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:

Tropical fruit, mostly lychee, nice bitterness.

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.

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.

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

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.

Nice and bitter, not as graprfruity as the Centennial.

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.

High Tide Fresh Hop IPA

It was my wife’s birthday on Sunday, so we were all round at her parents for a big celebration lunch. When we finally waddled home, no-one was in the mood for a large dinner, so once I had the kids off to bed I cracked open a Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA and sat down to relax. Port Brewing High Tide... After a few sips of this big hoppy beer, I knew that if I wanted to drink more then I’d need to eat something. So it was a perfect opportunity to see if a big IPA would go with chips ‘n’ mayo.

High Tide Fresh Hop IPA is lovely, it’s big, bitter and morish, but it doesn’t go well with chips ‘n’ mayo. The cloying fatty mouth feel of the mayo that was so easily cleared by both Mikkeller It’s Alive! and Cantillon Gauze, it left totally untouched by the High Tide. In fact, I’d say the mouthfeel is made worse due to the resiny nature of the hops, so you end up with a fatty, bitter cloying mouth feel, which isn’t the best.

I’m not sure big IPAs are the way forward for chips ‘n’ mayo to be honest, so I’ll chalk this one down to experience and move on.

Rome: Notte Quattro

De Molen AmerikaansI wasn’t sure about going out this evening, I was really tired from a long day of working in the office and then back at the company flat. Time had sort of run away and it was nine thirty before we realised what had happened, I was starving. I didn’t fancy walking anywhere, but at the same time I knew I should get off my arse and go somewhere, as I might not be back next week, so it could be my last chance so sample Italian craft beer on draft.

While in the Gradi Plato beer shop, I was recommend to go to Brasserie 4:20, the chap said that if I liked Bir & Fud and Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, then I’d love 4:20. The problem was getting the motivation to go, I really couldn’t be arsed, I had to force myself down the stairs and into a taxi. I’m glad I got a taxi though, as 4:20 is quite a long way from the company flat, probably twice the distance that Bir & Fud is.

De Molen AmarilloI was keeping a look out from the side of the taxi, the instruction I had were to look for a large green 4:20 sign, if I’d blinked, I’d have missed it, the taxi driver did. The sign is on the frontage of the building, it doesn’t stick out, so you can’t see it coming, Via Portuense is a long road, so keep your eye peeled.

I didn’t bother looking at the menu, I wanted to be inside and drinking a beer, I just wasn’t prepared for what was on the other side of the door. It’s quite a modern interior, gleaming chrome taps and pumps, off set with some beery things here and there, but the walls are mainly dominated by large black boards telling what there is to eat and drink.

They have 12 hand pumps that were dispensing 11 real ales and 15 taps which were dispensing 14 beers from keg. If that isn’t enough beer, the wall behing the bar was covered in bottles from Mikkeller, De Molen, AleSmith, Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey, I could go on, but you get the picture. They also had four large free standing fridges full of lambic beers of various ages, some of which look seriously old.

De Molen RasputinThere was almost too much choice, so I asked for an Italian craft beer, only to be told thet they didn’t sell Italian beer (this isn’t quite true, they have some in bottles, but none on pump or tap). I couldn’t pass up the chance to try some De Molen from cask, so I plumped for an Amerikaans, which was very drinkable but the body didn’t quite live up to the nose.

It turns out that Brasserie 4:20 doubles as a fish restaurant, which is a bit of an issue if you’re a vegetarian (if you eat fish you’re not a vegetarian). So I asked if they could do something for me, they got the chef out for a chat and he produced this wonderful fettuccine dish with asparagus, tomato, garlic and some other stuff, it was perfect. It’s wonderful when places go out of their way to ensure you have something amazing to eat.

I decided to have a couple more De Molen beers before heading back to the flat. Amarillo is just as awesome on draft as it is in the bottle. Rasputin was totally different to the bottle I had last year, it was just this huge soft malt bomb, not what I was expecting. I had an amazing evening and would have stayed for a few more given half the chance, but I needed to get back.

Grassroots Winter IPAI decided to walk back to the flat along the Tiber, once I got to the Trastevere area I decided I had room for a small one and popped into Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. It was really busy and I could hardly get to the bar, not that made any difference as the staff appeared to be uninterested this evening and took ages serving anyone. So I necked a Grassroots Winter IPA and headed straight back to the flat.

Cantillon c’est Bon!

Cantillon Gueuze...I’ve decided that I need to find the perfect beer to go with chips and mayonnaise. Last time out it was Mikkeller It’s Alive! and I was bemoaning the fact that I really wanted a Cantillon Gauze. For lunch today, I managed somehow to arrange just that combination, chips and mayonnaise with Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio.

I would live to say they are a match made in haven, but they’re not. The Cantillon is too sour and kept swamping the chips and mayo. This could just be the fact that it’s been years since my last lambic, so the sourness was really noticeable. I’d try it again, but I think I’d rather try an Orval, or another It’s Alive! first.

It’s Alive!

I’m not particularly big on beer and food pairings to be honest, I doubt I’ll be writing many more. I have read with interest other peoples attempts, both successful and not quite so successful, to pair beer and food and always wished I had the taste buds to manage it myself. Mikkeller It's Alive! After spending a few hours driving to and from a pub lunch, all I wanted for dinner was a huge plate of chips, a healthy dollop of mayonnaise and a Cantillon Gauze.

We stopped off at a supermarket on the way home for some supplies, one of which was a bag of oven chips. I’d rather deep fry my own, but my wife wont have it for some reason, so I have to make do with either packet oven baked, or home made oven roasted. So I had some chips and I had some mayonnaise, the only thing I didn’t have was any Cantillon, but then I remembered that I had a big bottle of Mikkeller It’s Alive!, evidently it’s a tribute to Orval, so I thought I’d give that try.

I love chips and mayonnaise, it’s a match made in haven and from now on, I want a beer like Mikkeller‘s It’s Alive! when I eat them. It was awesome, It’s Alive! is quite similar to Orval, however, I found it to be a bit smoother, but just as palette cleansing. I was amazed at how well the chips, mayonnaise and beer worked together in perfect harmony, there might be something to this beer and food pairing for my taste buds after all.


I’ve enjoyed the last few months, even though I’ve drunk amazing beer, I’ve been wandering off course again. I’m supposed to be concentrating on British bottle conditioned beer and I’m off drinking anything I can get my hands on.

BrewDog Tokyo*I’ve drank some totally awesome beer though, BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, BrewDog Tokyo*, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Mikkeller Black Hole, The Lost Abbey Serpent Stout and De Molen Amarillo to name just a few.

My physique has been suffering a bit as well, as I’ve drunk a couple of bottles of beers practically every night since the end of October, the gut has been expanding. Something had to give and my wife has been pestering me as to where all the beer has been coming from and when I’ll be cutting down. So it’s time to refocus, I’ve let my stock of non British bottle conditioned beer run down, so I have enough bottle conditioned beer to last five nights, if I drink two a night, that should last a week and a bit.

Mikkeller Black HoleSo from now on, I’m going to make a trip once a week to the beer shop and pick up a set number of bottles. I’ll still drink interesting beer, evidently the Bacchanalia is going to be getting some awesome De Molen beers (including Mikkel & Menno and I’m not missing that for anyone) in soon, but I’m going to try and focus on the other shelves and just pick British beer.

I have quite a bit to catch upon with this blog as well, my phone has loads of tasting notes that I need to upload, I just need to find the inspiration and get my finger out. Time to focus…