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Background: I was drinking a New Belgium "Tour de Fall" last week and thinking about the hops that I was tasting in the finish. For me, hops in general were a pretty slowly acquired taste, and I didn't start truly appreciating the hoppy West Coast style until I encountered Sierra Nevada "Torpedo" and fell in love.

Now I finally find myself wanting to get to know specific varieties of hops by flavor and scent. Amarillo, Cascade, and so on - I know there are dozens and dozens of varieties, but how do I start training myself to recognize their differences (and identify the most common varieties) in the drink itself?

Should I buy some hops from a supply store, and huff 'em like a soccer mom in a fabric softener commercial? Or would that be totally different from what comes through in a beer? Would it be better to find a stool at a local brewery/brewpub and ask for a lesson in liquid form?

  • 1
    +1 for interesting question. If I could give another +1 for "huff 'em like a soccer mom in a fabric softener commercial" I would. – CKrug Aug 20 '14 at 12:09
  • Wine tasting. The idea of wine tasting came to mind. But this is not about wine. It's about hops. Perhaps you could be the first person to coin "hops tasting" and start clubs for tasting hops. – user6035379 Oct 8 '16 at 8:46
6

This is a great question, I'm still learning but here's what I've tried:

Single hop beers.

I'm in the UK but here's what I've managed to get in the past

  • Mikkeller single hop series
  • IPA is dead by BrewDog
  • Arbor often do single hop beers

Your mileage may vary but if you keep your eye out, hopefully you'll find a local brewer doing this kind of thing.

I've also had a couple of single yeast flights which were very enlightening.

Tastings

A couple of hops really stick in my mind because of when I had them. I remember going to a tasting of a local's brewers Galaxy IPA and he'd filled the shop with glasses of Galaxy hops and it smelled incredable.

Another time was tasting a Sorachi Ace beer by Wiper and True. It was horrific, but hearing the descriptions my fellow drinkers came up with and having the brewer explaining the history of the hop really anchored it to me. It meant when I had Little Things that Kill by weird beard, I could pick it out straight away.

Geography

The other thing that I enjoy is learning where and when and why a hop has come about. European hops are so different from American which are different again from British. Not to mention New Zealand hops which have their own aromas. Obviously it's not always consistant but being able to say what kind of region a hop tastes like is a good start!

5

Hop Union has an "Aroma Wheel" that can help with scent:

Also look at the Hop Variety page to get a little more information.
The thing to remember is scent doesn't always translate to taste, especially with hoppy beers such as IPA's after the beer has aged a bit. To get the taste you really need to try a beer made only with that hop (my opinion) to see what characteristics it imparts. Hop Union does have a Hop and Brew School every year for both craft (professional) brewers and home brewers.

  • Didn't know about Hop Union, +1 for a good resource – Air Aug 19 '14 at 15:24
4

You can buy a small selection of a few hops and a 6 or 12 pack of bud light or coors light. Pop the tops, toss in a few hops, re-cap and mark what hop is in each. Wait a day or two and then taste. This will highlight the aroma and some of the upfront flavors of the hop more than it's bitterness and will get you familiar with that hop variety. This does require having a bottle caper and some caps, but those can be bought either at a local homebrew store or online for less than 20 dollars when you purchase the small 1oz bags of hops.

If you homebrew, try to brew small brew in a bag batches of 1 gallon to try different hop varieties. I don't do it too often but it's an easy 3 hour brew day and helps a lot with identifying hop profiles for bitterness, late addition, and dry hopping.

2

Water does a fair job of dissolving the aromatic compounds in hops but the resinous or oily compounds will dissolve better in ethanol. To get a really clean extract of hops, steep fresh or dry hops in vodka or neutral grain spirits, then filter and dilute with water for tasting. The straight extract can be overwhelming. A really good extract will be a milky yellow color.

Also, try adding the extract to an un-hopped beer to to see how the flavor changes when mixed with other ingredients. When hops are boiled in the wort during brewing, the heat can cause chemical reactions between the aromatics and other ingredients, giving the brew a slightly different flavor than the uncooked flavor of the extracts.

We grow hops and my husband loves IPAs so he makes these hop extracts to mix with beer and cocktails.

1

Try to make a tea out of the hops. Put a flower or a pellet in a mug, Pour boiling water over it, Wait for 10 minutes, Taste, Make notes.

Try to get hold of some samples of hops at local or regional (home)brewers. Most likely they will be happy to help out a fellow brewer.

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