I’m sure that others will have tried this before me, but I haven’t seen or read anything about it recently, so here goes. I decided to have a go at making a few jars of hop tea, not so much for the drinking, but for the experience, although I have read that hops can be used in medicinal teas. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the brewing industry experienced enough, or maybe beer enthusiasts who have a keen enough sense of smell who can differentiate between hop varieties, by looking, feeling, smelling and tasting the hops in their raw format, dried and or wet.
I’m so new to brewing that I have only used maybe ten different hop varieties to date. When I had the idea to make some hop tea I had eight varieties in the freezer two of which were opened so left them alone. From the six I plucked from the deep freeze, three were UK varieties,
and three US two from the US and one German. From the UK: East Kent Goldings (EKG), Fuggles and Pilgrim, from Germany: Magnum and from the US: Chinnook and Columbus. The %AA values scribbled on the pieces of paper are to denote the alpha acids present in the hop resin. Alpha acids provide the bitterness we enjoy in beer. Beta acids complete the resins found in hops and contribute to the beers aroma. High AA beers, for example the Columbus are primarily used for their bittering qualities with this particular harvest offering 16.5% alpha acids by weight (AABW). Aroma hops usually have a lower concentration of alpha acids and higher concentration of beta acids. Just to confuse those of you who are even newer to brewing than I am, some bittering hops (which are typically boiled for longer during the brewing process to impart their bitterness) can also be used successfully as aroma hops, and hops primarily used for adding aroma can be used in larger quantities throughout the boil to impart bitterness and aroma.
Fuggle 4.3% AA
Despite having come straight from the freezer, the hops were dry, pale yellow in colour and had very little aroma. The little aroma present was grassy. Having recently been to a brewday where a single hop fuggle beer filled the air with fresh orange pith, my stock was a poor reflection. Possibly past their best.
East Kent Goldings 5.2% AA
Like with the fuggles, these were dry to the touch, more a pale green in colour and had a very weak, yet sweet aroma, even when rubbed between my fingers. This was not what I had been hoping for. Possibly past their best.
Pilgrim 11.2% AA
I bought these recently and used them in an IPA as the bittering hop along with Cascade and plenty of Columbus late in the copper. They were noticeably more sticky than the fuggles and EKG and pale green in colour. When rubbed between my fingers they were indeed sticky and pungent, almost cheesy, which I have read is not a great sign of freshness? Can I just say at this point that I had divided the hops into jars all in one go, so as you might expect there was a strong smell of hops in the kitchen and was making things difficult.
Chinnook 12.4% AA (2009)
These were from a packet I bought a couple of months ago and were dry with a slight resinous feel and light green in colour. The aroma was distinct, white pepper and citrus fruit, very fresh and pleasant.
Magnum 12.7% AA (2010)
As with the Chinnook these had only been in my possession for a couple of months. The were bright green in colour, very sticky and I have to admit that I found it difficult to identify the aromas, only to say that they had plenty going on.
Columbus 16.5% AA
Also very fresh and green in colour (not as striking as the magnum) and out of all six varieties they had the most aroma, really pleasant, with white pepper and citrus aromas. I don’t mind saying that I found trying to identify aromas of dry hops very tricky. Some of them, especially the high alpha acid US varieties were very familiar to me and no doubt due to the beers I’ve been enjoying of late – beers which have been generously dry hopped.
The next stage was to add boiling water to each jar and let them steep for ten minutes before tasting each variety. This is where the wheels fell off my grand hop tasting session!
What can I really say here, without using Google to save me from abject failure. What I can say with authority is from fuggle through to columbus the hop tea became progressively more unpalatable. If you brew and have tasted your boiled wort, then you know what I am talking about here. Especially in highly hopped beers, the wort tastes so bitter that it can be unpleasant and in my opinion not dissimilar to chewing on a Paracetamol tablet. The aromas were interesting in that, unsurprisingly, the process of steeping intensified the dry aromas, with the columbus been the stand out favourite for me, which bodes well for this brew.
So what did I learn from this exercise? well, I’ve learnt that brewing with the freshest hops you can source is a must. It may seem obvious to be saying this, but I really didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which the opened packets of hops in my freezer have been degrading. If you consider that the hops homebrewers buy are probably not the best from the harvest as the choicest hops will have been snapped up by the buyers/distributors and ultimately the major breweries. Also, theses hops have been handled a lot, they have been packaged and repackaged, experienced changing temperatures and then we (the homebrewer) may use 20g from a 100g packet and then bung them in the freezer with the blind faith that they’ll be fine the next time we happen to use them. On a lighter note, it may also be fair to say that when smelling a load of hops all in close proximity, then describing their aroma as “hoppy” is acceptable!
I think most importantly, I have confirmed (for my understanding of beer and brewing) that hops may play an important role in the finished beer, but they are nothing without malt, other adjuncts and maybe most importantly the yeast we use to ferment our wort. Even the sexiest, most sort after American hops taste like death when you drink them in isolation to their partners in crime. It has been a useful exercise and one I’m not sure I need to repeat, but I’m glad I did it and know the experience will play its part in my development as an amateur brewer.
Some useful resources (but not the only ones available):