest innovation in brewing since malted barley,” he said.

Other brewers so far are cautious about adopting the approach, but Telluride is all in. In May, the brewery plans to release a new IPA called Move Me Brightly. “This has been a game changer for us,” Fish said.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.