Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Aurora and Celeia Hop Tasting Notes (Link)

Food for the hopheads in the audience: Brain Sparging on Brewing has some tasting notes on a couple of lesser-known Slovenian hop varieties - Aurora and Celeia. It's nice to see some detailed info out there on some of the less-common hop varieties.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Off topic, but worth a read

I had much higher hopes for contributing to my blog this summer. Unfortunately, my wife has had some health issues, and my focus this summer has been on my family and getting her healthy. I don't typically like to put my personal stuff out on the blogosphere, but this is important enough to share. If you're interested, read on. Otherwise, I hope to get some more content out in the near future.

http://shar.es/11Sfek

My wife Dee Dee suffers from Crohn's disease. She was diagnosed almost 13 years ago. This year has been our biggest challenge yet. She started with the first signs of a flareup this spring. By June, she was in the midst of a major flare affecting both her knee and abdomen. She had her first surgery in late June, where she had a major resection. She had over a foot of her intestines removed. I didn't fully comprehend the severity of the situation until one of the physicians at the hospital made a comment that her surgeon had saved her life.

A few short weeks later, Dee Dee had her second surgery, this time on her knee. She had a torn meniscus that needed repair, in addition to damaged cartilage in her knee joint. Although Crohn's is often considered a disease of the GI tract, it is an autoimmune disease that can affect other areas of the body. Much like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's can attack the joints as well.

As if the pain of the symptoms and surgeries weren't enough, Dee Dee has had a slow, complicated recovery. Because of various complications, her initial hospital stay was more than double the average length of time for the type of surgery she had. Her recovery for her abdominal surgery has had a few setbacks, and the recovery from her knee surgery has been hampered because she is still recovering from her abdominal surgery.

On top of everything else my wife is dealing with, this Crohn's flare has had a huge impact on our family. Instead of taking my 4-year old son to swim class, the zoo, outdoor walks, and all our other normal summer fun, he has been in daycare most of the summer while we take Dee Dee to doctor's appointments and physical therapy. Dee Dee hasn't been able to pick up our son for 3 months now. And she has had to deal with the fear that she might not have a job to return to if her recovery takes too long.

Thankfully, my wife has been cleared to return to work this week. And even more importantly, she wiill be able to attend this year's Take Steps walk on September 20th.

Please consider donating to the Take Steps walk. It is my hope that the research funded by the CCFA will one day find a cure for my wife, and everyone else suffering from this horrible disease.

Thank you!

Eric

http://shar.es/11Sfek

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Giant Freaking Barleywine - Tasting Notes

I finally have my gigantic all-malt barleywine that I posted about here and here kegged, carbed and ready to bottle. The beer went from 1.142 down to 1.024, which is an astonishing 83% attenuation for a beer this big. My initial tastings prior to carbonation and cold-crashing were best summed up as "hot & harsh". But we're now 3 months in, and I have a proper chilled and carbonated sample to taste.

Appearance is a deep chestnut-brown with a thin off-white head that has been holding on surprisingly well. The nose is nutty, rich malt with noticeable booziness. There are some fruity esters that are hard to define, but seem to be in the cherry/peach range. Early samples just hit me with a blast of that Yorkshire Square strain ester profile, but that has (thankfully) mellowed significantly.

On the palate there is some caramel and toffee sweetness. More stonefruit esters are here, but they meld with the sweetness quite well. There's a touch of fig as well. I also get plenty of dark bread crust that is really characteristic of Maris Otter malt. The booze is up front, but surprisingly smooth. There is a balancing hop bitterness, but the malt sweetness definitely takes the lead. Mouthfeel is heavy and slightly viscous, but there is a nice snappy tartness that keeps it from becoming syrupy or cloying. Finish has a long interplay of dark fruit and bread crust.

I am really excited to lay this one down for a while and see how it ages. It really seems like I nailed the ballpark of Thomas Hardy Ale, which is possibly my all-time favorite beers, and ages well seemingly forever. I think after a few years when some sherry notes start to develop this is going to be insanely good.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

House IPA Recipe (Partial Mash)

I don't typically brew partial-mash batches, but I just brewed a mini-mash version of my house recipe today to try to save a little time. You may need to adjust or scale for your system. I use 70% efficiency and 3.5 gallons batch size to help account for all the wort lost to hops & dry hops. I'm typically at 80% efficiency on my system.

Note that I use Brewer's Friend's "No Chill" function to estimate the IBU's for my hop stand. I'm estimating a 90-minute hop stand is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute boil addition for calculating IBU's (this is based on experience with my system). Of course, that means nothing since beers usually max out in the 100 IBU range (this one measured at 98 IBU in a lab test).

