Tuesday, December 15, 2015

X-17 Hops - Tasting Notes

The first hop that I'll be tasting from this batch of trials is X-17. X-17 is an experimental hop cultivar bred by The Oregon Hophouse. The Oregon Hophouse is a certified organic hop farm, and their hop breeding program is targeted at developing pest resistant hop cultivars. I had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Pat, who runs the farm where X-17 is under development. Even through a few short emails, it was quite clear to me that Pat is passionate about what they're doing on their farm.

Downy mildew is a serious concern in the Willamette Valley where Pat's farm is located, and a major barrier for organic crop production in the region. X-17 was bred for its tolerance of downy mildew. Not only does this allow for reduced fungicide use, which is a worthy benefit on its own, but it also allows more options for cover crops to help fix nitrogen in the soil. This type of "big picture" thinking is refreshing, and is the sign of a farmer who truly understands the barriers and benefits of organic farming.

Developing cultivars that thrive under organic farming practices is certainly a noble goal. I know I struggle with pests and disease just in my small home garden, so I can only imagine how challenging it must be on a commercial scale. But to me the most important feature in any food, organic or not, is flavor. So let's get to my tasting notes.

The aroma of the beer had a distinct orange and lemon zest aroma. The hop aroma was moderate in strength and did allow some of the toasty Munich malt aromas to peek through as well.

On the palate, the flavor followed the aroma very closely. Orange and lemon peel were the main flavors I was getting. Again, the hop presence was moderate and allowed the malt to show through as well. Also of note, I didn't pick up any significant pine or dank flavors that many C-hops bring along with their citrus character. Bitterness was crisp, but smooth, leaving a touch of resin on the finish.

I am really liking the X17. It's probably not bold enough to carry an IPA by itself, but it would certainly work as part of a blend - comparable to hops like Motueka or Mandarina Bavaria. It definitely makes one hell of a pale ale. X-17 also seems like the perfect hop for a wit, or maybe even a White IPA. It will probably be amazing paired with EKGs or other English hops in an ESB. I think it would make a great dry-hopped sour as well. The flavor profile of this hop makes it extremely versatile. To be honest, it's hard to think of a style that X-17 wouldn't be good in.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hop Tastings - 2015 Edition

I've used a bit of well-deserved vacation time to get caught up on some brewing this week. At the top of the list was another round of single-hopped beers to taste-test some new hop varieties. Brewday was today, so we're a month or so away from tasting these bad boys, but here's the list of hops I brewed with to pique your interest:

Vic Secret - a new hop from Australia
Enigma - another new hop from Australia
Armadillo Experimental - an experimental hop available from Yakima Valley Hops
HBC 438 (aka "Ron Mexico") - a new hop from HBC (the fine people who brought us Citra, Mosaic, Equinox, etc.), that is currently only available to homebrewers.
X-17 - a new experimental hop from The Oregon Hophouse, who were kind enough to send me a sample to review. I am really excited about these.

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Hop My Beer" Chinook & Citra Hop Oils - Tasting Notes

The first oils I evaluated from Hop My Beer were Chinook and Citra. The beer I used to taste-test this was Rye King from Brutopia, and excellent local brewpub. It is essentially a Rye Maerzen with a little hop bite (~30 IBU) and only a touch of noble hop aroma. I figured it would be a pretty good base beer for sampling hop oils.The recommended dose is 1-2 drops per 12 oz pour. I started with 1 drop in 6oz, so this is the upper end of the starting range.

When I opened the bottle of Chinook oil I picked up a grassy, hop pellet aroma from the oil itself. In the dosed beer I picked up some grassy, cucumber peel aromas, along with anise and an herbal/spicy/minty note similar to a Ricola cough drop.

On the flavor side, there were some raw hop/resin notes along with some herbal grassiness. The resin tended to linger a bit which left the impression of a bit more bitterness (like maybe 5 IBU more). Unlike what I'd expect from Chinook, I didn't get any pine or citrus in either the flavor or the aroma.

