SanTan pub-goers have noticed in the past few weeks that in addition to a regular lineup of beers, we have started releasing beers under the “pilot series” label. Thanks to a recent expansion, we are now blessed with the extra capacity to bring some occasional beers into the light. Currently we have two on tap, a Hibiscus Pale Ale, and an India Wheat Ale (or Wheat IPA). A third is bubbling away in the fermentor right now, and the contents of that beer will be made known to you when you need to know. With the release of all these beers, we hoped everyone would be content. But amidst the chatter, one question has been on everyone’s tongue, “When will we see the return of Clayton’s Corner?” I’m pleased to say that with our expansion I have been provided with a lavish study and library from which I will again be able to produce the weekly epistles on beer (beerpistles?) which the citizens of Arizona have demanded. For my return, we will discuss the first Pilot Series release—the Hibiscus Pale Ale.

Why hibiscus? Hibiscus drinks are common in tropical cultures where hibiscus grows naturally. The floral aromatics and slight astringency combine to make a refreshing drink. The flower is also edible, where its full-bodied texture makes it a good substitution for meat. In beer, when working with fruits or “fruity” ingredients, brewers often turn to wheat beers as a base (looking at you, Mr. Pineapple). The crispness of the wheat complements the acidity and brightness of most fruits. Although a hibiscus wheat beer would certainly taste great, we decided it might go great with another core ingredient in beer—hops.

As the catalog of hop varieties grows, it becomes more difficult to characterize hops as having any set of shared attributes. Many hops often have what’s described as a “floral” characteristic, so the idea of putting a flower in an American pale ale isn’t too far off. Hops, of course, also add bitterness to beer, and the slight bitterness of the hibiscus, which makes it great as a tea, would work in tandem. For hop flavor and aroma, we primarily used Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin hops. The Amarillo hops have a strong “tropical” quality, reminiscent of mango, while the Nelson has a more floral quality. Together, with the hibiscus, they make a quaffable, unique, summer beer.