Note: the hop bill is identical to my all-grain version. The only real difference is the fermentables.

Title: MiniMash IPA

Brew Method: Partial Mash
Style Name: American IPA
Boil Time: 60 min
Batch Size: 3.5 gallons (fermentor volume)
Boil Size: 4 gallons
Boil Gravity: 1.052
Efficiency: 70% (brew house)
No Chill: 30 minute extended hop boil time

STATS:
Original Gravity: 1.059
Final Gravity: 1.013
ABV (standard): 6.08%
IBU (tinseth): 512.97
SRM (morey): 5.67

FERMENTABLES:
2 lb - United Kingdom - Maris Otter Pale (34.8%)
4 oz - Belgian - Aromatic (4.3%)
3 lb - Dry Malt Extract - Extra Light (52.2%)
0.5 lb - Cane Sugar (8.7%)

HOPS:
2 oz - Citra, Type: Pellet, AA: 14.8, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 121.33
2 oz - Apollo, Type: Pellet, AA: 18, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 147.56
2 oz - Meridian, Type: Pellet, AA: 6.7, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 54.92
2 oz - Motueka, Type: Pellet, AA: 7.2, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 59.02
2.5 oz - Nelson Sauvin, Type: Pellet, AA: 12.7, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 130.14
1.5 oz - Citra, Type: Leaf/Whole, AA: 14.8, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
2 oz - Meridian, Type: Pellet, AA: 6.7, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
2 oz - Motueka, Type: Leaf/Whole, AA: 7.2, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
1 oz - Nelson Sauvin, Type: Pellet, AA: 12.7, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days

MASH GUIDELINES:
1) Infusion, Temp: 153 F, Time: 60 min, Amount: 7 qt, Sacc Rest

YEAST:
Fermentis / Safale - American Ale Yeast US-05

NOTES:
90 minute hop stand

House IPA Recipe (All-grain)

Here's the all-grain version of my House IPA recipe. This is a 3-gallon BIAB recipe. You may need to adjust or scale for your system. I use 70% efficiency and 3.5 gallons batch size to help account for all the wort lost to hops & dry hops. I'm typically at 80% efficiency on my system.

Note that I use Brewer's Friend's "No Chill" function to estimate the IBU's for my hop stand. I'm estimating a 90-minute hop stand is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute boil addition for calculating IBU's (this is based on experience with my system). Of course, that means nothing since beers usually max out in the 100 IBU range (this one measured at 98 IBU in a lab test).

Also note that FG is not 1.019. I'm not sure where the 72% attenuation for US-05 comes from, but I'm usually down around 1.012-1.014 for this beer.

Title: House IPA

Brew Method: BIAB
Style Name: American IPA
Boil Time: 60 min
Batch Size: 3.5 gallons (fermentor volume)
Boil Size: 4 gallons
Boil Gravity: 1.058
Efficiency: 70% (brew house)
No Chill: 30 minute extended hop boil time

STATS:
Original Gravity: 1.066
Final Gravity: 1.019
ABV (standard): 6.27%
IBU (tinseth): 475.51
SRM (morey): 7.62

FERMENTABLES:
6.5 lb - American - Pale 2-Row (72.2%)
2 lb - German - Munich Light (22.2%)
8 oz - American - Victory (5.6%)

HOPS:
2 oz - Citra, Type: Leaf/Whole, AA: 14.8, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 104.49
2 oz - Apollo, Type: Pellet, AA: 18, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 139.79
2 oz - Meridian, Type: Pellet, AA: 6.7, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 52.03
2 oz - Motueka, Type: Pellet, AA: 7.2, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 55.92
2.5 oz - Nelson Sauvin, Type: Pellet, AA: 12.7, Use: Boil for 0 min, IBU: 123.29
1.5 oz - Citra, Type: Leaf/Whole, AA: 14.8, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
2 oz - Meridian, Type: Pellet, AA: 6.7, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
2 oz - Motueka, Type: Leaf/Whole, AA: 7.2, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days
1 oz - Nelson Sauvin, Type: Pellet, AA: 12.7, Use: Dry Hop for 7 days

MASH GUIDELINES:
1) Infusion, Temp: 153 F, Time: 60 min, Amount: 18 qt, Sacc Rest

YEAST:
Fermentis / Safale - American Ale Yeast US-05

NOTES:
90 minute hop stand

House IPA

It's been a while since I brewed my house IPA recipe, so I'm giving it a go today. Since this blog is called "The Hop Whisperer", it's about time I posted an IPA recipe.

