Epic Brewing Company is renowned for using vast amounts of American hops in its beer. I still remember the first Epic Armageddon IPA I ever tried. It was during the West Coast IPA challenge at the Malthouse in 2008 , and I was relatively new to craft beer. The huge bitterness from the 42 hops per 500mls was too much for my inexperienced palate to handle. In fact, I distinctly remember the overwhelming urge to scrape my tongue with a knife¹.
Even when Epic first released its Pale Ale in 2006, it was considered an incredibly hoppy beer. Most New Zealand beer drinkers hadn’t been exposed to such a high level of hops in their pale ales, because most New Zealand breweries had been reluctant to use so many hops in a brew. Epic’s reputation for making beers with enough hops to challenge even the most experienced beer drinker has continued to grow over the years, because the brewer, Luke Nicholas, prefers to make beers that showcase hops, or at times, make beers that are just stupidly hoppy.
Epic’s latest beer release, Zythos, is yet another hoppy IPA, and proudly displays the words ‘one trick pony’ on the bottle, after the beer blogger Phil Cook jokingly dubbed the brewery as such with its reputation for big, hoppy beers. The beer’s named after a new US hop blend, Zythos², created to help with the shortage of the highly sought-after north-western hops used in American IPA-style beers. With Zythos being the only hop³ used, but plenty of it dumped into the brew, signs were pointing towards yet another hop bomb from Epic.
And while the beer is incredibly hoppy, it’s surprisingly balanced. It pours dark honey in colour with an off-white head. It has an earthy aroma – slightly grassy, sweat, pine with a hint of lemon. The flavours are deep and complex – earth, grapefruit, lemon, pine, roasted malt, with each mouthful finishing with the earthy character and a lingering tart, lemon aftertaste. I didn’t find it all that bitter, but the earth and pine flavours were strong, and it reminded me of walking through a forest – a large, wild forest, overrun with pine trees⁴. The tart lemon note that lingers on the palate also made it an incredibly refreshing drop, despite the munich malt giving the beer a full-bodied texture.
In a lot of ways, Epic Zythos reminds me of Epic Mayhem. Mayhem is, well, an American-inspired ale of some sort⁵, with 26 hops per 500ml bottle and a robust malt profile. I really wanted to review Mayhem in this blog as well, but I don’t think it’s actually been brewed for a while since I haven’t been able to find it in Wellington in the past few weeks. But the point I wanted to make with the comparison was that while both beers are incredibly hoppy, they actually come across as quite balanced. In the case of Mayhem, I think it’s more to do with the English pale ale and munich malt base, while with the Zythos I actually think it’s got something to do with the earthy, forest-like hop blend that is Zythos.
But whatever it is, Epic Zythos has become my new go-to beer when I’m not quite sure what I feel like drinking (sorry Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale). It’s big and hoppy, but well-balanced and oh-so tasty to drink. Here’s hoping it stays around for a wee while yet.
¹ Now, thankfully, my palate is well-trained and I absolutely adore the bitterness and complex flavour of Epic Armageddon IPA.
² Zythos is the Greek version of an Egyptian word for beer. A hop blend is when a selection of different hop varieties are blended together into pellets, and have been created for brewers to use as a substitute for hops that are in short supply, like Amarillo and Simcoe. Falconers Flight is another hop blend which was available last year.
³ Well, technically there are several different types of hops in this beer, since Zythos is a hop blend, but you get the point. It could be described as a ‘single hop blend IPA’ I guess…
⁴ I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that comes close to this, but boy does the beer do a good job of instilling the image in my mind, and it becomes more vivid every time I drink it. Give me a year or two and I’ll swear I spent a few days walking through a pine tree forest.
⁵ When I asked the brewer, Luke Nicholas, back in 2010 what style Mayhem actually is, he had trouble defining it, settling on “It’s all of the Epic beers in one. It doesn’t fit in a box”. The Epic website describes it as an American-style strong pale ale.