The first hop that I'll be tasting from this batch of trials is X-17. X-17 is an experimental hop cultivar bred by The Oregon Hophouse. The Oregon Hophouse is a certified organic hop farm, and their hop breeding program is targeted at developing pest resistant hop cultivars. I had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Pat, who runs the farm where X-17 is under development. Even through a few short emails, it was quite clear to me that Pat is passionate about what they're doing on their farm.
Downy mildew is a serious concern in the Willamette Valley where Pat's farm is located, and a major barrier for organic crop production in the region. X-17 was bred for its tolerance of downy mildew. Not only does this allow for reduced fungicide use, which is a worthy benefit on its own, but it also allows more options for cover crops to help fix nitrogen in the soil. This type of "big picture" thinking is refreshing, and is the sign of a farmer who truly understands the barriers and benefits of organic farming.
Developing cultivars that thrive under organic farming practices is certainly a noble goal. I know I struggle with pests and disease just in my small home garden, so I can only imagine how challenging it must be on a commercial scale. But to me the most important feature in any food, organic or not, is flavor. So let's get to my tasting notes.
The aroma of the beer had a distinct orange and lemon zest aroma. The hop aroma was moderate in strength and did allow some of the toasty Munich malt aromas to peek through as well.
On the palate, the flavor followed the aroma very closely. Orange and lemon peel were the main flavors I was getting. Again, the hop presence was moderate and allowed the malt to show through as well. Also of note, I didn't pick up any significant pine or dank flavors that many C-hops bring along with their citrus character. Bitterness was crisp, but smooth, leaving a touch of resin on the finish.
I am really liking the X17. It's probably not bold enough to carry an IPA by itself, but it would certainly work as part of a blend - comparable to hops like Motueka or Mandarina Bavaria. It definitely makes one hell of a pale ale. X-17 also seems like the perfect hop for a wit, or maybe even a White IPA. It will probably be amazing paired with EKGs or other English hops in an ESB. I think it would make a great dry-hopped sour as well. The flavor profile of this hop makes it extremely versatile. To be honest, it's hard to think of a style that X-17 wouldn't be good in.