While more fuss attends upon the summer solstice, I find the equinoxes to be more fascinating and enchanting. The sense of magical transition is more palpable at these moments, and the passing of time seems more consequential.
The spring equinox, accompanied as it is in the northern hemisphere by the sudden flourishing of new life, exerts a particularly powerful hold on human culture. From the Christian Easter through pagan spring rites back, deep into the Persian and Sumerian customs that would become the Zoroastrian new-year celebrations of Nowruz, the point at which the power of the summer lion finally overcomes that of the winter bull—this has been the astronomical first step in the eternally recurring mountain pilgrimage to the joyful high time of the year.
Therefore, when I decided to make my first dry-hopped beer with Equinox hops and brewed it within days of the spring equinox, the name suggested itself.
Developed by the Hop Breeding Company in 2014 as HBC 366, Equinox (now more widely known as Ekuanot) boasts a very high concentration of essential oils, making it an excellent aroma hop. Brewers report flavours of melon, lime, green apple, papaya, and green pepper.
I wanted to create a highly-aromatic beer, with some of the pillow-like texture of a New England IPA, but I also wanted to achieve a happy balance between aroma and bitterness. I supplemented some high-alpha Premiant hops with Mosaic for the early stage of a long boil, totalling 90 grams for my 20-litre batch of wort. Mosaic also complemented the Equinox hops in the late addition. Equinox took over in the dry hopping, which spanned the second week of a two-week primary fermentation.
“Equinox” (March 2019)
In the mash:
- 5.0kg of Maris Otter malt
- 300g of Flaked Wheat
- 300g Oats
- 100g of Crystal 200 malt
- 60 minutes of rest
In the boil:
- 500g refined sugar for 90 mins
- 30g of Premiant hops for 90 mins
- 60g of Mosaic hops for 60 mins
- 1 teaspoon of coriander seed for 10 mins
- 40g of Mosaic hops and 50g of Eqinox hops for 5 mins
- 90 minute boil
Fermented with Wyeast Laboratories 1762 “Belgian Abbey II” (2nd gen.)
Dry hopped with 50g Equinox hops for one week of a two-week primary fermentation
Starting Gravity: 1.072 / 17.5° Plato
Finishing Gravity: 1.010
1.4 litres additional water at racking
The first taste, a week after racking, was somewhat disappointing. There was what I imagined to be a hint of cardboard—a sign of oxidation of hop alpha acids that would not have been surprising, given my deliberately low-tech brewing processes. Burnt sugar was also prominent: not horrible, but not exactly what I was striving for, either. The fruit aromatics were oddly subdued and the zingy green apple and green pepper flavours appeared to be the main contributions from the Equinox flowers: again, not horrible, but not what I was expecting.
By the Easter weekend, however, the beer had transformed. Burnt sugar had given way to a soft, honey sweetness, from a wonderful marriage of Crystal malts, wheat and oats in the mash. The hint of cardboard had gone, replaced by a blooming of over-ripe fruit aromas.
Interestingly, the leading flavour is one associated more with Mosaic than Equinox: apricot; or rather, the intense, sweet unctuousness of dried apricot. The Equinox character is evident in a new burst of melon. The “green” flavours of apple and peppers are still there, but now receding into the beer’s zingy, bitter finish, accentuated by a slightly warming coriander bass note and the subtlest hint of phenols from the Belgian yeast. In keeping with the spring equinox theme, this yeast had been re-animated from a sample I had bottom-cropped from a previous brew.
Perhaps the success of “Equinox” will inspire me in a phase of beers that are more hop-forward than my signature styles? In practical terms, the short shelf life of these very aromatic beers is problematic: I either have to give the bulk of it away or accept that much of it will be drunk in less-then-perfect condition. Still, I feel certain that I will be experimenting with more hops over the coming months, as well as different balances between bitterness and aroma, and different textures in the mash profile.
“It is high time!” as the shadow of Zarathustra cried, hurtling towards an epiphanic exchange with the volcano-dwelling fire dog. “It is high time!”