Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Podcasts and Hops

I got word from Homebrew Heaven that my order has been shipped! Yeah.

I've been working on some web pages and updating. While I do updates online, I am listening to a podcast from Basic Brewing (see the links on the right column) and it's all about the sense of smell and taste. Very interesting. Each podcast is about 40 to 50 minutes and there are dozens to listen to.

Hop to the Hops
I am happy to know that my hops are on their way. I have a nice selection of both bittering and finishing hops coming. I opted for pellets for ease of use and lower wort absorption, but that's a personal choice.

There are literally dozens of different strains of hops. You'll hear of terms like bittering, alpha acid and finishing hops. Maybe I can clear up a few of these terms for the new homebrewer.

Originally, there was ale. Hundreds of years ago, brewers fermented malted grains in water and the resulting drink was lacking that bitter tang and aroma that we associate with beers today. That tang comes from the addition of hops to the brew. Hops are flowers from the humulus lupulus vine. They have been used for centuries as the base of teas and tonics and for good reason. Hops contain a host of chemicals, anti-bacterial and preservative properties.

When the old ales were spiced with hops, the true beer (bier) was born.

The IPAs (India Pale Ale) of years ago were preserved with massive amounts of hops to survive the long journey from England to India. This storage of beer with hops produces bitter beer that was more satisfying to warm climate drinkers.

Hops contain alpha acids. Alpha acids produce the bitterness and are expressed as a percentage. For example 4% or 14%, where 4% is a low alpha acid and 14% is a high alpha acid level. Low alpha acid hops are generally used for aroma and flavoring. High alpha acid hops are boiled with the wort and the amount of alpha acids and the duration of the boil determine the bitterness of the beer. Normally a recipe will call for a finishing (low alpha acid) hop near the end of the boil to give that fresh, pine, spice or herbal aroma.

Hops come in several packaging formats but are commonly sold as whole dried hop flowers and hop pellets. I prefer pellets for convenience, but everyone has their ideas and ways of doing things.

I have ordered a nice blend of both bittering and finishing hops including: Cascade, Mt. Hood, Simcoe and Magnum.

Some recipes include a "hop schedule." A hop schedule is nothing more that a list of what hops, when and how much.

Hops can vary from year to year, place to place and of course variety to variety. In some years the alpha acid may be lower or higher than other years. Homebrewers have taken this bit of inconsistency into account and have a system of bitterness units, called HBUs. By calculating the HBU required, we can adjust the amount of hops used to create a consistent beer no matter what the hops this season are like. I'll go into HBUs and IBUs later in the blog.

Common Hops and Their Usage
Brewer's Gold - High alpha acid, coarse flavor and aroma. Used primarily in stouts.
Cascade - Low alpha acid, nice aroma but coarser in flavor than the true noble hops. Common for light lagers and dark beers.
Cluster - An old American variety, moderate alpha acid, low aromatic.
Cascade was bred as a replacement. Popular bittering hop for US breweries.
Eroica - High alpha acid, good aroma. Appropriate for dark ales and stouts.
Fuggle - A noble British hop. Good for all ales.
Galena - Very high alpha acid, coarse flavor. Good bittering hop.
Golding (Kent) - The other noble British strain.
Good finishing hop.
Hallertauer - A noble German hop. Excellent for all lagers.
Hersbrucker - Another German noble hop. Excellent for lagers as well.
Northern Brewer - Medium to high alpha acids, but with good flavor and aroma. Excellent choice for all dark ales. Is used in pale ales and dark lagers as well.
Saaz - The noble Bohemian hop. The Pilsener hop. Excellent finishing hop.
Tettnanger - Noble German hop. Excellent aroma, mild flavor. Appropriate for all lagers.
Willamette - American Fuggles clone. Good finishing hop.

There is one other thing that I want to touch on and that is dry hopping. Dry hopping is adding hops to the wort just before fermenting. This gives the freshest taste. I have floated whole hops on top of my wort for two weeks and wow what a wonderfully smelling and tasting beer it was.

Hops leave us many opportunities to experiment with flavor and aroma to create the style of beer we want.


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