Drink Magazine

Troegs HopBack Amber Ale

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth

hopback web

As far as out-of-state brewery options go, I’ve been really happy to have tried a few, most notably Cigar City and Troegs.

During my recent trip to Delaware, I was able to get my hands on some more brews from Troegs, a Hershey, PA-based brewery that doesn’t distribute to NC. I really liked their Perpetual IPA and loved Flying Mouflan, so I was excited to give their HopBack Amber a shot. It’s a traditional American amber brew but put through the hopback process with whole-flower hops.

It’s got a 90 on Beer Advocate, which seems about right for this novel approach to a typically malt-forward beer.

If you’re curious about this beer’s name and how it impacts its characteristics, here’s the gist. A hopback process is one where hot wort (the beer before it’s beer because it has no yeast fermenting the liquid) is passed through a chamber filled with hops. The wort is then able to absorb aroma character of the hops while not imparting bitterness that would otherwise be detectable if used normally in the boiling process.

Thanks to this, the HopBack Amber Ale draws a fine line between its base amber beer and the hops used in the process. The aroma of the brew is malt-first, displaying smells of biscuit and caramel, perhaps most notably from its Munich and Crystal malts. There is just a touch of hop sweetness on the end of each sniff created by Nugget and Crystal hops in the hopback process. Those hop choices allow the beer to hone in on complementing aromas to the American amber style while using a favorite hop of Troegs, Nugget. (Nugget Nector is one of their beloved offerings) Crystal hops are more in-line with the aroma profile of the beer, offering earth-bound scents of cinnamon or nutmeg.

As the beer warmed and the malt really took over, giving off a buttered bread – but not diacetyl – smell.

HopBack showed plenty of balance with its flavor as well, starting first with mild bitterness from Cascade hops that blends nicely with an unmistakable caramel middle. The beer’s Willamette hops have a puncher’s chance at the end of a sip, throwing around light floral notes before the malt washes it away. Again, it’s the Munich and Crystal malts taking charge.

By the time I was halfway through my glass, any hop flavor strained to show up, but that was OK as the malty base gave a pleasant drinking experience all the same.

I know “hopback” is included in the name because of the process used, but it was my impression that if it’s included on the name and featured prominently on the label, Troegs might have had a bit more hoppiness involved in this beer. That is not a knock on it, however, because it offers nuance in place of brow-beating over-hopped novelty.

HopBack Amber Ale is not for hop-heads, but it certainly shouldn’t dissuade IPA lovers, either.

HopBack Amber Ale stats:

  • Malt: Pilsner, Munich, Crystal
  • Hops: Cascade, Williamette, Nugget and hopbacked Nugget and Crystal
  • Additives: N/A
  • ABV: 6 percent
  • Brewery: Troegs Brewing Company of Hershey, Penn.

+Bryan Roth

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