The Hops Mirage: Pellets, Flowers, Powders, and Time

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I don’t know that it’s possible to drink or brew beer these days without confronting, face-first and chin-out, hop heads. If it’s just the beer drinking variety, they can be a bit soporific: there’s only so much discussion of whatever experimental hops such-and-such brewery was using that I can take before my mind starts to wander. I’m also not at all sold (experimental results forthcoming) that they (or I) can tell the difference between hoppy beers unless they’re sitting side-by-side. Still, with them it’s more about endurance than engagement.

It’s the brewers, though, that I get into the most spirited debates with, especially on the question of what really makes for hops aroma. I think I manage to bring most of them around on the practical physics of the thing (that in the boil, they’re all bittering hops - if you want aroma/flavor, add it in the whirlpool), but I still get no end up pushback on the question of hop form.

Let’s just put it out there. Pellets, powders, whole flower hops - it doesn’t much matter, so stop wasting my time with it. Time, it turns out, is exactly what we don’t have when it comes to hops flavor and aroma.

A Matter of Time

I say that knowing full well that many of you have strong feelings, especially about Cryo Hops/powders/hash. The problem is that while I agree with you that they yield a domineering and impressive hops presence in the short term, within even a few days there’s just no difference. And believe you me, I’ve tried. The effects are (to borrow a phrase from political scientist Larry Bartels) either minimal or fugitive outside of that super-tight window.

I don’t drink most of my beer in the 96 hours after packaging. If you do, then go ahead and move on - keep pounding your IPAs and American Ambers while drink-reading through some other pieces here at good ol’ Beer Simple. The rest of you, though, can rest easy. If you’re planning on serving that beer in a week, or two, or (Ninkasi forbid) a month, then you’re just as well off with conventional hopping products.

Time isn’t your friend. We know that, as brewers. Just how big an enemy it is, though, is obvious when you get a whiff of the intense aromatics of a cryo-hopped beer…and then some time passes.

The Mirage

It’s an attractive illusion, those hops powders. You can just tell that they’re going to work. And they do - but just as you’re walking across the room to stick your friend’s nose into the glass…

Gone.

OK, so it’s not that quick, but it’s not far off, either. I’ve played with these hops six ways from Sunday, and I’ve never been able to produce a stable advantage from them. In a week (or less) they’re more or less indistinguishable in intensity.

Whirlpool only. Whirpool and dry hop (this was best, btw). Just dry hop. Multi-stage dry hop. Pellet and powder (this was best, btw). Pellet and flower. All three. Significant and interesting immediate differences - no lasting difference.

Maybe your experience is different. Maybe my system, or process, or yeast, or something is nulling it out.

But I just don’t see it. To me, different forms of hops are just a mirage of flavor, shimmering in the background and all resolving into the same hoppy finale when I get closer.

Right, for the Wrong Reasons

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them, of course. There are advantages in the form of less ingredient loss, probably in product shelf life as well (though I’ve never had an issue storing hops in the freezer for even years at a time), convenience, or even just the knowledge that you’re doing all you can (even if that “all” doesn’t amount to much) to amp up your hops flavors.

Maybe these fancy products are right, just for the wrong reasons.

Whatever the case, though, I had to say it, just one time, to all of you: when it comes to hops, I’m going to have to keep acting like the kid who said the emperor was naked, even if that means I’m beaten to a hoppy hash by King Gambrinus’ green-clad courtiers.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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