Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Apparently It's Hop Week

On Monday we looked at "wet" hops vs "dried" hops. "Wet hops" are the industry jargon for "fresh" and stands in contradiction to the typical use of "dried" hops. As we mentioned, hops are typically used in one of two forms: pellet and whole leaf. Pellets are dried hops that have been cut up and compacted into a very small pellet that looks a bit like a green rabbit dropping. There a few reasons that pellets are used: first, they keep better and are easier to store because of the compact form; second, since they are smaller and come apart in the boil, they don't effect water volume (fresh hops absorb some water). The biggest disadvantage to pellet hops is that because of their fine form, they tend to clog up drains and require better filtration systems. There is some debate, but the general consensus seems to be that whole leaf hops impart a more "rounded" or "true" hop extraction, but the caveat is that they do not keep particularly well. Moreover, the whole leaf hops are bulkier and absorbant.

So, what is a hop and what does it do? Well, if you have been following along with us and went out purchased the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale you have tasted what a hop does. Another suggestion: purchase Dog Fish Head's 120 IPA. It will give you a good idea of what hops can do. Although initially used to prevent beer from spoiling on long journeys, hops are most commonly used as a bittering, flavor and aroma agent. They can be added at almost any point in the brewing process:

Mash Hopping: hops are added with the first grains during the "mash" process; while not particularly common in commercial brewing, it is done more frequently by homebrewers and typically produces a more subtle yet inherent hop bitterness - others have likened it to a wine's tannin bitterness
Boil (aka "Kettle") Hopping: after mashing, the wort is typically boiled for up to an hour for the purpose of concentrating the wort and for adding hops; as a general rule, the longer hops are boiled, the more bitterness and less aroma will be gained from the hop
Aroma Hopping: added within the last 15 minutes of the boil, very little bitterness is extracted, but the aromas are retained
Dry Hopping: strangely, not the opposite of "wet" hopping (remember: "wet hopping" means using "fresh", as opposed to "dried", hops); added after the wort has boiled and cooled and has had the yeast added to it and had a chance to settle down, hops added during this time are purely for aroma purposes, no bitterness is extracted and are almost exclusively used in whole leaf form; the hops will sit in the fermenter for 3 days to a month until the resultant beer is bottled.

Two Brothers Heavy-HandedOn Friday, we'll look at some of the components of the hop and what makes some hops better for bittering and some hops better for aroma. In the meantime, have a Two Brothers Heavy Handed India Pale Ale (BA.RB.), another Fresh Hop beer from one of my favorite "new" breweries down there in Illinois. They concentrate on making lesser-known styles of beers (as opposed to Dog Fish Head who concentrate on really pushing the envelope of beer itself) and have numerous awards to show for their skill. The six-pack we have (also purchased at the Barriques on PD) is from lot 2897, which, the Two Brothers Website tells us, contains Cascade hops (Lot 2547 Willamette; Lot 2617 Cluster; Lot 2687 Centennial; Lot 2847 Baby Cascade).

Appearance: A deep copper coloration with only very mild bubbling and a modest, creamy white one-finger head that dissipates quickly into small dense clumps of foam; a close inspection reveals that what were thought to be bubbles are actually tiny bits of hops that made it through the filtration process.
Aroma: surprisingly light aroma that is more malt than might have been expected; a sweetness and light caramel scent come through with the citrusiness of the cascade hops over top
Taste: a quick hoppy bitterness, followed by a mild malty breadiness that gives this beer some substance with a long finish of orange and grapefruit
Body: a firm medium body with long finish; a slight oiliness in the front, but unlike the Sierra Nevada Harvest, it doesn't coat the mouth
Drinkability: I could drink these all night; it is definitely hoppy, but there is more malt backbone to it to make it supremely drinkable
Summary: where the Sierra Nevada Harvest was 20 oz of liquid hops, the Heavy-Handed is more like a traditional IPA, just with the depth of hop flavor that comes from fresh hops; this beer warms up very well; while it is best served at refrigerator temperatures it changes character as it warms; where it starts as a pretty typical American IPA, the fresh hops with their undried resins and oils start to show their subtleties - there is a faint woody earthiness that comes through that is not typically found in cascade hops, the upfront brightness asserts itself and begins to be differentiated from straight bitterness, the caramel and base malts add a definite complimentary sweetness and body that can carry some of the oils and prevent it from being cloying

ps. For those keeping count, Two Brothers is in the process of installing a world-class restaurant at their brewery featuring one of the top chefs in Chicago; they wouldn't be able to do this today if they were based in Wisconsin.

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