Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Deconstructing hops

So when I recently posted about hops, I had that limited release Samuel Adams 12-pack in hand but had not yet indulged. Now that I have, let's explore just how these six "different" beers really are different. After all, they're the same beer with the same recipe and the same malt, yeast and water. How big a difference could a single hop make?

A big one. Check it out, listed by the hop, with an eye towards how they might be used in brewing your own beer:

Ahtanum - Cleansing floral pine in the aroma, huge fluffy head on the pour. The bitterness is a lot less than I expected from the aroma, though. Taste is almost a bit medicinal. Ugh. Not appealing in taste, yet very nice smell. I could see using this hop as an aroma hop in a homebrew, but I wouldn't touch this for bittering or mid-boil hop additions.

East Kent Goldings
- Very famous hop among beer geeks/historians. This is a traditional mild English hop. Kind of earthy. Only mildly bitter and the aroma is musty and unimpressive. In a single-hop beer it's rather boring, really, but it is an old standard as a bittering hop. Easy to see it used for that purpose.

Hallertau Mittelfrueh - A well known and often used German hop. Smells of pine and something pleasant I can't quite place. Apricot? Taste is mildly bitter but with a touch more fruit than East Kent Goldings. Still mild fruit, though not a lot. This would be a nice bittering hop or 30-minute hop.

Simcoe - Oh wow. I love this hop. VERY bitter, very piney with a touch of harsh citrus. It's a popular one in big American IPAs these days. Weyerbacher, a great brewer out of PA, does a Double Simcoe IPA that is outstanding. It translates well in the Samuel Adams version, too. Up front, aggressive, hoppy, this version of Latitude 48 is better than the regular version!

Zeus - Nice citrus aroma, sharply bitter, tastes of pine. Almost a little harsh, but not in an off-putting way. I could see this being used in almost any role in a beer -- if used in moderation and in balance with others.

Fully-Hopped Latitude 48
- Eh. It's not bad. Mild, mild pine aroma. No citrus. Taste is smooth but underwhelming. Nicely bitter, perfectly balanced. In a way that's why it's forgettable. It leaves absolutely no impression on you -- yet I can't help but think it will stand the test of time BECAUSE of that. No trends. No bold taste. Just a tasteful blend of hops grown at the 48th latitude. I'd prefer something bolder and more aggressive, but as an example of a traditional IPA this is a fairly capable (and very approachable) beer.

The bottom line here is pretty easy to get to: hops matter. A lot. They can change a beer entirely. So next time you see a beer boasting it uses This Hop or That Hop, pay attention. It really does mean big differences in how it tastes.

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