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