CLS Farms grows the only commercially available 100% Neomexicanus hop varieties, but in 2022, ceased production on Medusa™ hops.
Neomexicanus hops – an entirely separate hop species from what many of us know and grow today – often contain perplexing aromas and impart polarizing flavors in beers. Two of those varieties, Zappa® and Medusa™, come from CLS Farms.
However, these varieties are not for the faint of heart to grow. While they offer brewers a new selection of aromas to dose their beers with, they’re challenging to produce on a commercial scale. Sabro, for example, is only partially Neomexicanus but was bred to produce much higher yields than standard Neomex varieties.
In the mid-2000s, a man by the name of Todd Bates reached out to Eric Desmarais, co-owner of CLS Farms, via a chat room to share more about his wild hop collection part of an entirely different species of hops. Intrigued, Eric and Tom Nielsen at the time flew down to New Mexico to check it out.
They saw hundreds of varieties cultivated in a greenhouse and others planted on small testing plots. After hearing Todd’s enthusiasm for these hops and their uniqueness, CLS Farms purchased the collection. A few years later and after many trials, two varieties made it to commercial production: Zappa® and Medusa™. Today, Zappa® remains the only 100% Neomexicanus variety commercially available.
At the time these varieties were released, no other hop had been branded with its own identity. Typically, a name was chosen, but that was the extent of the branding strategy. Shelley Desmarais, co-owner of CLS Farms, sought to do more than simply name the variety. She created an entire personality and brand behind these wild hops to give brewers more of a connection to their raw ingredients.
Medusa™ toted the well-known snake-headed woman for its logo, embodying the multi-headed characteristics that were also present in the hop plants. Though you might see other varieties with branded personalities and logos used for marketing, that was not the case 10 years ago.
Last winter, Todd Bates passed away. He was a longtime plant researcher, Frank Zappa lover, and of course, a champion for Neomexicanus varieties. He dedicated his life to not only hops but also a love for other herbs and medicinal plants.
In 2022, CLS Farms made the difficult decision to stop producing Medusa™ hops for the foreseeable future. With its low yields and challenging harvest, the breakeven price was well beyond what brewers would, or could, pay given the current market landscape. The decision to rip this multiheaded hop from the ground was final.
When a variety dies, it’s not often discussed. No one wants to share the story of a failed hop, though I wouldn’t consider Medusa™ a typical “failed” variety in that brewers didn’t like the aroma (they did) but rather the agronomic consideration became most important as hop prices squeezed and brewer experimentation softened.
So, what did that mean for the remaining 2022 Medusa?
Well, brewers quickly snatched what was left. This meant any 11-pound bag or four-ounce sample pouch made its way into a beer.
Following the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, a group of Australian folks from Revel Brewing made their way to the Pacific Northwest. On an early Monday morning, brewer Matt Cuthbert and owner Jay Neven, along with several others from the brewery, took a trip to CLS Farms to chat about, well, hops.
At one point in the conversation, the Revel team shared a fondness for Medusa™ hops. It was then that Shelley and Eric Desmarais broke the news that the variety had finished its final year of production in 2022. Devastated, and prepared to pack the few remaining one-ounce samples in their suitcase, the idea of a memorial beer was discussed.
At that moment, Death By Medusa IPA was born. Several months later, one of the last bags of Medusa™ made its way down under through our partner dealer Bintani, and into the hands of Cuthbert for one final brew.
Death By Medusa IPA is a double dry-hopped beer with “a lot of tropical fruit - pineapple, Guava, sweet melon & citrus with the distinctive "NeoMex' coming through,” Cuthbert shared.
Ringing at 6.3% ABV, the beer coincided with Revel’s 6th anniversary and featured a tattoo-styled Medusa snake head. The CLS team had a chance to try the beer thanks to Cuthbert and his team. Even after a transatlantic trip, sweet flavors of melon and passion fruit came through making it a great representation of what Medusa™ could do for beers.
As one of the last remaining beers with this wild hop, Death By Medusa pays tribute to the end of an era. If you visited the farm during harvest and we brought you out to the fields, we likely showed you Medusa™ and all its craziness. Thank you, to the Revel team for brewing a delicious beer and to everyone who has brewed with Medusa™ these last few years!
And if you’re still looking for a Neomexicanus fix, reach out about Zappa® and we’d love to send you a sample.
Claire Desmarais is a fifth-generation hop grower and the sales and marketing manager for CLS Farms. Email her at [email protected] for questions or comments.