For the second instalment of 10 Things, The Blind Taste Test thought it appropriate to delve most deeply into the beating heart of beer: Hops. A safe subject, perhaps, because everyone knows at least a little about our little luponic green friends. Nevertheless, some facts you may already know, others perhaps not.
1. Hops grow on bines, not vines.
2. Hops are capable of more than just flavouring. In Lambic beers, for instance, three times the number of hops are used - but not for flavouring. They help to preserve the beer. After all, Lambics spend one or sometimes more years fermenting and conditioning.
3. Conversely, hops can also degrade in flavour over time. As such old hops are used for their preservative qualities. In the case of IPAs, noticeable changes in flavour can occur after just three weeks (never mind three months!).
4. Alpha acids comprise the resin found within the core of the hop cone.
5. The term “Noble hops” has no technical meaning - it’s merely used for marketing spin. The long and the short of it is Noble hops essentially describe varietals such as German Hallertauer and Czech Saaz most commonly found in mainland European lagers and Pilsners.
6. Noble hops are characterised by low alpha acids (resinous bitterness) and more essential oils. Naturally they are found in most Continental Pilsners and lagers.
7. Pride of Ringwood hops are named after Ringwood, an outer-Eastern suburb of Melbourne, Australia.
8. Pride of Ringwood hops are a descendent of an English varietal known as Pride of Kent and an as yet unknown male parent. Their high alpa acid content makes them ideal as a bittering hop, although with a not too dissimilar profile to English hops one wonders why they are commonly found in Australian lagers.
9. In Middle Ages Britain, the difference between “ale” and “beer” was very clear: Which one contained hops! Beer contained hops while ale contained no hops whatsoever.
10. IBUs (international bittering units), much like the Scovilles scale, should only be used as a guide. Given up to 300 compounds within the hop flower (cone) contribute to a beer’s aroma and flavour it is near impossible to quantify just how bitter the finished product will be.
|Pellet hops (left), whole cone hops (right).|
The Ultimate Hop Experience Sixpack
Now you know a little more about beer’s most flavoursome ingredient, it’s time for a little applied learning. Below are six beers, each exemplifying their own unique hop character.
1. Green Beacon: 3 Bolt pale ale
Last confirmed sighting: Carwyn Cellars, Thornbury
The number one American pale ale according to a The Crafty Pint blind tasting, 3 Bolt provides an all-in-one study in Australian, UK and US hop varieties. None of these hop varieties are actually disclosed, however the end result is a veritable storm of passionfruit, mango and tropical flavours with an undertone of earthy spice.
2. Crown Lager
Last confirmed sighting: It’s ubiquitous.
Beneath a pleasant enough lager base beer is, incongruously enough, an abundance of Pride of Ringwood hop character. Somehow the backbone keeps in check Ringwood’s spicy, earthy edge. Crown Lager is as intriguing as it is oddly refreshing.
3. Wiehenstephaner: Pilsner
Last confirmed sighting: Most independent and chain bottleshops stock it, though it isn’t quite as ubiquitous as the company’s flagship Hefe.
That clean German Pilsner taste is made possible by not only water high in sulphates but also its noble (pardon the pun) Continental hop profile. Expect floral, grassy, perfumed and slightly spicy aromas and flavours beneath a beautifully poised Sao-biscuit malt backbone.
4. Epic: Hop Zombie
Last confirmed sighting: Slowbeer Fitzroy
Always be sure to check the bottling / best after date with these big IPAs. They lose their lustre quickly. Epic Hop Zombie has one of the biggest hop profiles of any brewery’s core range globally, and although it’s made not entirely locally in Australian terms, it’s local enough that drinkers can get a sense of its true character. Expect copious amounts of resin and tropical fruit character.
5. Fullers: IPA
Last confirmed sighting: The International Beer Shop, Leederville
From new world hop bombs to the old world splendour of an English IPA. Where US-inspired IPAs are all about whopping resin, citrus and tropical fruit characters, English IPAs are somewhat more restrained and earthy in character. Fullers’ India Pale Ale exemplifies this difference with subtle herbal, spicy and floral notes with a more bready backbone than one might encounter from a modern take on the style.
6. Cantillon: Cuvée St. Gilloise
Last confirmed sighting: The Freo Doctor Bottleshop, Fremantle (a new batch has since been shipped to Australia)
Most Lambics utilise hops purely for their preservative qualities. Cantillon, being the mad hatters they are, decided to dry hop an unblended Lambic (which is to say it is not a gueuze) which is uncommon within Lambic brewing tradiitions. Sitting atop a dense melange of oak and funk is a luscious floral and earthy hop character. A new era Lambic perfect for these strange modern times.