British Hops – Use them or lose them?

October’s Industry Insider article in CAMRA’s ‘What’s Brewing’ newspaper is brought to us by hop farmer Ali Capper, and it’s discussing the state of the British hop growing industry.  You might say that the content is a rallying call to British brewers “…celebrate the beers that British hops produce to help stop the decline of the British hop growing industry“.  This blog post is a layman’s response to what is unquestionably a complex situation that the British hop industry finds itself in.  Having said that, I’m British, I love beer and brew beer at home so I do have an opinion, albeit a rather ‘write as you think’ kind of approach.

Threats to the industry:

  • EU trade rules and the resulting uneven playing ground due to the different levels of government support hop growing nations receive.
  • The domination of lager sales in global and UK markets.
  • High Alpha New World hop varieties.

Strengths of the British industry:

  • A growing number of British breweries.
  • Resurgence in brewing full flavoured beers.
  • The importance of provenance.
  • 20 British hop varieties to choose from (inc. High AA hops like Phoenix, Pilgrim, Target & Admiral).
  • Environmental efficiencies of production e.g. development of disease resistant hop strains.
  • Export.  American brewers brewing American style beers using British hops.
  • Development of new hop varieties, notably Endeavour.
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, the National Hop Association has re-branded itself to make new ground in the export market.  The British Hop Association will be championing British hops through partnership working with hop merchants, as well as a marketing campaign to gain the attentions of brewers who may not currently buy British.

The information above is paraphrased from the What’s Brewing article, but I do have a few thoughts to add:

As a homebrewer I use very small quantities of hops relative to the commercial brewers, but am I naive in thinking my actions as a homebrewer have no impact on the British hop industry?  I brew beer made predominantly with the New World hops that Ali talks about.  American and New Zealand hops have featured heavily in my recent beers and while my spending power is unlikely to directly affect the industry, maybe I/we do so as part of the larger network of British homebrewers?

More importantly, commercial brewers currently brewing beers with hops that boast a large carbon footprint, need the confidence to brew with British hops, this is their livelihood after all.  Established recipes and loyal customer bases will make this a difficult transition, but there is nothing to say that brewers shouldn’t / couldn’t do both to meet demands?  Also, I think from a personal point-of-view I would hate to see some breweries change beyond all recognition, I can think of several that provide excellent American style beer as well as much needed CHOICE, which is what most consumers love.


Looking in from the outside on the commercial industry, it looks to me as if there is serious competition for New World hops.  As this becomes more competitive some brewers are either unable to brew certain beers from their existing range, or they are having to adapt and substitute or blend hops to get as close as possible to what their customers will expect to taste.  I’m told that the NZ Riwaka variety is no longer exported due to its popularity?  I’m guessing this is an example of a government or an industry body taking steps to protect the interests of domestic brewers? It would be a disaster to think that a New Zealander or a visitor to the country couldn’t drink a beer brewed with their home-grown hop varieties.  It would be a defining moment for our domestic industry if a British hop variety was to do the same!

Finally, consumer attitudes need to be trained and awareness raised to enable an informed choice to support British beer brewed with British hops. But lets not forget those breweries abroad who are doing the same.

Ali Capper and Co. are developing their campaign to promote British hops.  Follow their progress on Twitter @BritishHops and for news of their website which is due to launch late autumn 2012.

Dank, Danker, Dankest

You won’t find it in the text books or as an agenda item, nor will you find it on the back of the hop packet, but “dank” is a word that is readily used by brewers both sides of the Atlantic.  However, the reason for writing this post illustrates that Great Britain’s brewers and drinkers are maybe not as familiar to “dank” as I first thought, and perhaps there is some work needed to dispel any myths that it is a dirty word and that describing a beer in such a way is fighting talk.

Some time ago I met with a small group of homebrewers, we’d hatched a plan to each brew a Black IPA, get together and taste them all, a fun thing to do and we decided that we would do the same with heavily dry-hopped beers.  At that time I was reading around on the subject of dry hopping and a word that one of the guys in the group had used to describe one of the homebrewed Black IPAs.  The word was “dank“.  When I googled “dry hopping” and “dank” I happened across homebrewer Nick Pederson, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Nick, aka, dank brewer, writer at and owner of The Dank Funk Brewing Co.   It wasn’t until the other night when I retweeted a tweet which stated that a well known British breweries beer was “f*cking dank!”.  The next morning both the original tweeter and myself had received tweets from the brewer asking for more constructive criticism next time.  A fair few other Twitterers stepped in to reassure the brewer that the words were meant in peaceful terms.  Zak Avery summed things up nicely by explaining “Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good!”.

AA to the motherforking Mary J homeboy! or in Brewers-English, Alpha Acid and hops that smell of medicinal herbs.

So what is dank all about?  When I put this question to Nick Pederson and to Simon Tucker aka @brotherlogic, who blogs at ‘I Made Beer‘, they both kindly shared their thoughts.  Nick kicked things off by putting this controversial term into context: “I pondered it for a while when I was originally naming my blog.   Would people think ‘dank’ – like a dirty, nasty, wet, cold basement.  Or would they think ‘dank’ – like resinous sticky, fruity cannabis.   And if they thought that, would they think I’m a burn-out stoner.   There is definitely negative connotations to both depending on your perspective.   From my perspective ‘dank’ is a good thing.   Dank is a term that people use when they talk about the highest quality.” Nick “In some ways I can see how a ‘traditional’ British brewer may be offended by such a statement.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that traditional British brewers tend to lean toward more balance IPA’s, with less bitterness, more malt backbone, and less carbonation.  This is a major generalization so don’t knock me if this isn’t true in the modern day.  Now, it’s also possible that your friends don’t know what you are talking about because they aren’t familiar with the cannabis aromas, especially the aromas and flavors of really well grown resinous types of cannabis.   If they don’t know what you are talking about, then they might think that you are telling them that their beer is musty, and moldy, and earthy, and dank as the traditional definition would define.   When we talk about dank in beer, we are talking about the essential oils.   Resin is the defining characteristic that cannabis and humulus lupulus have in common.  To get geeky scientific on you, the presence of b-caryophyllene and a-humulene as the essential oils of both hops and cannabis sativa is what I tend to feel is the strong indicator that the oils extracted during the boil, and through dry hopping are what causes the similar aroma and flavor perceived to some as “Dank”.   It’s hard to deny the connections between the two.”Here is a good read about hops and their essential oils.

