Trying To Understand Hops

Mikkeller Centinnial Single Hop IPAOne of the things that’s always puzzled me about brewing beer, is how to get the hop flavour right. The vast majority of commercial beer doesn’t list the hop varieties they use, so unless you have access to lots of different types of hop, how are you supposed to know what hop imparts what kind of bitterness or aroma. It can be just as bad if a beer does list all the hops it uses, were they used for bitterness or aroma or both, most don’t say.

Mikkeller Nugget Single Hop IPAIf you look to books to provide the answer, it can be just as confusing as they don’t mention what kind of ratio you should use the different varieties in to achieve any kind of result. It’s all well and good knowing that Centennial will impart a strong grapefruit citrus taste, but how strong? Stronger than Cascade and Chinook, or about the same? When I read the descriptions in books I just get confused, I know I want to use some of these hops, but I have no idea about how to blend the different hops to get a desirable result.

Mikkeller Amarillo Single Hop IPALuckily for me the last few years has seen a glut of single hop beers from a wide variety of brewers, so what better way for a home brewer to get to know the characteristics of a hop, than to drink a load of these beers. One of my favourite brewers Mikkeller, has a line up of ten single hop IPAs, of which I’ve been lucky enough to try nine of (I haven’t managed to track down the last one yet). They each share a common base beer and the hop is used for both bitterness and aroma.

Here are some thoughts I noted down when I tried the beers:

Simcoe
Tropical fruit, mostly lychee, nice bitterness.

Warrior
Not sure what is smells of (so probably not much), but a distinct grapefruit after taste.

Nelson Sauvin
Flowery tropical aroma, passion fruitesque taste and a nice bitterness.

Nugget
Smells fresh, tastes bitter, not really sure of what it tastes of though. Maybe some really subtle citrus on the after taste.

After having a chat with someone about this beer, I had another. Smells like a freshly cut bramble bush that’s been left to wilt in the heat for a while. Very bitter, more vague wilted bramble on the palette with some spicy notes, definitely no citrus though.

East Kent Goldings
Nicely bitter, with a spiciness to it. Not sure what it smells of, maybe a bit of grass, but fresh and bitter.

Centennial
Bags of bitter resiny grapefruit on the palette, not much on the nose.

Cascade
Smells of something, not unpleasant. Nice fruity bitterness, reminds me of grapefruit and orange that you used to get served round at your Granny’s as a starter for Sunday lunch, so a combination of grapefruit and tangerine.

Chinook
Nice and bitter, not as graprfruity as the Centennial.

Amarillo
Very, very bitter, with a long lingering bitter after taste. Also a perplexing taste of soap running through the after taste.

Mikkeller Chinook  Single Hop IPAAs you can see by the fact that I tried the Nugget twice and got two different tastes, these notes need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ve also had a second bottle of the Centennial, but I was a bit worse for wear, so didn’t notice much. I have a second bottle of the Nelson Sauvin to try and ma looking forward to it.

Mikkeller Cascade  Single Hop IPAI’ve been working in Rome recently, so I was lucky to be able to try four of these on draft in Brasserie 4:20. The Simcoe was less lychee and more malty, I didn’t write down my thoughts about EKG for some reason. The Nugget I had on the same day as the second bottle and it was the same, spicy and vague wilted bramble, but a bit smoother. The Nelson Sauvin was by far and away the best I tried on draft, really nice.

Mikkeller East Kent Goldings Single Hop IPAIn terms of the value of trying these beers in the context for home brew, it’s certainly made me want to use some of them. I’d like to use Centennial for that massive resiny grapefruit and maybe pair it with the Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin for their aroma. First I have to get my all grain setup ready and then pull together a pale ale recipe that I can use as a base for some of these hops.

If you want more info about hops, there have been some excellent blog posts recently. We LOVE Hops from the Thornbridge Brewers’ Blog and the multi-posting Hops A-Z by Reluctant Scooper.

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