Top Menu

Archive | November, 2012

Another way to think about aroma, hops and beer

DRAFT magazine hoppy beer evaluation

Does this illustration courtesy of DRAFT magazine1 make you think about beer aroma and flavor any differently? Particularly hops? The point is not whether you find grapefruit more prominent in New Belgium’s Ranger IPA or Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA or if you agree that Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA has more bitterness than Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale but less hop punch.

I like it because the colored meters make it easy to think in terms of volume (synonym: impact) as well as the way the aroma components fit together. This is different than spider graphs (here are a couple more examples beyond the one that follows), so brilliant that I take back everything nasty I said when DRAFT used the antiquated tongue map as an illustration in its early issues.

Cascade hop, Barth Haas Hop Aroma Compendium

This spider chart appears in The Hop Aroma Compendium compiled by Joh. Barth & Sohn. The tan portion indicates how two beer sommeliers and a perfumist perceived the aroma of raw Cascade hops, while the green shows how that changed in a cold infusion (similar to dry hopping).

These work best if you are willing to accept, perhaps even embrace, a certain amount of ambiguity. Members of tasting panels at breweries are trained to identify X or Y as this or that aroma or flavor. That’s so their brewers can make beer with a certain level of consistency. (See New Beer Rule #4.) Drinking, and enjoying, beer can be altogether different, and it might be best not to get too specific when trying to pick out particular aromas or flavors. In How to Love Wine author Eric Asimov devotes an entire chapter to “The Tyranny of the Tasting Note.” It’s a topic he’s addressed before, and tends to get wine writers pretty riled up. He makes excellent points, but also some I’m not sure I agree with. Probably something better examined in a separate post (maybe even the next one). But a key takeaway is that when somebody starts describing “aromas of apricot, jam, guava, and jackfruit” that there’s little chance another drinker will get then that tasting note is not only useless, but discouraging.

These visual representations are much friendlier. Both managing editor Jessica Daynor and beer editor Chris Staten provided details via email about the illustration in DRAFT.

“. . . there’s no formal data behind the sensory ratings — just our ratings of each flavor element from 1 to 5 (that number was multiplied by 6 in design, which is how we got the final artwork you see in print),” Daynor wrote. “We feel that part of our job as editors is to present beer to readers in as many digestible ways as possible, and particularly for people new to beer, sometimes, it’s more practical to make sense of flavor elements visually, which is what we did here. It’s so easy to make generalized statements about IPAs: ‘They’re really bitter;’ ‘They’re hoppy;’ etc., but what does that actually mean? And if that’s the case, then aren’t all IPAs the same? With that piece, we’re trying to show that even among the most common IPAs on shelves, there are many flavor nuances that make each beer unique.”

Staten added: “I’ve always been intrigued with the path beer drinkers take when they’re first exploring the world of hops. Often, I run into newer drinkers who say they love IPAs but can’t figure out why particular IPAs rub them the wrong way — lot’s of the time it’s because they aren’t focusing enough on the flavor profile to discover likes and dislikes. The piece was just a casual way to let these particular readers know that there’s a wide range of hop flavors, and a wide range of flavor combinations/perceived bitterness/etc. from IPA to IPA.”

A casual way. I like that.


1 The November/December issue (“Top 25 Beers of the Year” cover).

‘Wet hops’ are not retro

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a fine, but imperfect, story about five Wisconsin breweries partnering to create beer made with unkilned Wisconsin hops. The story hit a rough patch of air about half way in.

The advantage of using wet hops is that it produces a fresher, more authentic taste, said Jon Reynolds, managing director of the Midwest Hops and Barley Co-op, a growers organization based in Onalaska.

“People always ask, ‘What was beer like 100 years ago?’ ” said Russ Klisch, Lakefront Brewery owner. “Well, that’s probably what it was like.”

OK, trouble also appeared a little bit earlier, something in the second paragraph about the beers being “more flavorful.” Hey, I like the aromas and flavors that result when brewers use hops directly from the bine. There’s I reason a found time to attend the Hood River Hops Festival in September.

But I wouldn’t necessarily call the beers more flavorful, and I certainly don’t know what the bleep a “more authentic taste” might be.

I do know that using unkilned hops would not be the way to replicate the taste of beers 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, brewers used whole leaf hops (some, such as Sierra Nevada and Deschutes do today) that looked much like unkilned hops, but they were kilned and sometimes treated in such a way they lost many of their desirable attributes.1

One hundred years ago, Wisconsin brewers produced 5 million barrels of beer. One hundred years ago, the Wisconsin hop industry — which flourished briefly in the 1870s — was long gone.

That Wisconsin brewers are using Wisconsin hops is a pretty good story, and they way they are using them is equally interesting. No need to gussy things up with questionable claims and impossible to define words like “authentic.” (Yes, the C word also appears, but let’s not revisit that discussion.)