When I received an email back from Simon, I wasn’t surprised that I got a more straightforward response.  If you’ve met Simon then you’ll know he’s a laid back chap with a passion for experimental brewing.  I asked him for a paragraph and I rather like his take on things: “Dankness is a west coast staple.  The smell of weed is in the air and in the beer – no hop bursting but a ton of Columbus as early in the boil as you dare creates an incredible bitter dank taste in the beer.  Once you go dank your palate can never recover”.

I also asked both gents which hops they would use to brew a dank beer.  Other than Columbus which Simon plumbs for, I was interested to know which other varieties he regards as harbingers of dankness: “Centennial is the other one. Warrior too maybe a little but Columbus is the dark prince o’ dank”.  Nick added to these two hop varieties by adding those that he finds give that resinous, yet fruity dank quality... “Columbus, Summit, Apollo, Chinook, Simcoe and Centennial.   I haven’t experimented with English hops enough to know which local varieties will get you that dank aroma and flavor.  The Dank-ness is all about the resinous essential oils!….spread the work of the Dank beers!“.

From these quite different answers and from some detective work (Google) the perceived dankness of hops can be split into two categories, aroma and taste, with aroma being further defined through the dutiful sniffing of a handful of dry/wet hops and dank in terms of the aroma of a finished beer.

Call the beers what you will; Dank Monster, Dank Bomb, Dark Prince O’Dank, The Dank Knight and invite the dankness into your beer through ham-fisted first wort hopping using super high alpha acid hop varieties, or through enthusiastic late copper hopping and/or dry hopping….or both!  But perhaps keep an open-mind, as Nick describes above, dankness is not just about the scent of marajiuana (herb/weed-like), but also moist, pungent, resinous, earthy, piney, dark, thick, musty (of course musty isn’t just found in dank beer).   

From my trawl of beer brewing forums , I have the makings of a list of hops regarded as dank, or adding dankness to beer.  Please feel free to comment, dispute or add some more:

  • Apollo
  • Centennial
  • Chinook
  • Citra
  • CTZ (Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus)
  • Galaxy
  • Nelson Sauvin – some say, but not all agree, question of taste/smell, subjective.
  • Nugget
  • Palisade
  • Simcoe
  • Summit
  • Warrior

Just to add some meat to the bones of my bash at understanding dank beer, Nick Pederson also sent me the link to a YouTube video he really likes, made by Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn NY, in which Shane Welch (founder and brewmaster) draws comparisons between hop cones and pine cones.

Other interesting content can be found over at The Mad Fermentationist and an episode from The Jamil Show: ‘Can You Brew It? The Dankness’ over on The Brewing Network where they talk to Brewmaster Roger Davis from Triple Rock about cloning a homebrew recipe on a pro scale

Hop Tea

Image by Kevin Worth

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.

Dry hops

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.

Steeped Hops

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):

Charles Faram & Co Ltd.

Brew365 – Hop Substitution Chart

The Malt Miller – Hops

Hop Cross Buns

Should you find yourself wide-awake during the small hours, you may be familiar with the phenomena that is; the brain’s ability to decide that it is going to be a). it’s most creative, but b). to channel this creativity into some of the most random and off-the-wall ideas known to man.  Of course, and depending on the reason for your ‘wakefulness’, you will still be half-asleep so will most likely convince yourself that your idea is the stuff of genius.  You may also believe that you will remember this gem, only to wake in the morning to have a vague feeling that there is something that you need to do?!; or, you will choose to write this idea down having already experienced the frustration of knowing you thought of something extraordinary, but only being able to remember your dream about the dancing hot-dogs.

Well, unfortunately for you I chose matter-of-mind and scribbled down three memorable words that any self-respecting hippocampus would shred within seconds of processing them; ‘Hop Cross Buns’.Picture

That’s right people, the simple Hot Cross Bun but made with hops.  I make no excuse for yet another beer related topic on my beer related blog, even if the subject matter is on a slight tangent from what a sane blog reader may be interested in.  Anyway, my brain has taken my mixed up thoughts and gifted me with an idea that, according to Google, has never been attempted before? An idea that I’m hoppy to share immediately as its reasonable blog fodder and too stupid to make anyone any money…right?

Picture I’ve seen and tasted hops used in cheese and have since read that hop shoots can be eaten in salads, or lightly steamed/sautéed.  There will be more uses of this amazing plant within cooking/baking*, but I’m planning to bake myself some traditional Hot Cross Buns but with a Humulus Lupulus twist.  The fact that they will be called Hop Cross Buns just adds to the fun.  If they don’t work out then I’ll be moving swiftly on to hop brownies…as we all know that any brownie is a good brownie!

Check out;
*Trinidad Hops Bread –
*Sourdough – Sourdough Companion
*Brownies & Cupcakes – Mike is Bored – Blogspot

So, should you find yourself with hops not as fresh as they once were, or odds and ends clogging the freezer up, then why not give these recipes a go and let me know how you got on.  I’ll report back on my Hop Cross Buns.  P.s. space-cake comments welcome.

Disclaimer: I do not condone the bastardisation of perfectly good brewing hops.