Before I get to the recipe, let me delve a bit into the philosophy behind it. In the end, I'm really more about ideas than specifics when it comes to recipes. Set your goals first, then you can hash out the specifics on how to get there.

I've been pushing the limits with my IPA's since I started homebrewing. I've constantly been looking to max out the hop flavor and aroma. I think I finally hit it. The end result is more like drinking hop juice than a typical IPA. It is pretty much the definition of a fruit bomb IPA, yet it isn't enamel-strippingly bitter (despite the 98 IBUs that this was lab-measured to be).

My grain bill philosophy is simple: don't leave behind any sweetness, but leave a little malt richness to balance the hops. I avoid Crystal malt altogether. I'm not saying that you can't brew a good IPA using judicious amounts of Crystal malt, but that's not my approach. I stick to base malt paired with specialty grains like Munich, Victory, Aromatic, etc.

So, now for the hops. My big secret is simply to add all my boil hops at flameout and do a long hop stand. I also use a very large amount of hops - about 3 oz/gallon in the boil and about 1.5 oz/gal in dry hops. The hop stand addition in particular is where the massive hop flavor comes from. I've tried a lot of other hopping schedules, but it's the hop stand (which approximates a pro brewer's whirlpool) that really pushes the flavor envelope.

As far as hop selection, I'm really shooting for a fruit-bomb in this beer. While there are certainly some hop varieties that would work well as single hops in this type of IPA, I find that to be a bit monotone for my tastes. I'm looking for something like sangria, rather than a mango smoothie (I'm looking at you, Citra). In choosing hops, I want each one to bring something specific and different, but they all need to fit the whole picture. Here's a peek inside my thought process for each hop in the blend:

Nelson Sauvin: White grapefruit citrus in the C-hop ballpark, but also has a white wine character that really goes nicely with the sangria theme. Can overpower other hops, so I'm using a bit less in the dry hops
Motueka: Lime zest and lemongrass. Motueka gets overpowered by oilier hops, so this is really just an accent note despite being used in relatively large amounts.
Apollo: Navel oranges. Apollo also brings some Columbus-like dankness, so I'm just using it in the boil. 
Citra: Mango, mango, mango. So monotonous on its own, but so awesome when paired with citrusy hops. Super potent in the dry hops, so I use a bit less.
Meridian: This is my ace. Meridian has a fantastic sweet stonefruit (apricot/pluot/nectarine) flavor and aroma. It really shines here when paired with citrus hops and the mango from Citra.

Here are links to the posts containing the recipes:

All grain (3-gallon BIAB)
Partial Mash

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Quick link

I just came across a link to this page. This will certainly be killing quite a bit of time for me in the near future. This is one of the most comprehensive lists of hop varieties I've seen, and it certainly has a considerable amount of detail as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Methods to My Madness (Part 1)

One of the things I enjoy most about the homebrewing hobby is that there are so many different paths to getting tasty beer. Once you understand the basic brewing process, it's really easy to tweak your process to get the results you're looking for within your own particular set of constraints.

I brew indoors on my stovetop in a 5-gallon kettle. According to conventional homebrewing wisdom, this would seem to relegate me to partial-boil extract brewing land. Almost everything in homebrewing seems to be geared toward producing 5-gallon batches. And all-grain brewing requires a full-volume boil, so you can't brew 5 gallons unless you can comfortably bring 6 or 7 gallons (or more) to a boil.

Personally, I drink about 5-6 beers a week, or roughly a case a month. I also like to brew at least once or twice a month. The obvious solution is to brew smaller batches. Brewing 3-gallon batches solves pretty much all my problems. I can manage full-volume boils, which allows me to brew all-grain. I also net about a case at a time, which is perfect for me. If I brew 2 batches a month I get some extra to share, and every 3rd or 4th batch is a big beer to age in the cellar.

Once you break out of the mindset of "1 batch = 5 gallons", then a lot of doors become open. You can brew batches of any size, allowing you to test new ingredients and recipes at a smaller scale. You can also make the move to all-grain brewing while staying within the confines of a small kitchen. The one downfall is that the vast majority of kits are designed for a 5-gallon batch. So, for smaller batches you will need to be working off a recipe rather than a kit, and you'll need to be able to scale it to your particular batch size.

