Monday 24 September 2012

Hops from farm to factory

It was non stop hops for me on Friday. First I went to a hop garden to pick up some undried hops for the last of the Kent Green Hop beers we'll be making this year.

The farm is near Goudhurst and as I drive past it every day it was good to have a look around.

Hops can be classified according to their ripening time: early,  mid or late season. We've take advantage of this to make three green hop beers using Early Choice "Golding", Bramling Cross, and now Target. The beers have turned out really well so far. I'd say Bramling Cross has the edge on Early Choice and it will be interesting to see how the Target turns out. It's known as a bittering, not an aroma, variety but I have heard you can get some interesting flavours off it, and as it won't even have been kilned lets hope we do.

These ones have been been kilned

After I'd delivered the green hops to the brewery it wasn't long before I was off again to Botanix, the hop company behind Simply Hops, for their open day.

We were treated to talks from a couple of hop experts, a tour, and got to play with hop extracts, which I've long been curious about.

The tour was a brief afair. Having once discussed the joys of the Reynolds number and theoretical plates with Botanix big cheese John Moss I was looking forward to the tour, but as it turned out there was so many of us and so little time he didn't really have a chance to go into much detail.

 Vitally important questions about CO2 extraction will have to wait for another day.

But I am pleased to report that they're got a new packing machine so the hops will come in more user friendly packets.

When it came to the playing with the extracts as seems to be the industry standard we used Bud as the base beer, and had bitter and Cascade aroma extracts in dropper bottles to add to taste.

Despite there being a recent outbreak of approval for extracts amongst the bloggerati I've been sceptical myself. Blame it on my biologist background but I'm dubious that somethings as complicated as the resins and oils of a plant can be replaced with a purified extract without affecting the flavour. Even at the simple level of bitterness there are six forms of iso-alpha acids found in beer which have different flavour characteristics, and they are by no means the only compounds that give beer bitterness. As to hop aroma there are hundreds of compounds involved. Extracting and purifying hop compounds will inevitably lead to a loss in complexity of flavour, even if it makes it easier to increase the intensity.  

The extracts we have were rho-iso-alpha acid for bitterness and Cascade Pure Hop Aroma for flavour. The bittering extract did its job well and certainly improved the Bud, though I'm sure if the brewers had used more hops in the first place it would have been better still. The aroma extract was not so good. It certainly added flavour but I didn't get the characteristic grapefruit flavour I expect from Cascade. Interesting stuff though, and I quite like the idea of having a dropper bottle of bitter extract handy to pep up a dull beer.

 Then it was time for beer and nibbles, I mean networking, but the usual problem of having to drive meant my networking was restricted to one bottle. I did get to talk to lots of people though, which was nice.

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