Friday, June 19, 2009

What Does Triple-Hopped Really Mean?

We were at a party a few weeks ago where the guest had a keg of Back Road Brewery's American Pale Ale. I think this beer is a good example of the style. The hops used in the beer seem to be a bit more catty than your typical APA that uses Centinniel and Cascade hops, trying to copy the original Sierra Nevada pale ale. However, there were quite a few people at the party, so after the keg was gone, the host asked for donations and brought back a keg of Miller Lite. As I may have stated, I would rather drink water than Miller Lite, so I was kind of bummed out about this.

Fortunately, my friend Chris R, showed up with a sixer each of Alpha King and Hoegaarden, and was gracious enough to let me have an Alpha King. I said, "Yeah, unfortunately, we had to get a keg of Miller Lite," and Chris said, "It's tripple-hopped, dude!"

I was wondering what the whole "Triple Hops Brewed" ad campaign was about. The average person probably doesn't even know what a "hop" is, let alone what they add to the beer. Miller uses a lot of words on their web page to describe what hops add, including "flavor" and "spiciness", but never do you see the b-word ("bitter").

That's right! Hops make a beer bitter. When I brew beer at home, and it depends on the style, some are more hoppier than others, but I would say, that on average, I use at least three hop additions (thus, triple-hop) in a batch of beer. The wort, which is beer without the yeast in it, is boiled, usually for 60 minutes. I add hops at the beginning of the boil (60 minutes), somewhere in the middle (30, 20, 15, or 10 minutes left of the boil), and usually at the very end (5, 2, or 0 minutes - 0 being where I turn the fire off under the kettle and throw the last ounce or so of hops in). Then I cool the wort down, and pitch the yeast. Yeast eat the sugar in the wort and poop carbon dioxide and alcohol.

The hops added at 60 minutes are called the bittering hops. That's right. That is the correct technical term! In fact, a calculation is used based on the alpha acid content of each hop, multiplied by the amount, multiplied by the time in the boil to give you International Bittering Units, or IBUs. This will make no sense to you unless you already know that hops cause bittering, and have tasted many beers to get an idea of how bitter each number means.

However, this dude explains it with in this article , and discusses IBUs as simply as it can get:

Today’s Budweiser and Miller might take their inspiration from true pilsner, but they lack key elements. Number one is malt. A great pilsner or lager should be based on nothing but. Instead, many light lagers are made with cheaper substitutes like corn and rice, which can be fermented to produce alcohol, but they lack that sweet richness that only malt can provide.

Number two is hops, which adds bitterness. Bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units (IBUs), and according to Sapsis, a true pilsner should have anywhere from 25 to 45 IBUs. Pilsner Urquell, for example, weighs in at about 40 IBUs. Miller Lite and Bud are somewhere in the 10–12 range.

So basically, even though you triple hop your beer, if you're only getting 10-12 IBU, that's really not a big deal. It's unfortunate that a company has the need to trick its customers into believing that they're drinking a quality product, when they are not. It's too bad that the Macro-brewers in this country spend BILLIONS of dollars on advertising, trying to show how different they are from each other, when they could be spending that money on making good beer, and using better ingredients.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mr. Crowley Black Ale - Now with Big Coffee Flavor

This week has been a new learning experience for me in regards to homebrewing. As I might have mentioned, a couple of weeks ago I brewed a huge Russian Imperial Stout. I decided to try to make another beer from the second runnings, because I knew that other people had done similar things, and it turned out pretty good.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I added honey to the second beer, which I dubbed Mr. Crowley, figuring it would help out with the gravity. I used a dry yeast, and it went from a starting gravity of 1.042 to a final gravity of 1.012, or about 4.2% ABV. Not bad. Didn't figure it would be a very heavy beer. Initial tastings of the final gravity were chocolatey and coffee-like. I thought it was...interesting, but still drinkable. I threw it in the fridge for a week to clarify it; it's something I've seen done to ales and I thought it would be cool to try, since if the fermenter fit, it would enable me to also lager in the fridge.

I took the beer out of the fridge and decided to dry hop it with an ounce of Simcoe hops. I sanitized a hop bag and shoved it into the carboy. I think next time, I'll just dump the hops in and siphon through a hop bag when I put it in the bottling bucket. A day after I did this, little floaties started to appear on top of the beer. Not a lot, and after the third day, it appeared that they were disappearing. Not sure what this was all about, but I thought it meant the beer got infected, which doesn't mean that you'll get sick if you drink it, just that the beer will have some off-flavors.

Last night, after 5 days, I pulled the hop bag out, and took a gravity sample. The aroma of Simcoe hops coming out of the top of the fermenter was amazing. Still at 1.012, which I expected. Poured the sample in a glass.

It smelled like coffee. Serious coffee. And it tasted like coffee, as well. Strong, black coffee that was 66 degrees. It was definitely not infected.

I walked the glass two blocks to my fellow brewer's house. He drank it. Swished it around. He said, "Did you put coffee in this?" I told him I did not.

I'm not sure I should still bottle this, but I'm curious as to find out what it will taste like after being bottled.