I realize that it may seem a bit daunting to work from a recipe rather than purchasing a pre-built kit, especially if you need to make modifications to the recipe. But it's really quite simple, especially if you're using brewing software that supports scaling recipes. I use Brewer's Friend, but most of the brewing calculators have some function that will allow you to scale a recipe up or down simply.

One thing to keep in mind when scaling a recipe is that everything will change in equal proportions except for one thing - your boiloff rate. You will end up boiling off the same amount of liquid (or a little more) for a smaller batch than you would for a larger one. For example, if you boil off 1 gallon in an hour, you will start with 6 gallons for a 5-gallon batch, and you will start with 4 gallons for a 3-gallon batch. Why do I mention that? Because, depending on how much you scale the recipe down, it could have an impact on your IBU's. The gravity of your boil affects hop utilization. Since a smaller batch starts at a lower gravity than a larger one (i.e., it is more dilute), you may find that your scaled recipe has more IBU's than the original recipe. In most cases the difference will be negligible, but in hoppier beers it may be enough where you might want to decrease your bittering addition a bit.

My specific process is a sort of a hybrid BIAB (Brew-In-A-Bag) process. I wanted to avoid the need to monitor and adjust the temperature during the mash, so I could just walk away once I mashed-in and return at the end of the mash. My solution is to mash in a 5-gallon beverage cooler that I have lined with my BIAB bag. When the mash is done, I pull the bag and run off into my kettle. While this isn't as simple (or as cheap) as the usual 1-vessel BIAB setup, having a separate mash tun is worth my while.

In part two I will go into a bit more specifics. I will also walk you through a typical all-grain brewday so that those of you who want to follow along at home can get the feel of things.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yep, too much hops.

Here's another update from tonight's Belma IPA. I mentioned that the hot wort was the consistency of peanut butter. Well, things only went downhill as it cooled. The picture below is of the chilled wort. No, that's not a typo. This lump of green modeling clay is actually the wort in the kettle post-chilling.


I was rather surprised at how much liquid I was able to extract from this. The whole mass got dumped into my BIAB bag in a small bucket. I then wrung and squeezed the bejeezus out of the bag, and kept pouring the collected drippin's into a 1-gallon jug. I ended up with over 1/3 gallon of liquid (starting from 0.8 gallons preboil volume). We'll see what happens next...


Too much hops?

Update from my Belma IPA experiment. One pound of pellets in 3/4 gallon of wort. Try as I might, there's no way I'm going to get a whirlpool going in this. The consistency is like peanut butter. Wish me luck getting this into the fermenter.

How much Belma does it take...

Belma is one of those hop varieties that really confirms for myself that the single-hopped test beers I have been brewing are well worth the time and effort involved. The descriptors you see online list orange, grapefruit, pineapple and strawberry (among other things) as being part of the aroma profile for Belma. If you just read those descriptions, you may end up thinking that this would be a great hop to use in an IPA. In particular, you don't find "strawberry" as a description for many hops. This would definitely be a unique note to impart to a beer via hopping.

Alas, my own experience just doesn't find this to be the case. I really found Belma to be a mild hop, without the big, fruity punch that one might expect given the description. In talking with others on some of the homebrew forums, it seems that I'm not the only one who has been a bit underwhelmed by the hop character of Belma.

Since I have just under a pound sitting in my freezer, the question becomes: "What the heck do I do with all of this Belma?". I suppose I could use it for bittering, but I have other hops that I prefer for bittering depending on the style of beer. Instead of letting them sit in my freezer forever, or just throwing them away to free up space, the time has come for a bit of experimentation.

The experiment: Is it possible to take a relatively mild hop and attain IPA-worthy hop character by using a very large amount? You night ask what constitutes a "very large amount". Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don't screw around when it comes to hops. I'm going to brew about 3/4 of a gallon of IPA and use however much Belma I have left (a bit under a pound) in it. I'm going to reserve an ounce and a half for dry hops (so somewhere in the 2oz/gallon rate for dry hops), and the rest is going in for a 1-hour hop stand. This adds up to over a pound per gallon for a total hopping rate.

My thought process is this. Different hop strains contain different concentrations of hop oils, which is where the flavor and aroma comes from. If Belma does contain the oil profile to give the citrus/melon/strawberry/etc notes that have been reported, but at a low concentration, then you could reasonably conclude that more hops will give you more oils, and at some point you will get enough into your beer to get the flavor/aroma profile you're after. Of course, hops contain a lot more than just oils. There may be a point of diminishing returns, where you start to get a significant amount of off-flavors (grassy, woody, vegetal, etc.) due to the volume of hops needed to get the oil content you want.

