Friday, April 4, 2014

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.

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