Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Beer of the Month (August)

Dear Drinking Buddies,
   Today i was reminded once again of the importance of the "save" feature. This marks the third beer-related loss of data in one week. Please, remember to save your documents, and always spay or neuter your pets.

   So let's see. I originally started off this Beer of the Month entry by pointing out just how difficult it was for me to avoid the expression "that time of the month". Meta-humor is very "in", you see. I quickly progressed into an explanation that the adjectives preceding the beer style for each month is purely for literary flavor and is otherwise meaningless. "Noble" last month wasn't referring to the hops, but rather the innate honor and royalty of the wheat ale style.  This month's contestant is

The Acerbic India Pale Ale

   Like many beer connoisseurs i fell victim to one of the classic beer blunders, the greatest of which is never to get involved in a land...what?  That's not right?  Never mind. I had heard and believed the story that the IPA got its name because the extra hops provided necessary preservatives for the long journey from England to colonial India. That's only peripherally true. The connection to India is well established, but hops' preservative qualities are disputed -- and in any case there's a better explanation. As all homebrewers know, a strong, green hops flavor mellows out over time. This is the reason why we condition our beers. I suspect that this relatively new beer style (the IPA dates to around 1850) not only benefited from a lengthy conditioning period as it traveled in casks over sea, but it allowed the brewers to avoid having to cellar that brew for as long -- which would improve profits. There are some other theories regarding gravity and export taxes, but these arguments feel extraneous to the moniker of IPA.
   In this second attempt to write this article i'll change pace slightly and give very brief impressions of each featured beer before i digress.

North Peak American Wheat IPA
IBU: 66.7
ABV: 6.7%
Hops: Cascade, Perle, Willamette.  Dry-hop: Cascade, Amarillo.

I appreciate what these brewers from Traverse City, MI, were trying to do with the inclusion of a whopping FOUR hop strains. I also enjoy the squat bottle and two-tone retro label.  However, many of the hops are quite similar and the pine flavor of the Cascade hops dominates. The inclusion of wheat malts balances the flavor profile somewhat and gives the beer an overall quite pleasurable body.

Founders Red's Rye P.A.
IBU: 70
ABV: 6.6%
Hops: Amarillo

Founders is a Grand Rapids institution. It has also developed a bizarre hipster following -- this beer competes for a corner on the niche IPA market here in Michigan bars with Bell's Two Hearted. The Two Hearted is hopped with 100% Centennial hops, but swaps the picture of the grizzled old man (Red, i presume) with a trout, which i guess isn't as popular among that crowd? In any case, the spiciness in the Rye P.A. matches nicely with the natural kick in rye malts. I don't know how i got around to this analogy, but in the first iteration of this article i compared Barq's and A&M root beer to these two beers. Because Barq's and Red's Rye have bite and...A&M has waitresses on roller skates? I'm not sure, it was a sketchy analogy the first time around, too.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA
IBU: 90
ABV: 9.0%
Hops: Amarillo Gold, Simcoe, Magnum (needs verification)

Dogfish Head has made a valiant attempt and probably successful attempt to benchmark the IPA style -- which is particularly impressive since the Pacific Northwest grows the overwhelming majority of US hops (Dogfish Head is located in Delaware). With 60, 90, and 120 Minute IPAs regularly brewed and a 75 Minute blend on special reserve, these brewmasters aim to impress new craftbrewers by the numbers. With flavor notes on their own website that list brandied fruitcake and raisins and a whopping 9% ABV the 90 IBU are in good, balanced company that make this beer taste considerably less bitter than either of the previously showcased beers this month. Since i prefer to savor rather than guzzle my beer, that's just fine with me.

   A note regarding IBU -- i take exception to Dogfish Head's (and many others') claims of IBU above 120. It smacks of the absurd recent advertising campaign Miller has pursued with their "triple hops brewed" slogan. Anyone who knows enough about beer to care about hops addition techniques isn't going to be suckered by that ad. Adding a tiny amount of hops at three points during brewing doesn't change the fact that Miller Lite has an IBU of somewhere around 8. Perhaps their advertising company knows something i don't.
   There are two problems with Dogfish Head and their claims of exceptionally high IBU. First, there is contention as to whether or not a human can distinguish between bitterness levels above a certain threshold around 100 IBU. Second, when searching for the measurement system that Dogfish Head itself used to measure their IBU, an assistant brewmaster posted on their forums the following formula:

IBU = (((oz. of hops)*(% BH utilization)*(% alpha acid)*.7489)/(Vol. of final wort))

   There's nothing wrong with this formula for a homebrewer. However, it somewhat oversimplifies the complexity of hop attenuation in a boil, especially in the higher IBU ranges. My point is that even if you have some perverse desire to chew on hop flowers, IBU measurements become meaningless without a huge amount of additional information. Unless you're drinking the Flying Monkeys Alpha Fornication which has a self-reported IBU of 2500 and 13.3% ABV. No, i didn't mistype that.
   If that's really what you're looking for, i think you can buy hop liquor extract for foods on its own. Wasn't "hops" an episode of Iron Chef?
This looks like orange juice, but it's the Alpha Fornication.  Gross.
   Finally, a few additional notes about hops -- did you know that hops are a dioecious plant? The hop cluster used in brewing are harvested exclusively from the female hop plant. The male hop plant is used exclusively for breeding purposes.
   Crossbreeding species of hops has resulted in a number of quite new hops varietals. For example, Cascade hops are a cross of the little known Serebrianka hop and a male Fuggle plant. Centennial hops are 3/32 Fuggle, and Willamette hops are a Fuggle seedling.

   An honorable mention goes out to Magic Hat's Blind Faith IPA which helped me power through this rewrite. I think it's called the Blind Faith because it's made with sweet, sweet blindness-inducing methanol.


  1. Love the RyePA. Great stuff in general. Now I am interested to try Fuggle, Serebrianka, and Cascade next to each other. Can you even get Serebrianka in the U.S.?

    Basic Brewing Radio did a great experiment on the IBU ceiling. It's about as scientific as you'll get on the homebrew scale, but what was also interesting was the analysis of several commercial beer hop claims v. actual tested samples. One of those samples just happens to be the RyePA.

    It's the August 11th and August 25th episode in the 2011 slate. Here's the link:

  2. Did the other "beer-related loss of data" events also involve a computer?

  3. One did, the other did not. I took notes at the MBG Beerfest to share on the blog, but left them in the back of Matt's car.