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.