Once the beer is ready, I'll mainly be concerned with two things. The first is the flavors coming from the hop oils that I'm looking for. The second is whether there are any off flavors coming from the sheer volume of hop material required to get these flavors. If I get a desirable hop character, but start getting off flavors, then further experimentation may be warranted to see if you can "dial in" a hopping rate to get the hop character while minimizing off flavors. Brewday should be tonight. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giant Freaking Barleywine - Brewday

I thought I'd give a little update in the Barleywine from my last post. The brewday itself was one of those stories you hear about on the "Brewing Disasters" shows on the homebrew podcasts (and I may send this one in if I find the time to write up the gory details). But the results were just about what I had hoped for, so it seems like it may end up being worth the frustration.

I missed low on the temp for my initial mash (156F instead of 160F), so I held it a bit longer to be sure I got the most alpha amylase activity out of it. I pulled the first grain bag after 60 minutes, and squeezed out as much as I could from the bag. I was left with about 3.8 gallons of wort in my cooler at 152F, at a gravity of 1.063.

I added my second grain bag and the second 8 lbs of Maris Otter. This brought the temp down to 140F. I let it sit for about 15 minutes, then added back 1 quart of boiling water to bring my final rest temp to 145F. I held this temp for an hour. I ended up with a preboil gravity of 1.113. After a 90-minute boil I got about 2.8 gallons of 1.142 wort into my fermenter. I'm pretty happy with this number. Any higher and I'd be concerned whether it would ferment down as low as I wanted it. But if it was much lower, then I could have easily hit that OG with a more standard single-mash using an extended boil.

Right now we're 8 days into fermentation. The Yorkshire Square yeast is still chugging away. I have it at about 56F right now, and will hold it there until fermentation starts to slow. I have some extra yeast tucked away from an earlier batch in case I need a "rescue" starter, but I think I'm going to hold off until I can get a gravity reading.

Speaking of gravity readings - the WLP037 is one crazy yeast. It is super flocculant - way more than even WLP002/WY1968. I literally could not get a gravity sample from my thief today because the wort was so chunky.

More details to come...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Giant Freaking Barley Wine

I keep starting to write up some posts that go into the specifics of my all-grain setup and procedures, but haven't found the time to finish them up and get them on the blog. I've gotten quite a few questions on this, so I do plan to get into the full, gory detail at some point in the near future. For the time being, let me sum it up simply. I brew 3-gallon batches using a 2-vessel system (kettle and 5-gallon cylindrical cooler), with no sparge. Essentially, I do brew-in-a-bag, but using a separate cooler for a mash tun to help hold my temps so I don't have to police the mash.

So, how does this tie into the big tease of a post title? I am going to be brewing a big barleywine that will essentially max out my mash tun capacity twice. My particular setup is very well suited to performing this kind of iterated mash. Instead of using a false bottom or bazooka screen, I simply line my cooler with a BIAB bag. This will let me pull out my grains after the initial mash, then add a fresh batch of grain back to the mash water for a second mash using the wort from the first mash as my liquor.

The goal here is two-fold. The primary goal is to achieve a pre-boil gravity that is well beyond what I could possibly produce on my system from a single mash. The second goal is to maximize fermentability by being able to perform a true reverse-step mash. So what the heck does that mean?

First, here's a quick refresher on enzymes in the mash. I'll try to keep this at "for Dummies" level. Most all-grain brewers are at least a little familiar with alpha and beta amylase. Beta amylase is most active at lower mash temperatures (140-150F), and tends to produce more simple sugars, which in turn leads to increased fermentability. Alpha amylase is most active at higher mash temperatures (162-167F), and tends to produce more dextrins, which leads to a less fermentable wort.

But here's where it gets interesting. The action of alpha amylase produces more food for beta amylase to do its thing. Even more interesting is an enzyme that we don't really target in a typical mash: limit dextrinase. Limit dextrinase is able to break down the dextrins that are left over after alpha and beta amylase have done their thing. The problem is that it is active at temperatures lower than even beta amylase (133-140F), and it is gone before alpha amylase even gets started.

In a typical mash, once you raise the temp above the point where an enzyme gets denatured, you essentially lose that enzyme from that point on. In a single mash, once you raise the mash temp to alpha-amylase's optimum range, you start to lose beta-amylase activity, and limit-dextrinase is already long gone. You can't begin a traditional mash with a high-temp alpha rest, then drop the temp to beta rest range, then drop it again to limit dextrinase range. The enzymes have already been denatured at the initial high mash temp.

