May 26, 2018

Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 2
Pucker up? Not necessarily

Sept. 14, 2000

The hops harvest is upon us, so this is a good time to consider the role of humulus lupulus in your beer. Hops play an essential part in the brewing process, but we're here to talk about taste. Basically, the bitterness of hops balances the sweetness of malt, and the oils in hops add flavor and aroma.

So forget that Keystone beer commercial featuring the man with a face that puckers up to the point of explosion. And don't believe the Schlitz advertising from the 1940s and 1950s that heralded "Just a kiss of the hops," as Schlitz promised, "Just the finest of the delicate hop flavor without a trace of the harsh bitterness." Without bitterness, beer would lack the dryness needed to balance the sweetness of malt. The "bigger" the beer (that is, the more packed with malt, thus with flavor and alcohol), the more hops are needed to provide balance.


The caveat is that a beer loaded with hops that go beyond balancing the malt will taste astringent -- and make your face look like the Keystone guy.

There are more than 50 common varieties of hops, so this is a big subject. For our purposes, we'll start with just a few quick sips (we hope those of you more familiar with hops will indulge us). We'll be revisiting the topic of hops (not just the varieties) often, so feel free to write with suggestions for areas to explore.

To appreciate the impact that hops can have on beer, compare America's top two selling craft beers -- Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Sure, one is a lager and the other an ale, and Sierra Nevada is known for its hops, but hops is also an important a part of Boston Lager's flavor profile. Boston Lager is seasoned with noble European hops, perfumey and flowery. SNPA is rich with the piney and juniper characteristics of American Cascade hops.

Here are some other flavors often attributed to hops, the hops they maybe be associated with, and beers that contain those hops:

Noble: We apologize because this has no meaning by itself. What does noble taste like? Technically, German grown Hallertauer Mittelfrueh, Spalt and Tettnanger plus Czech Saaz are the noble hops. Their aroma is mellower than that of other hops, though they may also be described using the other terms listed below. As you drink traditional beers of European heritage you'll get to know the taste.

Citrus: Cascade hops impart a citrus taste, or even grapefruit in larger doses. Examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Three Floyds Alpha King.

Earthy: East Kent Goldings and Fuggles, both British classics, help give British ales a mild, rounded flavor. Examples: Fuller's ESB, Samuel Smith Pale Ale.

Floral/flowery: Both Cascades and the noble Saaz may leave a strong floral impression. Examples: Pilsner Urquell (Saaz), Anchor Liberty (Cascades).

Spicy: Saaz (or the Polish Lublin) and Hallertauer Mittlefrueh both rate high on the herbal, spicy scale. Example: Samuel Adams Boston Lager (Hallertauer Mittlefrueh).

As always, remember that taste is a matter of, well, taste. Fuggles, for instance, can leave a spicy impression, and others have used the word grassy to describe that same hop. Don't be afraid to come up with your own adjectives when it comes to defining flavors. After all, Saaz is a key component in both Pilsner Urquell and Duvel -- two beers that don't exactly taste alike.

Tasting notes

Brewed in the Czech Republic

Michael Jackson writes:

Creamy head. Full golden colour. Bright. Lightly herbal, flowery, lemony, hop aroma. Textured, creamy, malt background. Late hoppy dryness. A beautifully balanced beer of some delicacy.

Food pairings: The hoppy dryness makes for a good aperitif. Or serve it like a Chardonnay, with fish. The lagers of South Bohemia often accompany freshwater fish, typically carp, from the local lakes. There are endless local recipes. Perhaps the favorite is to serve the fish in breadcrumbs.

Brewed by Castle Springs Brewing Company, Moultonborough, N.H.

Anheuser-Busch brewmaster Mitch Steele writes:

I have to fess up: this has been one of my favorite beers for a long time. It has been a multiple award winner, and in my opinion is a classic American-style IPA. Beautiful light amber color, with a dense, creamy head. The aroma is very complex: malty, estery, and the obligatory citrusy grapefruit hop nose combined with a unique perfumy/peachy aroma. The beer explodes in the mouth with a very well-balanced mix of malty sweetness and powerful citrus/peachy hop and hop bitterness. The bitterness lingers nicely. What's remarkable about this beer is the balance. It has a very full, malty body and it has huge hops, yet neither flavor overpowers the other. It is one of the most complex, flavorful beers available. For my money, one of the best IPAs brewed.

Read more about New England IPA's.

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