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Bell’s Hopslam described (catty alert)

Bell's Hopslam

Bell’s Hopslam is in the house, meaning our house. This is a good thing. It’s 10% alcohol by volume and plenty of hops were used to make this beer. We will drink some this evening, but there will be no taking or posting of notes.

Instead, the arrival of Hopslam in St. Louis — 50 cases at The Wine and Cheese Place that may already be gone (or spoken for) — is an excuse to post the perfect description of the beer. From John Mallett, who is the production manager at Bell’s.

Mallett1 is also president of the Hop Quality Group, a non-profit organization of brewers who recognize the need to communicate their interest in hop aroma to hop farmers. The tagline on the the HQG logo reads “oils over alpha,” although any particular member is as likely to say “aroma over alpha” when talking about the short history of the group.

At the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Mallett and other members of the group explained just why the group was formed and described their goals. Mallett talked about the importance of communicating to growers that brewers’ needs have changed because drinkers’ tastes have changed. Aromas considered undesirable, literally for centuries, are now desirable. He used a Bell’s beer, rather obviously Hopslam, as an example.

Twenty years ago — a time, by the way, that hops such as Simcoe and Citra were already being developed, but weren’t about to find immediate popularity — there wasn’t a brewer on earth who would have gone to the annual Hop Growers of American convention and said, as he did, “I’m going to have a beer that we make 4,000 barrels of, one time a year. It flies off the shelf at damn near $20 a six-pack, and you know what it smells like? It smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.”

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1 Mallett is also the author of what will be the fourth book in Brewers Publications ingredients series, this one containing everything you could want to know about malt.

Maybe we need a hop flavor/aroma wheel

It was probably a half dozen years ago and our daughter, Sierra, was maybe 8 years old when she first heard a brewer and I talk about if one of his dry hopped beers seemed a bit “catty.”

She looked puzzled. Daria explained we were talking about an aroma associated with a litter box. She giggled, clearly not understanding this was a serious discussion.

Yesterday Pete Brown wrote about “dank” — a descriptor which comes with its own interesting sidebar. But that aside, Pete’s post and the comments that followed illustrate the challenge of describing what we smell and taste.

There’s no arguing that hops such as Citra and Eldorado contribute aromas hops previously have not. But it’s not clear if some aromas considered “bad” a few years ago are now acceptable. At least for the niche within a niche that constitutes those who enjoy hop-centric beers. And descriptions of flavors not acceptable in England in the 1930s that simply refer to “rank American type” or “Manitoba” don’t provide much help. On the one hand, brewers didn’t care for American Pacific Coast hops because of their “peculiar aroma.” On the other, they found drinkers liked an “American tang” in moderation.

It would have been nice had there by a beer flavor wheel (at the top) or a beer aroma wheel (bottom – click on either to enlarge). The former is better established, but both are works in progress. Use them as you will, but feel free to digress, as @olllllo did here: “David Schollmeyer’s Bucket Hugger is on @Papagobrewing and is a licorice mule with velvet socks.”

Beer Flavor Wheel

Beer Aroma Wheel

When American hops sucked . . .

The United States became a net exporter of hops in the 1870s, so somebody must have liked varieties grown in America. In fact, exactly 100 years ago the U.S. exported 10.5 million pounds of hops and imported 3.2 million. Eighty percent of the exports went to England, while almost all the imports came from Germany and Austria-Hungary (thus Bohemia, where Saaz hops were grown).

Yet consider this from article in The Edinburgh Review from 1862, only a few years before the U.S. began exporting more hops than it imported:

“American hops may also be dismissed in a few words. Like American grapes, they derive a course, rank flavour and smell from the soil in which they grow, which no management, however careful, has hitherto succeeded in neutralising. There is little chance in their competing in our market with European growth, except in season of scarcity and of unusually high prices.”

Think how you’d feel if you were a grower and read that at Rate Hops or Hop Advocate?

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