If only there was a way to bring back beta amylase and limit dextrinase after your high mash rest. But wait - there is! Just add more malt. And we finally get back to what I'm trying to do here. Basically, I'm going to do a high temperature mash with 8 pounds of grain in my mash tun. Then I'm going to pull my grain out, and add another 8 pounds back in. This second mash will be held at a low enough temperature where both beta amylase and limit dextrinase will be active. Hopefully, I'll end up with a super-fermentable wort that will enable me to brew a giant beer that can still ferment down to a reasonable FG.

So without further ado - here's the recipe. I have no clue what my efficiency is going to be, so this is calculated on 60%. But I typically hit 80% or so, even on beers this big. If so, this is going to be a really big beer.

Title: Giant Freaking Barley Wine

Brew Method: BIAB
Style Name: English Barleywine
Boil Time: 90 min
Batch Size: 3 gallons (fermentor volume)
Boil Size: 3.7 gallons
Boil Gravity: 1.099
Efficiency: 60% (brew house)

STATS:
Original Gravity: 1.122
Final Gravity: 1.024
ABV (standard): 12.77%
IBU (tinseth): 68.83
SRM (morey): 11.65

FERMENTABLES:
8 lb - United Kingdom - Maris Otter Pale (50%)
8 lb - United Kingdom - Maris Otter Pale (50%)

HOPS:
1 oz - Magnum, Type: Pellet, AA: 15.4, Use: Boil for 60 min, IBU: 63.04
1 oz - East Kent Goldings, Type: Pellet, AA: 7.1, Use: Boil for 5 min, IBU: 5.79

MASH GUIDELINES:
1) Infusion, Temp: 160 F, Time: 45 min, Amount: 16 qt, Mash #1
2) Infusion, Temp: 145 F, Time: 90 min, Amount: 14 qt, Mash #2

YEAST:
White Labs - Yorkshire Square Ale Yeast WLP037

TARGET WATER PROFILE:
Profile Name:
Ca2: 85
Mg2: 25
Na: 11
Cl: 78
SO4: 150
HCO3: 0
Water Notes:
2 g Gypsum
4 g Epsom Salt
2.5 g CaCl2
2 mL Lactic Acid
(All added to initial mash water)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Not all IBU's are created equal

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about the "quality" of bitterness. The oldest bit of brewing lore to this effect is the claim that hop varieties that contain higher cohumulone give a harsher bitterness to the finished beer. The flip side is that other hop varieties may give a "softer", "smoother" or "neutral" bitterness. More recently, the proponents of first-wort hopping (FWH) claim that it provides a smoother bitterness than a traditional 60-minute addition. (Count me in this group, by the way) The same claim has been made regarding whirlpool or hop-stand additions (well, I know that I claim this at least).

Just to be clear, the claim here isn't that there is a difference in utilization or IBU's using these methods. The claim is that for a given number of IBU's, certain hopping schemes will provide a harsher or smoother bitterness. For example, a 60-minute boil addition of Chinook is (supposedly) going to give a harsher bitterness than something like a FWH of Liberty, even if they measure the exact same IBU's.

So this begs the question - what the hell does this mean, and how do you quantify it? Is 20 IBU's of Chinook at 60 min the same as 40 IBU's of Liberty as FWH? 30 IBU's? 50 IBU's? Or is it something else completely? Do we need one measure of IBU's and a separate measure of harshness?

Some brewers calculate the IBU's from a FWH addition as the equivalent of a 20-minute addition. Others calculate it as 70-80 minutes. The first way tries to account for the "smoothness/harshness" effect on the quality of bitterness, but doesn't factor in the additional utilization from the longer time the hops are in contact with hot wort. The second approach probably approximates the actual measured IBU's better, but doesn't factor in that this bittering may seem smoother. Is one way better than the other? I used to be firmly in the 20-minute addition camp. Now I'm on the fence and leaning towards the 70-80 minute camp, but with a caveat.

I have recently started to gravitate to the idea that IBUs and "Bittering Quality" are not only two completely separate descriptors, but also that they need to be considered separately. I think that attempts to approximate the affect on the smoothness or harshness of a hopping regimen by adjusting IBU's are missing a big part of the picture. Dialing in a hoppy brew really requires understanding what each addition is doing.

