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A little hops knowledge goes a long way in choosing IPAs

September 7, 2018
Most craft beers contain a mix of different hops, which helps to create additional profiles or layers of flavor.

Inserting hops into any stage of fermentation is called dry hopping. Dry hopping imparts an additional burst of aroma without contributing much change to the taste.

When brewers use hops within hours after they’re picked, its called wet hopping. Wet-hopped brews taste distinctively more grassy and plant-like compared to the kiln-dried hops or hops pellets used by most of your local family-owned breweries.

Types of hops

When trying to describe the taste of an IPA (India Pale Ale), people often exclaim that it has a big, citrusy taste often described as grapefruit, orange and maybe even melon. If I had a dime for every time someone told me they pass on IPAs because they don’t care for fruit in their beer ... Lets clear the air on the subject.

Fruit juice is NOT the source used to create the “citrusy” taste found in 99 percent of the IPAs found on tap. It is understandable to make the assumption that fruit has been added -- given that brewers are creating so many delicious, over-the-top beers with biting bitterness, booming citrusy flavors and aromas to match.

The fact is, not all hops are created equal. Not all apples are sweet; some are tart and some are better for baking. Concord grapes taste sweet off the vine, but biting into a Petite Syrah grape will leave a funny look on your face. Hops are no different.

Yet, as we close in on having 100 different varieties available, many consumers are still under the impression that they all taste the same.

American hops, such as Citra, produce a light sweetness, with peach, lemon and tropical fruit characteristics. Simcoe hops are packed with dank pine, wood, and musky characteristics. Cascade hops offer a wallop of bitterness and balances malty sweetness while leaving a floral and spicy finish. Noble hops are a classic European varietal, which impart aroma but lack bitterness. They’re often used for pilsners and lagers and accentuate a clean and crisp taste.

As agriculturists continue to grow new types of hops, so grows the list of unique names which are assigned to describe them: Dr. Rudi, Equinox, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook, Cascade and Mosaic, to name a few.

The ABCs of IBUs

When selecting a beer, check the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) rating. This is a scientific system for measuring bittering compounds, which ranges from 0 to 120.

Lower numbers indicate the least amount of bitterness and higher numbers impart a bold, bitter quality. Most beers fall within the 15 to 80 IBU range.

Perceived bitterness is subjective to the individual, of course. Since our palates are somewhat unique, IBUs can certainly guide you to the range you desire but keep in mind everyone has their own sense of taste. I say po-tay-to, you say po-tah-to -- lets call the whole thing hops!

Know your hops

It’s almost magical how a single plant can serve as the workhorse to take on so many duties.

Hops can fool our taste buds to mimic tropical fruit. Hops provide flavor balance to the malt. Hops also serve as a natural preservative.

Most craft beers contain a mix of different hops, which helps to create additional profiles or layers of flavor. A great way to get to know which hops you prefer over others is to try “single hop series” beers. These brews, unlike most, are brewed with only one type of hops.

After a time, you’ll be able to find the IPAs that suit your taste and pass on the ones that are brewed with hops you don’t prefer. Getting to know which hops you enjoy is seriously upping your craft beer drinking game. It’s not much different than knowing which grapes you prefer in a wine.

My craft beer friends helped me collect a few local single series beers, which I’ve mentioned below. Here’s to learning, one hop at a time.

Cheers!

The Washington Brewing Co. (Washington, Pa.)

The Professor

American Pale Ale (5.5 percent ABV) (33 IBU). Single hopped with Dr. Rudi, which produces flavors and aromas of lemongrass and pine.

Four Seasons Brewing Co. (Latrobe)

Citra Lager

Lager (5.4 percent ABV). Single hopped with Citra, which impart flavors and aromas of peach, lemon, lime and tropical fruit.

Yellow Bridge Brewing Co. (Delmont)

Cha Cha -- Motueka

American IPA (7 percent ABV). Single hopped with Motueka, which impart flavors and aromas of citrus, lime and pineapple.

East End Brewing Co. (Pittsburgh)

Green Giant

American IPA (7.2 percent ABV) (54 IBU). Single hopped with Citra, which is light and sweet. Produces flavors and aromas of peach, lemon, lime and tropical fruit.

Brew Gentlemen Brewing Co. (Braddock)

Momo

American IPA (5.8 percent ABV). Single hopped with Mosaic. Produces a dank, earthy aroma with large notes of herbs, tropical fruit and berries.

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