Citra as Brand, Like Bacon as Brand, Like Chocolate as Brand

Detail from a 1943 advert for Lifesavers depicting fruit on a tree.

Every now and then we’ll reach a point in a conversation where the person opposite wants to know, “What’s a good beer I should be looking out for, then?”

This used to be fair­ly easy to answer, but with more brew­eries, and more beers, and what feels like a ten­den­cy away from the con­cept of the core range or flag­ship beer, it’s become tricky.

There are beers we like but don’t get to drink reg­u­lar­ly enough to say we know, and oth­ers that we love but don’t see from one year to the next.

Last time some­one asked, though, it just so hap­pened that we’d reached a con­clu­sion: “Well, not a spe­cif­ic beer, but you can’t go wrong with any­thing with Cit­ra in the name.”

We were think­ing of Oakham Cit­ra, of course – the beer that effec­tive­ly owns this unique Amer­i­can hop vari­ety in the UK, and has done since 2009.

In his excel­lent book For the Love of Hops Stan Hierony­mus pro­vides a pot­ted his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of Cit­ra:

[Gene] Probas­co made the cross in 1990 that result­ed in the Cit­ra seedling. At the time brew­ers did­n’t talk about what would lat­er be called ‘spe­cial’ aro­ma, but “that’s where all the inter­est seems to be these days,” he said. In 1990 he cross-pol­li­nat­ed two plants, a sis­ter and broth­er that result­ed from a 1987 cross between a Haller­tau Mit­tel­früh moth­er and a male from an ear­li­er cross… [In 2001 hop chemist Pat Ting] shipped a two-pound sam­ple to Miller… Troy Rysewyk brewed a batch called Wild Ting IPA, dry hop­ping it with only Cit­ra… “It smelled lke grape­fruit, lychee, man­go,” Ting said. “But fer­ment­ed, it tast­ed like Sauvi­gnon Blanc.”

Cit­ra was very much the hot thing in UK brew­ing about six or sev­en years ago. It was a sort of won­der hop that seemed to com­bine the pow­ers of every C‑hop that had come before. It was easy to appre­ci­ate – no hints or notes here, just an almost over-vivid horn blast of flavour –and, in our expe­ri­ence, easy to brew with, too.

We’re bad at brew­ing; Amar­il­lo often defeat­ed us, and Nel­son Sauvin always did; but some­how, even we made decent beers with Cit­ra.

Now, with the trend­set­ters hav­ing moved on, Cit­ra con­tin­ues to be a sort of anchor point for us. If there’s a beer on offer with Cit­ra in the name, even from a brew­ery we’ve nev­er heard of, or even from a brew­ery whose beers we don’t gen­er­al­ly like, we’ll always give it a try.

Hop Back Cit­ra, for exam­ple, is a great beer. It lacks the oomph of Oakham’s flag­ship and bears a dis­tinct fam­i­ly resem­blance to many of the Sal­is­bury brew­ery’s oth­er beers (“They brew one beer with fif­teen dif­fer­ent names,” a crit­ic said to us in the pub a while ago) but Cit­ra lifts it out of the sepia. It adds a pure, high note; it elec­tri­fies.

Since con­clud­ing that You Can’t Go Wrong With Cit­ra, we’ve been test­ing the the­sis. Of course we’ve had the odd dud – beers that taste like they got the sweep­ings from the Cit­ra fac­to­ry floor, or were wheeled past a sin­gle cone on the way to the ware­house – but gen­er­al­ly, it seems to be a sound rule.

We were recent­ly in the pub with our next door neigh­bour, a keen ale drinker but not a beer geek, and a Cit­ra fan. When Hop Back Cit­ra ran out before he could get anoth­er pint his face fell, until he saw that anoth­er beer with Cit­ra in the name had gone up on the board: “Oh, there you go – as long as it’s a Cit­ra, I don’t mind.”