Let me share an example before I open the floor for discussion. Last year I brewed an IPA using nothing but flameout hops with a 90-minute hop stand, and some dry hops. I used an insane amount of hops (11 oz in my hop stand and 6 oz of dry hops for a 3-gallon batch). I sent the beer out for lab analysis, and it measured at 98 IBU's. But, to my palate, it tasted like about 60 IBU's, with a pretty smooth bitterness (similar to what I'd get from FWH). It tasted like an amped-up APA more than an enamel-stripping IPA. But the first time I drank it with food, something bizarre happened. I could instantly taste all 98 of those IBU's and my palate was completely blown out for dinner (which was a shame - it was a real nice ribeye). This really cemented the whole "IBU's vs harshness" idea for me. The beer somehow managed to hide its bitterness until I forced its hand with food.

So, what do we do about this dichotomy of bitterness? Damned if I knew. But now that my eyes are opened to this, I'll be paying close attention.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Apollo Hops - Hop Tasting Notes

We got ourselves some Apollo for tasting next. I got these from Yakima Valley Hops - 2012 harvest, clocking in at 18% AA. The raw pellets smelled grassy and dank, but were otherwise nondescript.

On the nose I get a big orange-citrus note, with a hint of spice and some dankness. Nice, big aroma.

The palate has a juicy citrus note, orange peel and some dank and pine in the background. I also get some sweet cinnamon-like spice notes. Again, big hop flavor. Bitterness is nice & smooth with just a faint bite.

One smell & sip and I am instantly a huge fan of Apollo. If you draw a line going from "dank" to "orange-citrus" with Columbus on the dank side and Amarillo on the citrus side, I'd put Apollo about 2/3 of the way towards Amarillo. It's like Summit without the onion, or like a cross between everything I like about both Columbus and Amarillo. Apollo would be killer in any APA or IPA. I bet it would go real nice paired with some EKG's in an English IPA as well.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Legacy Hops - Hop Tasting Notes

Next we have Legacy. This hop is also from the 2012 HopsDirect crop. It comes in at 7.3%. The pellets have a grassy fresh hop aroma with black currant and a hint of tomato vine. I was just picking some currants that morning, and I can say that the raw pellet aroma really is dead on.

The nose of the beer was really mild. I could pick up some dark berries/currants way in the background, but not much else.

The flavor was really mild as well. There was some grassy/spicy generic hop notes. I could pick out a little of the berry/currant thing as well, but nothing to write home about. Maybe a touch of floral/cardamom in there, too. I did get some resin notes, and the bitterness was on the moderate-to-firm side.

I have to say, I'm really disappointed in Legacy. I had read some good writeups from the previous year's crop and had some high hopes. Since both Legacy and Belma are both Puterbaugh Farm's registered strains, maybe 2012 was just a bad crop for them? I honestly can't think of much of a use for these outside of bittering IPA's.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nelson Sauvin Hops - Tasting Notes

Next up are tasting notes from a beer I brewed with Nelson Sauvin. These were 12.1% AA from AHS. The raw hops reminded me of a typical west coast Cascade/Centennial/Amarillo/etc type hop, but there is a distinct fragrant white wine note on top of the citrus.

The nose of the beer is much like the hops themselves. I pick up white grapefruit along with a distinct, perfumey Fume Blanc/Gewurz-type white wine note.

The flavor follows closely to what I get in the aroma. It's mainly ruby-red grapefruit along with a floral/fruity white wine note. There is a bit of a savory/herbal flavor component behind the wine, but I don't find it to be very strong or off-putting to my palate. I also get a slight resinous pine/juniper flavor as well.

I'm a big fan of Nelson. This will definitely be in heavy rotation in my fruit-forward hoppy beers. I also think this would be fantastic as a dry hop in a sour beer. In addition, if you were looking for a hop to dry-hop a cider with, Nelson would be an excellent choice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Summer Hops - Tasting Notes

Up next for tasting notes is Summer. This is a fairly new Australian variety that I picked up on a whim because the description intrigued me. The pellets I used were 5.9% AA from Austin Homebrew Supply. The pellets had an herbal/noble-type smell with some sweet spice and some faint floral/fruit notes.

The aroma of the finished beer had notes of vanilla, leather, and earthiness. It also seems to really enhance the bready/toasty munich malt character.

On the palate I picked up cedar, vanilla, some dry spiciness and woody notes. Bittering level was moderate.

I was really surprised by my results with Summer. It was nothing like the apricot and melon descriptions I had read. I'm really not sure what to make of it, but the hop character I was getting from this beer is quite unique. It would fit in really well in English styles, but I could see it working well in dark beers, wood-aged beers, Brett-aged beers. I'm actually tempted to dry-hop a dunkelweizen with it as well. I'd be interested to see how this blends with other hop varieties.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Belma Hops - Tasting Notes

Time for some tasting notes on Belma. The pellets I used are from Hops Direct - from the 2012 harvest and clocking in at 11.3% AA. Smelling the pellets, I just pick up some herbal/grassy hop aromas along with some onion/garlic. Thankfully, none of the onion carried through to the finished beer.

