In the depths of winter, there’s only one annual beer release that immediately brings a smile to my face.
Just a peek at the black and orange packaging, a clenched fist squeezing liquid from a hop, is enough to elicit joy from me in the package store. Starting in January, I make it a point to carefully check the craft beer coolers so as not to miss it.
The beer is Tröegs Nugget Nectar, and if you hear him tell it, Tröegs cofounding brother John Trogner gets similar joy from the annual release.
“Nugget Nectar started out as a kind of birthday gift to myself,” says Trogner. “My birthday is in January, which is around the time when the first hops from our fall selection start arriving at the brewery. I wanted to brew something really special — and hoppy — to celebrate the arrival of those ‘fresh-off-the-bine’ Nugget hops.”
The hops in question, Simcoe and Nugget, are the reason Trogner started going out to Yakima, Wash., for hop selection. The former variety lends big creamsicle and mango notes, while the latter are loaded with grapefruit and pine.
“This beer is what it is because of careful attention to hop selection each year,” says Trogner.
While these hops are not especially unusual in brewing, it’s the way Tröegs deploys them that stands out. Nugget Nectar is dry-hopped, of course, to release the heady aromas, though there’s also a nice bitter bite here. Kilned malt adds a richness and gives the beer structure; in 2004, when Tröegs first released Nugget Nectar, the brewers called it an imperial amber almost as a joke, because that style did not exist at the time. But it’s that unusual approach that probably gives this 7.5 percent ABV beer its staying power.
Trogner says the recipe has not changed in the 20 years since Nugget Nectar’s release (though there is a Double Nugget version, which, frankly isn’t quite as good as the original). And while Nugget Nectar stood out at the time of its release, there’s an argument to be made that it stands out now more than ever, given the proliferation of overly sweet IPAs in the marketplace.
“To this day, it’s still one of our most requested beers and remains a bright spot for us,” says Trogner.
Get some while you can.