All con­sumers want is a clue, a short­cut, a bit of help. That’s what they get from IPA, or ‘craft’. And appar­ent­ly also from the name of this one unsub­tle, good-time hop vari­ety.

12 thoughts on “Citra as Brand, Like Bacon as Brand, Like Chocolate as Brand”

  1. Wine’s been doing it for years, at least in the mid­dling price range of c. £6 to c. £12. Go to any super­mar­ket and what the labels high­light to the brows­ing con­sumer is rank after rank of grape vari­eties.

    1. Yes, Cit­ra is not “choco­late”, it is “Sauvi­gnon Blanc”.

      And sure­ly the answer to your ini­tial ques­tion is D*****t B**S 😀

  2. While I have to agree, that Cit­ra is one of the safer hops and will most like­ly taste nice, Cloud­wa­ter’s releas­es in the sum­mer using Cit­ra were all awful through and through. I man­aged to taste most of them on a tap takeover in June and all of them had an intense Leberwurst/Pate aro­ma and flavour.

    It made me ques­tion the process that brew­ery has to buy their hops. As imho some­thing like this should not fly and actu­al­ly be sent back, espe­cial­ly with a brew­ery of that pres­tige.

    1. Beer is an agri­cul­tur­al prod­uct, and there seems to have been a lot of dodgy Cit­ra from the 2017 har­vest. Part of it is that there’s a real­ly nar­row har­vest win­dow to get it spot on form – you want to leave it as late as pos­si­ble for the full devel­op­ment of the flavours expressed in dry hop­ping (see the recent paper by Lafontaine et al, “Impact of har­vest matu­ri­ty on the aro­ma char­ac­ter­is­tics and chem­istry of Cas­cade hops used for dry-hop­ping”) – but leave it too late and it goes onion/garlic‑y.

      Cit­ra seems par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult in this regard, farm­ers in the ear­ly years real­ly strug­gled to hit that sweet spot, and I won­der if the recent huge expan­sion of acreage has put it on new farms that are hav­ing to learn the same lessons. Plus 2017 could just have been one of those dif­fi­cult years – we’re more used to vin­tage vari­a­tion in the UK, where 2015 was a superb year for eg EKG, but the dull August of 2017 made every­thing a bit earthy.

      1. I under­stand how com­plex the whole thing is, but my point is that those hops should not have been bought, or at least a com­pa­ny like CW should have the pow­er (or mon­ey) to buy oth­er qual­i­ty hops. I can­not jus­ti­fy pay­ing 5€/300ml when their ingre­di­ents (or at least their QC process­es for said ingre­di­ents) are that sub­stan­dard.

        To make a com­par­i­son, last years galaxy har­vest was milled too fine­ly caus­ing heavy hop burn in a lot of brews. Galaxy was one of the hot hops this past year, but for some rea­son Lervig nev­er released a beer with it, and my stip­u­la­tion is that they had a process­es in place which caught said prob­lem.

  3. I most­ly agree that YCGWWC, and I think Mosa­ic is prob­a­bly sim­i­lar, if less com­mon. But it’s inter­est­ing that this flies in the face of years of CAMRA tra­di­tion­al­ists insist­ing that light­ly-hopped bit­ter is the default easy-to-like starter beer and any­thing else (par­tic­u­lar­ly beers like Oakham Cit­ra) should be con­sid­ered extreme and chal­leng­ing and strict­ly for the advanced class­es…

    1. I have nev­er heard CAMRA tra­di­tion­al­ists insist­ing any such thing.

      Recent­ly crops of Cit­ra seem to be more cat pee than lemon, which has put me off sev­er­al beers I used to enjoy.

