In my first blog post I will discuss hops, starting with my early experience drinking and brewing hoppy beers and how it changed my attitude about how beer should taste. Then I will discuss recipe formulation.
So let’s go back to the 1992 or thereabouts (so long ago). I was a beer drinker and I loved beer, particularly dark beer. (Guinness was my first true love, in the bottle, none of that widget nonsense). Of course unless you went to an Irish pub, Guinness was not an option. Instead there was premium lager and other imports. Then all of a sudden there were new taps, the first craft-brewed (what was then called microbrewed) beers. My first exposure to craft-brewed beer was my first exposure to hoppy beer.
Beers that come to mind from this era are Oxford Amber Ale, DeGroen’s Pils and Bardo Centennial IPA. I had tasted this flavor before in staple beers, National Premium for one, but not to this level. Some of the European beers I had drunk (that were probably stale and lightstruck) had a musky flavor. I had assumed that this was how hops tasted.
Wow, the fact that hops could have a complex and mellow taste really changed my attitude about beer. Shortly thereafter the taste of fresh beer got me homebrewing and soon I was a brewer by profession. That flavor of local beer with all its liveliness was much like a ripe fruit, fresh bread AND a carefree conversation. It had all those things that bring us pleasure in the moment. I was hooked!
The Hops Character Wheel
Hops have a number of roles in the brewing process. First and foremost they prevent spoiling but, to a craftbrewer they are the spice. To the mega ham-and-egger brewery hops are the salt and pepper, and not much else. In the light and premium American beer They are just a punctuation, the end of a grainy, sometimes malty or caramelly sentence. HOPS ARE never the subjects nor objects, but occasionally adjectives. They have been hidden and the main reason (beyond expense) is that their flavor is unstable and that changes (like those skunky Euro brands). Hops can become unpleasant.
In my salad days, I was a pub brewer and I brewed some pretty hoppy beers. This was before the hop crunch, when you could brew with any hop by simply making a single phone call to your supplier. I brewed beers that tasted like grapefruit and limes and others that had aromas like a seabreeze and ceder chips. Still others were reminiscent of a grassy meadow or Chrysanthemums or even like blueberries or preserves(cooked fruit). I realized there was a compass to this, a common grouping of flavors, a whole world of them.
But what I also discovered was that the good flavors would be the first to fade, leaving behind a darker angel. Flavors of onion and garlic; goat and cheese. Some of those flavors were always there and in fact they played a small role in making the beer more complex, Similar to how vinegar makes a red velvet cake tasty or how fish sauce in Vietnamese food adds complexity. Still others appeared as the result of staling or oxidation.Regardless, when the nice flavors went away that’s what you had left.
So I began to change my philosophy of hop usage. At first I was using one or two hop varieties, usually a bittering variety and a flavor variety. Now I generally use 3 or 4 varieties in a hoppy beer. In the case of the Monumental IPA I use several varieties to balance out the good and bad flavors so the beer will age more gracefully. In the case of the the Essential I am using a blend for different reason, to add a mix of fruit flavors.
We like to think of our IPA as an East Coast IPA, having the malt balance of an English IPA but also having the intense flavors of American hops.I think its fair to say that with all the new growth in the US craftbrewing industry, we’ll see all sorts new interpretations of classic styles, particularly in the hoppy varieties.