It all started with a single acre of an experimental hop variety in Moxee, Washington. CLS Farms had been test-growing this variety for several years, and with craft beer booming in 2010, CLS Farms and Brewers Supply Group (BSG) took samples down to the Great American Beer Festival for brewers to try out. The feedback was roaring—notes of pear and watermelon filled the noses of brewers.
After GABF, and with considerable deliberation, the new variety was named El Dorado® and released commercially by CLS Farms.
This is how most varieties start: years of development; a small, planted area for testing; and then making sure it gets into the hands of brewers—the true testers of whether the variety survives or fades away. Taking nearly 10 years, a series of beers and brewers turned this hop into one of the most unique and popular varieties used in the beloved hoppy beers we know today.
The El Dorado® hop, with its high alpha acids and total oils, array of aromas, and accessibility, would ultimately find itself smack in the middle of the craft beer boom. In 2021, nearly 11 years later, El Dorado® is grown by 23 licensed growers, distributed by 18 dealers, and used by thousands of brewers. This tropical hop elicits aromas of hard candy, stone fruit, citrus, cherry, lemon, and melon. Through years of perfecting growing standards, brewer trials, and the haze craze, El Dorado® would become the No. 7 most used hop variety by brewers in 2020, according to the Brewers Association Hop Usage Survey.
El Dorado® hops are grown in all the major growing regions in the United States: Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Michigan. It is unique amongst proprietary hop varieties in that growers are free to market it independently of centralized control. This allows brewers, growers, and dealers to orient their supply chain as each prefers. Ultimately, this gives brewers more freedom over their beers.
The Genesis of El Dorado®
After the success at GABF in 2010, CLS Farms expanded El Dorado® to 27 acres in 2011. El Dorado® was originally meant to be grown for the alpha market, not for aroma. However, brewers became drawn to it not only for its high alpha acids but also its spectrum of aromas. It was just the beginning of when a focus on aroma varieties started to gain traction and brewers were searching for flavors that their consumers hadn’t experienced before.
It started with specialty beers. Flying Dog Brewery released a single-hop Imperial IPA, which was one of the first commercial beers featuring El Dorado®. In 2013, Alexandra Nowell (then at Drake's, now at Three Weavers Brewing) and Mitch Steele (then at Stone, now New Realm Brewing) collaborated on a double-dry-hopped El Dorado® and Centennial beer. The release of Juicy Bits IPA by WeldWerks Brewery, one of the first hazy IPAs, with El Dorado®, Mosaic®, and Citra®, became one of the quintessential recipes that featured the new variety.
Now, beers like Hazy Little Thing, The Official Hazy IPA, Expatriate, Delicious IPA, Lil’ Squeezy, Contact Haze, and many others feature this tropical hop.
Growing El Dorado® Hops
As it gained popularity in the market, CLS Farms quickly expanded acreage from 2012 to 2020 to adequately meet demand.
El Dorado® is a high-yielding hop variety with high alpha acids and total oil content. When mature, the oils become so pungent that a walk into a mature El Dorado® field reveals the tropical and hard-candy aromas to your senses. The early years of El Dorado’s® aromas leaned towards pear, melon, and citrus. As CLS Farms worked directly with brewers for feedback and adjusted harvest windows, the tropical and stone-fruit aromas became more pungent and closer to what it’s known for today.
Part of El Dorado®’s genetic lineage is rooted in the Southwest United States, home of the Neomexicanus hop species, known for unique aromas but also for being difficult to grow. Its great-great-grandfather is a Colorado native male hop variety. CLS Farms also owns and grows Zappa® and Medusa™, the only two 100 percent Neomexicanus varieties grown commercially.
Agronomically, to achieve high yields, El Dorado® takes more work than other varieties. But with proper growing techniques and attention to detail, it can be achieved.
“Varieties with higher yield characteristics are better for brewers, dealers, and growers because everybody can get to a better price point,” says Eric Desmarais, co-owner of CLS Farms.
CLS Farms works closely with the licensed growers to educate and assist in producing the highest quality hops. In 2021, CLS Farms released an El Dorado® Grower Guide to outline specific growing standards related to irrigation, stringing, pest management, fertility, drying, and baling. All El Dorado® growers are required to adhere to the quality standard program named FlavorEdge™ to ensure that they achieve proper moisture levels. These standards allow brewers to receive the best quality hops for their beers.
- Kiln bed depth: laid 28 to 30 inches deep
- Drying: lower temperature rate of 125–130°F (52–54°C)
- Air: highest air velocity allowable by kiln bed weight
- Conditioning: minimum of 12 hours cooling time before baling
Aromas, Flavors, and Beer Styles
IPAs, including hazy IPAs, have become the predominant craft beer style globally. Consequently, many brewers have turned to El Dorado® hops to give their beers a deeper, more nuanced flavor.
El Dorado® elicits flavors dependent on maturity dates. Early maturity evokes aromas of citrus, while middle maturity evokes watermelon and pear. For deeper aromas, peak maturity elicits tropical aromas of pineapple, mango, stone fruit, and candy lemon and cherry.
While primarily used in hazy IPAs and IPAs, this hop also works well in lagers, pale ales, and blondes to provide more nuanced flavors.
Brewers can use it for single-hop beers, but its best flavors come out when paired with other hop varieties. At Three Weavers, Nowell describes this versatile hop as the “glue within a beer.” She notes that it “pulls all the best characteristics out of all the other varieties” both public and proprietary.
