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Cisco Brewers HBC 342 Hopsicle Ale [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

In early November, Devon and I were invited to the Craft Brewers Guild Tradeshow in Boston. Craft Brewers Guild is one of the big beer distributors to bars and bottle shops in the Boston area and they carry a ton of craft brewers, Cisco Brewers included. It was a great experience to talk with brewery reps from companies all over the country and even the world. Because they were trying to show off for potential new on- and off-premise accounts, some companies had broken out the big guns, of which Cisco was one. We were talking with one of their crew when I noticed some 750 ml bottles sitting all alone behind the ice tub...I had to ask, right? Turns out that one of the bottles was HBC 342, a beer made only with the hop for which the brew was named and 75% buckwheat in the grain bill. I got a small sample that night, but stumbled upon a whole bottle while at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA.

With Cisco Brewers coming to Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April, I figured I had to look at this beer more closely! So here’s the story on the brew, and here's to hoping they bring it (or something like it) to Spingfest!

Cisco Brewers HBC 342 Hopsicle Ale

If you handed me this beer and didn’t let me smell or taste it, I’d tell you it was some type of wheat beer: hefeweizen, Belgian wit, etc...But I’d be wrong! Hazy to high Hell and back with a white, creamy, thick and voluminous head you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for just another hoppy American wheat ale. An opaque tan color, it’s almost murky from either yeast or, more likely, buckwheat.

This is a hoppy, hoppy, hoppy smelling beer! As I was pouring the head puffed up and aromas of peach and watermelon shot into my nostrils like moths to a light. As I take a second to really get a whiff, I’m noticing some orange creamsicle and cantaloupe in there as well. Listen, I’m not one to make up a bunch of flavors in beer but this one is crazy with a capital “C!”

On my honeymoon, my wife and I visited Mexico. At the hotel we got watermelon juice on the patio, overlooking the waves crashing onto a deathly rocky shore. Perhaps it was the heat and humidity, or maybe it was the romanticism of the whole trip, or maybe it was because I was finally relaxing after a crazy year of work and wedding planning, but it was the single most delicious drink I’ve ever had. I bring this up because, and stay with me here as it’s about to get weird...there’s some watermelon hitting my olfactory nerves with good ol’ HBC 342! It smells a lot like that watermelon juice, so this one is going to have to have some serious flavor issues for me to not like it now. It’s summertime in a bottle! Fruity, soft and refreshing. All capped off by the slightest tart note, maybe from the buckwheat? Or maybe from the incredible amount of hops.

Wow! If I thought the smell was outlandish I should’ve waited for the taste. Those melon flavors are standing at attention and holding on to my taste buds for dear life! The buckwheat lends a super dry, spicy component to the whole thing that adds another level of complexity onto hops already utilized artfully. It’s a round, soft and fuzzy beer that, at 4.7% abv, could be drank all day in hot weather. Throw this in a can and your friends would enjoy the crap out of it in the backyard playing baggo! I’d do a lot of unsavory things to get some of this served on cask.

So, long story short, if you see this one on the shelf, make sure to check it out. It’s limited but, more importantly, it’s delicious. So don’t delay. Another well done beer by the folks living the island life on Nantucket! Looking forward to seeing them and some other great hoppy beers of theirs at Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April!