The nose of the beer is pretty mild. I pick up some sweet fruity notes in the melon/tropical/peach family, but not much else.

On the palate I get more of that melon/tropical fruitiness, along with some herbal notes. I didn't pick up any of the strawberry that a lot of other brewers have noted - if it's there it's not something really forward and distinct. Bittering seems right in the middle-of-the-road.

I know Belma has been getting some mixed reviews, and I can see why. It definitely doesn't seem like a hop-bomb hop. It seems rather mild.

On the flip side, Belma has a pretty clean sweet-fruit character. It's not quite as tropical as a lot of the NZ varieties, and it doesn't have that earthiness that I get from Calypso. It may not fit in an IPA, but it certainly has a place in something like an American Wheat that can use a restrained fruity hop note.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Calypso Hops - Tasting Notes

Next beer up was brewed with Calypso. These were 12.8% AA from AHS. The pellets had some tropical fruit aroma, along with a pungent herbal/earthy scent and a hint of tobacco. I also picked up a very distinct aroma that smells like fresh-picked tomatoes, or more specifically, like the smell of a tomato plant after you just snapped off a ripe tomato.

On the nose of the beer itself I get some aromas of tropical fruit (similar to coconut), some earthiness, and faint notes of onion/sulfur as well as cocoa butter.

On the palate there is a fleeting grapefruit/citrus flavor, but the main character is herbal/grassy with a resinous bitterness that really seems to cling on. Some earthy and spicy flavors are tucked away in the background as well. I did start to pick up an interesting cocoa flavor after a few sips that seemed to intensify as the beer warmed up a bit.

I have to admit, with a name like Calypso I was expecting something totally different from this hop. I was hoping for something that reminded me of sipping a Mai Tai, but this seems pretty "meh" overall. This had a really tongue-coating resinous bite, so maybe this could work as a bittering hop for an IPA. The cocoa flavor was kind of interesting. I could see this doing well as a late addition in a Robust Porter.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

El Dorado Hops - Tasting Notes

El Dorado is up on the tasting block next. These were 15.3% AA pellets from the 2012 harvest that I got from Missouri Malt Supply. The raw pellets have a grassy hop aroma, but there was also a fruitiness that reminded me of gummy bears or Jolly Ranchers.

The nose of the finished beer has a sweet fruity, melon-like note. There is also a hint of sweet-tart candy.

Again, the palate picks up more straightforward sweet fruit, something in the ballpark of watermelon or honeydew. There is also a hint of Pez candy and a slight resin note. Bittering level is moderate.

El Dorado is a pretty distinct, oily hop. But I find the flavor to be pretty monotone on its own. It could fit in an IPA if you paired it with more citrusy hops and/or hops with some dankness. On its own it would probably be great in something like a watermelon wheat. This isn't a hop I'd rush out to stock up on, but it certainly has its place.

One thing I'd like to note is that you really don't want to overdo the crystal malt, and make sure your beer attenuates well if you have a lot of late additions of El Dorado. This hop already leaves a bit of a sweet impression on its own, and I don't think you would want to accentuate that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sterling Hops - Tasting Notes

Next up for tasting is Sterling. The hops I used were 7.1% AA from Hop Heaven, 2012 crop. The raw pellets had an interesting aroma. They were herbal and earthy, but I definitely picked up a cocoa note and a faint hint of cherries as well.

The nose has a lemony-citrus note up front. There is also some sweet spice and some fresh cut hay.

On the palate, Sterling's noble heritage finally starts to show. The characteristic herbal/floral noble hop flavor is much more prominent on the flavor side of things. There's also a nice, spicy white pepper note. There are undertones of fruity/lemonade notes as well, but it is restrained and not that juicy/grapefruit C-hop type citrus. There is a touch of resin that lingers as well. Bitterness isn't quite as neutral as something like Magnum, but it's still pretty smooth.

I think Sterling has a lot to offer from a hop versatility standpoint. It will fit in well as a flavor addition in a lager or as an aroma addition in an American Wheat, especially at lower hopping rates. It should also be really good in a Saison, given its nice citrus/spicy combo. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I think I'd also like Sterling in an IPA. I like to add some noble-type hops for complexity to IPA's on occasion, and Sterling seems like it would hold its own even in a highly-hopped beer.