The Citra oil had the same grassy, raw hop aroma in the bottle. When I dosed the beer I got more of that raw hop aroma and herbal mint/spice aromas. I did pick up some sweet tropical fruit in the papaya/guava family and maybe a hint of Hawaiian Punch. The fruit was faint, however and had none of the mango/citrus I typically get from Citra.

The Citra-dosed beer had a bit more of the raw hop resin flavor than the Chinook. It made the beer seem a bit more bitter (maybe 8-10 IBU more perceived bitterness to my palate). Other than that, I got no other hop character in the flavor - no fruit at all. Adding 1 more drop made no discernable change. At that point, I added 2 more drops (4 drops total in a 6oz sample) and there was still no fruit character, only more of that "raw hop" flavor.

In the end, the hop oil reminded me more of the hop character in unfermented wort straight from the brew kettle, rather than what I get from dry hops. It's not horrible, but I'm not a big fan. I was hoping for pine and citrus, and just got grassy, raw hops. It seems like the hop oils that lead to grassy hop character like myrcene and farnesene are here in spades, but the floral/citrus oils like linalool, geraniol, and citronellol are either lost or hidden.

Overall, I don't think these are bad products, but they don't necessarily deliver for the trained palate. I am still interested in the iso-alpha acid extract I got. I will post some tasting notes from the Centennial and Apollo oils once I get around to testing them.

I'm also wondering if the character is different if these oils are allowed to sit in the beer for a bit before consuming similar to dry hops, or even if used in the whirlpool. There is definitely some further experimentation warranted with these products.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Hop My Beer" Hop Oils

I recently got wind of a new product on the market - "Hop My Beer" varietal hop oils. These are steam-distilled hop oils that do not contain the bitter or vegetal compounds in hops. These differ from a CO2 hop extract, which also contain alpha acids and are intended to be used in the boil to impart bitterness. Hop oils such as "Hop My Beer" are intended to be used on the cold side to impart aroma, similar to dry hops.

The Hop My Beer product initially made my spidey senses tingle. I initially came across the product on eBay, and it seemed to be marketed primarily towards beer drinkers rather than homebrewers as a way to doctor commercial beer. I have had poor experiences with similar products in the past. But after an email exchange with them and reading through their website, I got a much better vibe about the company and their products.

I have seen hop oils like this before, but it is rare to come across varietal-specific oils. The price was right (about $5 for a 10mL bottle, which should be enough to dose 1-2 cases of beer), so I decided to snap up a few to play around with. I ended up up ordering their Apollo, Centennial, Citra and Chinook oils, as well as an iso-AA product which can be used to add bitterness to beer post-boil.

I will post my tasting notes separately, but I will say that I was impressed with the product packaging when they arrived. Each bottle was sealed and hand-numbered. The bottles have fine dropper tips on them, which make it pretty easy to measure out the oil drop-by drop. The instructions recommend storing the bottles in the fridge as well, which I take as a sign that they have quality and freshness of their product as a top priority.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kohatu Hops - Tasting Notes

Last, but not least, we have Kohatu. I got these pellets from Farmhouse Brewing Supply as well. These were 2014 crop and were listed at 8.1% AA. The aroma of the hop pellets really wowed me. There was some complex tropical fruit, citrus and pine resin.

The aroma of the beer had some very nice complexity. I picked up citrus (grapefruit, primarily), stone fruit, some pine in the background, and some vinous notes.

The flavor was resinous with lingering pine. I also got some lemon/grapefruit citrus notes, but the flavor didn't seem as potent as the aroma. There was also some stone fruit & tropical notes. The finish saw the pine resin character linger a bit. Bittering was moderate-to-full and clinging.

My impression of Kohatu is somewhere along the lines of Nelson-meets-Mosaic. The only thing is that the hop character didn't seem as potent in this beer as I would expect from Nelson or Mosaic. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did change my recipe a bit for this batch. The increased maltiness this time around may be contributing to the somewhat muted hop flavor here.