      1. I’m not say­ing it’s ever been offi­cial CAMRA pol­i­cy or the view of a major­i­ty of CAMRA mem­bers, but as an exam­ple, I def­i­nite­ly remem­ber see­ing peo­ple defend­ing the GBBF’s pre­pon­der­ance of brown bit­ters back when the “craft” thing start­ed tak­ing off by explain­ing that its pur­pose was to show­case cask ale to nor­mal peo­ple rather than to excite beer geeks, and that no nor­mal per­son could be expect­ed to like a beer that tastes of trop­i­cal fruit rather than mar­malade and tof­fee…

        1. I agree, you hear this all the time from the main mid­dle-aged cam­ra-bub­ble blog­gers who can’t under­stand how any­one could pos­si­bly find light, pale, hop­py cit­russy beers more acces­si­ble and easy drink­ing than the dark­er, earth­i­er beers pref­ered by the old­er drinker. Point this out, even polite­ly, and you get called a troll or an idiot.

  4. I agree with you the­sis regard­ing Cit­ra as a brand in its own right.

    Huish Hugh is absolute­ly right to say the wine indus­try have been doing it for years and now also the cider indus­try with their sin­gle vari­etal ciders.

    I have often heard it said that Cit­ra when over done or insen­si­tive­ly done can resem­ble cat pee, but haven’t expe­ri­enced myself.

    I only realised recent­ly that the main hop in Adnams Ghost Ship is Cit­ra. Which is prob­a­bly why I enjoy it as a beer so much.

  5. To appro­pri­ate a recent term, this seems to be a late cycle prob­lem. Uncount­able amounts of brew­eries, weak­ing of ref­er­en­tial mean­ing in times of an influx of novices, ever­faster new beer releas­es. I’ve been argu­ing that (most) beer shops are at the mer­cy of dis­trib­u­tors & face­book trends, many hav­ing lost their local agency to the lat­est trends fuel­ing the memes. Struc­tural­ly dis­trib­u­tors care less about their prod­ucts, but vol­umes. But once prod­ucts become exchangable and com­modi­ties every­where, local shops lose or move their busi­ness mod­el else­where. But you’re mak­ing a good argu­ment to look even high­er up the chain, hop grow­ers and not coin­ci­den­tal­ly a patent­ed vari­ety.

    While I’m with you that ‘craft beers’ great­est acclaim is rais­ing the qual­i­ty and avail­abil­i­ty of beer mass­sive­ly (by standardising/homogenizing dis­trib­ut­ing and sales chan­nels, serv­ing styles, con­cepts, beers and drink­ing cul­ture. beer as eco­nom­ic com­mod­i­ty fore­most) and also cre­ates its weak­ness­es: cut­ting of the few excep­tion­al beers a nodge but dis­lodg­ing them from their ear­li­er economic/production mod­els, loss of diver­si­ty of peo­ple, beer, brew­ing and drink­ing cul­ture. cloud­wa­ters roman­tic reap­proach of czech smoked amber and vien­na ambers isn’t hap­pen­ing by coin­ci­dence. so while cit­ra might be a safe choice, it’s also a choice which con­cep­tu­al­ly binds beer to a lim­it­ed mod­el of expen­sive, glob­al cul­ture lack­ing in con­fi­dence and expe­ri­ence. you’re arguable lucky hav­ing locals like Oakham Cit­ra (ear­ly Cit­ra punts) around, but tis isn’t true of the rest of the world.

    From that per­spec­tive, and with­out dis­re­spect, I’d rec­om­mend any­one ask­ing to avoid a beer labeled Cit­ra. The con­tem­po­rary need to make the best choice at all times while also try­ing ‘unknown’ options star­tles me end­less­ly.

  6. Inter­est­ing thread, and even more inter­est­ing com­ments below the line! It appears that, while You Can’t Go Wrong With Cit­ra, some emi­nent brew­ers evi­dent­ly can.

    But to return to your orig­i­nal the­sis, you seem to be for­get­ting some­thing: taste. Some drinkers just don’t like beers made with Cit­ra. Or am I the only one? To me, it’s like some­one rec­om­mend­ing the music of Frank Sina­tra or The Car­pen­ters.

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