Most beer is made from just four main ingredients: grain, hops, yeast, and water. But when you consider the diversity of products available within each of these categories, it's easy to understand where beer gets its depth. There's a whole slew of grains in many colors and treatments, scores of hop varieties grown in different climates, and countless strains of yeast with different characteristics depending on fermentation conditions. Manipulation of water chemistry even gives the brewer freedom to screw around with his H2O! What's in your beer? Let's get into it a bit...
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By focusing on just two ingredients, you can filter out the other "noise" and learn your Centennials from your Chinooks and your Munich malt from your Vienna. You'll know exactly what each ingredient tastes like, and learning those flavor and aroma characteristics on their own will help you tweak recipes with more components later on.
Anchor Distilling in San Francisco's Potrero Hill is a pretty small operation—the copper stills they use to make Old Potrero Whiskey, Junipero Gin, and Genevieve could probably all fit in my living room. They've recently released a new, unusual product—a vodka distilled with two types of Yakima Valley hops.
Careful readers may have caught my first article on how to identify the "three C" hops in beer a few weeks back. If you did, the fun must be winding down by now—there's only so many times you can call out a whiff of that Cascade grapefruit before the other regulars at your local get a little sick of you. It's time to expand your repertoire.
These days, there seem to be more hopheads out there than uhh....human heads. And yet, not many people know what exactly goes into their bitter beers—what makes each brew different from the other. Hoppiness exists not merely as a linear scale of IBUs, but as an array of flavors, aromas, and bitterness. Each hop variety (and there are dozens) is different, and identifying them is easier than you might think. Let's start with the hope you're most likely to be sipping in your pint of American IPA: a group of hops known as the "Three C's."
American beer geeks have consistently worshiped the iconic hops of the Pacific Northwest: the grapefruity Cascade, the orangey Amarillo, the resinous Columbus. This obsession will likely continue into infinity, but there's a recent trend in American craft beer that bears acknowledgement: the growing popularity of Southern Hemisphere hop varieties, particularly from New Zealand and Australia.
Hops are extremely versatile, but that versatility is underexploited by homebrewers, microbrewers, and—of course—macrobrewers. Many brewers have pushed our palates to the limit of our hops bitterness tolerance, simply by cramming more and more hops into each pint. Few have stretched our palates to appreciate the many nuances hops have to offer. Here are a few techniques that will help you get the most out of your hops.
Knowing your hops is key to brewing great beer. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, and each year seems to bring more. Being familiar with the characteristics of a few essential hops can help you improve your recipe designs and make it easier to find substitutions when your homebrew shop's selection runs low. Here are a few tips on common hop varieties and the best way to use them.
Hops are a hearty perennial that will continue to produce more hop cones each year they mature. A first year plant may produce no more than a few ounces of hops, but by the third year some varieties will yield 1 to 2 pounds per plant. That's as much as many homebrewers use in a single season.
Opening a sealed package of hops from the homebrew store gives a blast of that fresh aroma that sometimes seems to be difficult to capture in a beer. The truth is, the simple technique of dry hopping is all it takes to bring out those wonderfully fresh citrus, pine and earthy aromas in your homebrew.