Notable varieties that work well with El Dorado® include citrusy varieties such as Citra® and Mosaic®. Others include Centennial, Comet, Sabro®, and Cashmere. Instead of detracting from the other hops, it adds nuanced flavors and enhances the flavors created by the varieties, Nowell says.
To achieve stone fruit and tropical flavors, brewers primarily use El Dorado® in the dry-hopping step. A 2.9 mL/g total oil content makes El Dorado® more highly concentrated than other varieties.
Nowell suggests that brewers experimenting with El Dorado® should initially go heavy on the dry-hop addition to see the flavor impact on the beer, then adjust the poundage if it doesn’t meet the desired flavor-and-aroma profile. Starting with two pounds per barrel allows brewers to experience its full capability. She says that while some other hop varieties can change when a brewer adds too many dry hops, El Dorado® builds in intensity as the weight of your dry-hop addition increases, creating what Nowell describes as a “fruit cocktail of hops.”
She says it’s not a risky hop to work with, and brewers should explore its flavors and aroma capabilities without feeling like the hop will change greatly when used in large amounts.
Along with flavor, the high alpha acids of 13 to 16 percent mean that brewers can use it not only for flavoring, but also for bittering.
To use El Dorado® on the hot side of a brewing operation, it can be added to the kettle during the boil for its clean bittering qualities. When used in late kettle additions, it elicits a more focused, bright citrus flavor. It also finds a great home in the whirlpool, where its sweet citrus aromas and flavors shine.
Brewers looking for a bittering hop or wanting bright, tropical flavors in a beer can use El Dorado® hops throughout the brewing process. It’s usable for a variety of beer styles to accomplish a smooth bitterness and varying flavors and aromas.
Recently, Three Weavers, CLS Farms, and Yakima Valley Hops teamed up to brew a single-hop El Dorado® IPA called All Dorado. The brew featured LUPOMAX™, T-90 pellets, and whole-cone ElDo throughout the brewing process. The result? A supercharged hoppy beer filled with flavors of apricot and cherry, pineapple and mango, bubblegum, concord grape, blackberry, and citrus.
’80s Music Videos, Twitter, and The Ultimate ElDo Experience
Most hop varieties start with a name consisting of a series of numbers and letters used to categorize them. Only once the variety has made it out of preliminary trials and has a certain level of market viability does it receive a name. For El Dorado®, its name refers to the Lost City of Gold, because of the deep, gold lupulin on the inside of the cone. Brewers often refer to it as “ElDo” for short.
Shelley Desmarais, co-owner of CLS Farms, saw an opportunity to create a completely different experience for brewers when they use this hop. Instead of focusing simply on the static benefits of brewers, El Dorado® focuses on the “excitement of dreams” and positive experience interacting with the brand, starting with the grower and on through to the consumer.
“Through every step, we want the process to highlight the commitment to quality, consistency, and the unique attributes of El Dorado®,” says Shelley Desmarais, co-owner of CLS Farms.
Early on, El Dorado® tapped into the demand for ingredient transparency that began to emerge. Consumers wanted to know more about ingredients, and so did brewers. Giving the variety an identity provided more power and recognition to those ingredients being used in beers and the farms that grow the hops.
To take the communication a step up, El Dorado® was also the first hop variety to utilize social media, with its Twitter account going back to 2011. CLS Farms had to find a way to communicate and disseminate information to brewers and others in the industry. Twitter seemed like the natural choice because of its conversational and laid-back communication style. The account aimed to target the niche following of brewers and consumers interested in learning about crop updates, fun beers, and all things El Dorado®.
Today, brewers can see their beers featured on the El Dorado® Hops Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Official ‘80s-themed music videos, crop updates, and collaborations continue to fill its feeds and contribute to the fun nature of the brand.
The Next 10 Years
It’s been 11 years since CLS Farms released El Dorado®. Though craft beer has begun to level out in the United States, it’s only just beginning in many overseas markets. CLS Farms has been working with its distribution partners to reach new and exciting areas that are just beginning their craft beer growth.
Recently, CLS Farms partnered with the Asia Brewers Network through a series of technical brewing articles to help new brewers better understand how to use the hop. In July, ABN hosted the Brew King Championship, in which 14 breweries participated. The only requirement: “Create a tropical beer featuring El Dorado®.” Sunbird Brewing won the contest with a beer that converged three beer styles, resulting in a lager for juicy IPA lovers with notes of pineapple, citrus, and hints of mango.
With craft-beer markets emerging globally, El Dorado® will continue to find its place in those markets, helping brewers abroad make great beer. Every market creates its own unique brewing styles and techniques, which makes El Dorado’s® flexibility as a dual-purpose hop, combined with its availability and price point, an ideal hop variety to use.
New and exciting craft beverages such as non-alcoholic beer, seltzer, kombucha, and even hop water are captivating consumers. On the surface, hops might not be the obvious choice for flavoring, but a new era and generation of craft brewers are wanting to use innovative flavoring techniques. HopLark recently released a hop water fully flavored with El Dorado® hops. And plenty of non-alcoholic beers already feature this tropical hop in their beers.
As harvest 2021 starts, CLS Farms is reflecting on the last 11 years and looking forward to understanding better how El Dorado® hops fit into the continually evolving market of craft beer and beverages both in the U.S. and internationally.
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Claire Desmarais is a fifth-generation grower and the marketing manager for CLS Farms and El Dorado® hops. She can be reached at [email protected]