I’ve been enjoying Beerbecue’s Hop-epedia posts for several reasons. One, as a “cook” and “chemist”, ingredients and processes always fascinated me. And whether it’s an awesome bolognese or hoppy IPA I not only want to know what’s in it, but how the cook/brewer got what he did out of those ingredients. Second, as a former homebrewer I’m looking forward to catching up on some of the newer hops that are being used today. Especially since many of them have replaced the ones that were commonly used 15+ years ago when I brewed.
His latest post on Centennial struck such a chord with me as it’s a prevalent hop now in IPAs and hoppy beers in general. But the variety was released in 1990 which means it was “the new kid on the block” at the end of my brewing days. Instead, the hop that it’s most usually compared to, Cascade, was the most used hop of its kind in my brew circle. Having read Beerbecue’s article and seeing how these two hops are similar but still have subtle differences, I entered State Line on a mission. This mission took me along an aisle I rarely walk down, to a brewery I rarely buy – Mikkeller Brewing from Copenhagen.
I could write a whole post on Mikkeller (and one day I might), suffice it to say that they are a well respected brewery that’s been pushing the envelope in taste all over the world. They’ve collaborated with such breweries as Brewdog, Three Floyds, Stillwater, Cigar City and Stone Brewing. But today I was interested in one of their more interesting endeavors, the single hop series.
An ambitious and noble project if there ever was one, the single hop series is a collection of beers all brewed to the same specifications with the only difference being (obviously) the single hop variety used in each one. There are 19 beers in total, each showcasing one of the following hops : Bravo, Cascade, Centennial, Cluster, Columbus, Galena, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Super Galena, Tettnanger, Willamette, Citra, Palisade, Simcoe, Warrior, Challenger, Magnum, Amarillo, and Sorachi Ace. I’ve seen them all on the shelves many times, but never thought to grab a couple and taste them until now. So with the recently read post in mind I walked out with a bottle of Cascade, Centennial and Columbus.
I’m not going to spend a lot time describing the beers other than to say that I was surprised that, yes, all things considering these three beers did indeed seem like the exact same beer in mouth feel, malt profile and alcohol level (all three labeled as 6.8-6.9% ABV). One interesting exception though was the head. The head on the Centennial beer was thick and dense compared to the other two even though all three beers seemed equally carbonated. My first thought was that this made sense because Centennial’s higher alpha acid content meant more isohumulones which aid in head retention. Sadly that bubble was burst when I looked up Columbus and found that it had a higher alpha acid content then Centennial so with that reasoning the Columbus beer should have had a more dense head as well. So much for an eureka moment. It should be noted also that although Mikkeller used a single hop for each beer, they kept the amount (by weight) of hops used for bittering, aroma, flavor and dry hopping the same. Thus the beers have different balances and IBUs depending on the alpha content of the hop.
I poured all three beers into separate Stoudt’s Micro Brew Fest tasting glasses. The first one I tasted was the Cascade. The aroma was like saying hello to an old friend with it’s “fresh bag of hops” smell interlaced with notes of citrus. The flavor was more of the same with notes of grapefruit and a clean bitter finish. Pretty much textbook cascade. Next I tried the Centennial and it was immediate how similar the two are. The aromas are pretty spot on, the Centennial being a little bolder to me with some of the grapefruit dialed out. There definitely is something else going on in the flavor however. I was getting a little something else after the citrus. A lingering note. Pine? Wood? I could almost convince myself but to be honest it wasn’t standing out as much as in some other beers I’ve had. The ending bitter was more lingering and definitely not as crisp as the Cascade but this may simply be a function of the higher IBUs (56 vs 38 in the cascade). Finally I came to the Columbus. Again, the fact that these three hops were in the same ball park was evident. The Columbus was not nearly as citrusy in the aroma or taste as the other two, but the pine/resin was more evident in the flavor. Like the Centennial the ending was not crisp (114 IBUs) and as Beerbecue stated in his post, I could believe that if I took both the Cascade and Columbus beer I could have blended them at some ratio and gotten pretty close to the Centennial.
This experiment was in no way all encompassing. There are many aspects in the brewing process that can affect how the flavors from the hops are enhanced or subdued in the final product. So having Cascade or Centennial in another beer could be perceived slightly different than the Mikkeller beers. But the experience was good enough to give a me a basic idea on how these hops compare with each other. Thanks to Beerbecue for making school fun again!
Time for another beer.