I do think that Kohatu has a lot of potential. I think this one is perfectly suited to IPA's.The bittering and flavor are in the ballpark of something like Chinook, while the aroma is much more fruity and complex. I think dry hops are where this hop is going to shine the brightest.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wai-iti Hops - Tasting Notes

Next up is Wai-iti. This NZ hop has been on my wishlist for a while, and I was finally able to find some through Farmhouse Brewing Supply. The hops I used were pellets from the 2014 crop, and were listed at only 4.1% AA. The pellets had a potent, oily aroma that seemed to be typical NZ-style tropical fruit.

The aroma of the beer had a massive blackcurrant note, paired up with passionfruit in a supporting role.

The flavor was very blackcurrant-forward as well. I did get some lime/lemongrass and passion fruit. There was also a bit of a resinous quality, but it made me think of concentrated currant/ribes more than the typical dank/pine resin character you find in hops like Columbus or Simcoe. As the currant fades out there are floral notes, passion fruit and some fleeting sweet cinnamon notes as well.

Bittering was mild-to-moderate and fairly clean.

I have a feeling that Wai-iti is going to be quite a polarizing hop. To me, I perceive "catty" as blackcurrant, and it is a flavor and aroma that I enjoy. To those who perceive "catty" as tomcat spray, I'd be willing to bet that this hop will not go over well. I see this being a hop that is best in a blend. While it does have some fruit undertones, the currant note is the predominant character by far. I think it would be nice in an IPA to balance some fruitier hops. It might also be nice as a dry hop in a sour, and maybe as a flavor addition in a beer that has some dark fruit character.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Experimental J-Lime Hops - Tasting Notes

I'll lead off with the Experimental J-Lime batch. These were whole cone hops I got from Yakima Valley Hops, weighing in at 6.9% AA. The aroma coming off the raw hops was quite mild. I was struggling to pick up much beyond the typical grassy/herbal aroma typical of raw hops. I will say that this is pretty common in whole cone hops (at least for me), and that doesn't always translate to a mild hop once brewed. This also seemed like it came from the bottom of the bag (lots of loose bracts, not a lot of whole cones), so that may factor into my results as well.

The aroma of the beer didn't have a lot of hop punch. I picked up some citrus and berry notes, along with some stonefruit (which really reminded me more of a yeast ester than hop oil). I also noted faint vanilla and earth. I really had to fight to pick out a lot of these aromas and outside of the citrus and berry, I'm not 100% sold that these are coming from the hops rather than yeast or malt.

On the palate I got a mild, herbal hop note with a bit of tangy citrus. The finish has some lingering bitterness along with some earth/dirt/mushroom notes. Bittering seemed moderate and did linger faintly on the finish.

As I mentioned in my lead-in, I fermented this one in a HDPE water jug and I fear that may have stripped a lot of the hop character. My initial impressions really made me think of some UK hops like Fuggle and Challenger. If my flavor assessment is accurate, then this may be interesting in UK-style pale ales. I do have this hop earmarked for a rebrew some time.

New Round of Hop Tastings

Things have been fairly quiet on the brewing front for me for a little while now. I did manage to squeeze in a 3-pack of single-hopped brews recently and I'll be posting my tasting notes in the next few days. This time around I brewed with Wai-iti and Kohatu from New Zealand, as well as an experimental variety known as "Experimental J-Lime".

I changed up my recipe a little bit compared to my usual mix of Extra Light DME + Munich LME. This time I went with 14 oz of Light DME and 3 oz of Carahell. The CaraHell was steeped for 10 minutes as the kettle came up to temp. I stuck to my usual hopping schedule of 40-45 IBU added as soon as I pulled the grains (calculated as a 20-minute addition). This was followed by 1/4 oz at flameout and 1/2 oz as dry hops.

Generally speaking, I found that the hop character of these beers was less than my typical trial batch. I don't blame the hops for this; I blame my new recipe. These beers all turned out maltier than usual, and I think that tended to shift the balance away from the hops a bit.

For full disclosure, I also have one more caveat. I ran out of 1-gallon glass jugs, so the J-lime batch was fermented in a 1-gallon HDPE water jug. I feel like this is important to note because the J-Lime had significantly less hop character than the other beers. I do have some concerns that the HDPE container may have adsorbed some of the hop compounds leading to decreased hop character.