1 They differ in other ways as well, but you’ll have to buy the book.

But The Boss didn’t sing Happy Birthday to Boulevard

Boulevard beer flight at Flying Saucer in Kansas City

Orval and Boulevard Nommo DubbelSaturday we drove across the state of Missouri to Kansas City so we could see a(nother) Bruce Springsteen concert.

Also Saturday, although Boulevard Brewing didn’t make a big deal out of it, the brewery sort of wished itself a happy anniversary, birthday, whatever, with a tweet: Twenty-three years ago, our founder, John McDonald, tapped the first sold keg of Pale Ale. So it seemed appropriate that I start an afternoon of drinking and conversation at the Flying Saucer1 Draught Emporium with their Boulevard flight (Flying Saucer offers a variety of themed flights, each including five five-ounce pours). It was not my plan going in. I prefer full pours,2 and it’s not like I don’t already know these beers well. Boulevard has a significant presence in St. Louis and, after all, is brewed in Missouri. I choose to call it local although it is brewed 250 miles away. You are free to disagree. Anyway, very familiar beers. Hold that thought.

Springsteen went flat out for about three hours Saturday evening, rolling one song into another. He offered a mix of old, not so old, and new. What struck me, probably during “Death to My Hometown,” is how quickly the new songs can find a spot deep in my bones. Music does that. Not just Springsteen. My experience was the same at recent Joe Ely and James McMurtry concerts.

I would give up beer before I would give up music; it really is an in the bones thing. But there is much to be said for beer (witness the number of words here). And for familiar. When I smell Smokestack Tank 7 (lower left in the top photo) I know where things are going to lead, and I’m happy to follow. Tank 7 is one of those beers tickers chase. They first time I tasted it was like the first time I heard McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo.” Wow, give me that again.

If we still lived in New Mexico it’d be one of the beers I’d recommend when I get the occasional request for input from those looking for wow beers to list in magazine articles and books. However, it’s a local beer (for me), and it has become familiar. It’s not just the nuances I’ve come to know. I remember the quick smile on my brother’s face the first time he tasted it. I still try not to giggle when a server says there’s 15 minutes left of happy hour and Tank 7 is one of the choices.

Your regular beers may not be local. Heck, you might not have regular beers. But if they are local, you likely also understand something about they place they come from. You live there. For me, Boulevard’s beers are local not only because I can buy them easily here in St. Louis, but because we’ve spent a certain amount of time in Kansas City.

On Saturday that included an afternoon jawing primarily with Twitter star Jeremy Danner, who in real life is a brewer at Boulevard, and Cris Morgan, another Boulevard brewer, and his wife, Mary — but also several other innocent passersby Jeremy introduced me to.

Thus I should explain the second photo. The Morgans started with Orval. After they poured their beers, and perhaps establishing at the outset I can be short on couth, I asked to see one of the empty bottles, because, well, its Orval and you always wonder what kind of age it has on it. Both beers had been bottled on Nov. 17 last year. They were one year old to the day.

So what you’ve got it is a picture of two birthday beers (the Boulevard beer being Smokestack Nommo Dubbel).


1 The hotel we stayed in was sold out, and it seemed as if every guest was going to the concert. One woman who checked in at the same time we did asked the clerk for directions to the Flying Monkey Draught Emporium.

2 See NEW BEER RULE #3: You must drink at least two servings of a beer before you pass judgment on it.

3 Certainly, there are many beers like that. Saturday I was struck by the Czech Pilsner at Gordon Biersch, conveniently next door to the Flying Saucer. This was the third Czech Pilsner I’ve had at a GB restaurant this year. The first two were excellent. This was better. A beer I’d love to become more familiar with.

Assorted beer links (including Xmas Photo Contest Rules)

Russian River Damnation at the Grand Canyon

– Alan McLeod has posted the rules for Xmas Photo Contest 2012 at A Good Beer Blog, always one of the highlights of the holiday season. He would like more photos of beer and snow, more of beer and babies. The contest begins Friday and runs through Dec. 7. (The photo at the top was taken several years ago at the Grand Canyon, and I think I’ve posted it here before, but I wanted something with beer and snow . . .)

He’s proud to call himself a Cicerone. A what? When Ray Daniels got that MBA from Harvard he must have sensed he was destined to end up in the Wall Street Journal.

“Katechismus des Praktischen Brauwesens,” 1880. Fig. 193, Handpichmaschine. Courtesy of Evan Rail.

New brewing qualification launched for independent brewers (UK story).

Great Divide adds two new seasonals, dumps Wild Raspberry Ale. There was once a time, hard to believe, that the Great Divide beer you spotted most often outside of Colorado was Wild Raspberry Ale.

Powered by WordPress