A few months ago, I got an email from a buddy, who was contacting a couple of us about an experiment he was looking to conduct. Knowing that his addressees were both homebrewers, he figured the little trial would appeal to us. He was right.
Yet another gentleman, my friend's co-worker, had supplied him with a few extra pellets of some of his own hops. Now before I go much further, I do want to stop for a brief moment to talk about hops. As a brewer and craft beer fan, I take hop knowledge for granted, but I realize that doing so and discussing them as a given can be intimidating and even off-putting for noobs.
Hops are actually the female flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant, which is actually a member of the Cannabaceae family. Those of you who happen to be fluent in Latin, or who simply possess moderate powers of inference, may realize that that makes hops a cousin of Mary Jane. Interesting that both are used for recreational drug use then, eh?
In any case, hops are used in beer to impart both flavor and stability, as well as bitterness and aroma. Hop potency is measured in Alpha Acid (AA) levels; in general the higher-level varieties are used to impart bitterness, while the mid-to-low-level strains add flavor and aroma.
Flavors derived from hops range from earthy and floral to piney and citrusy, with myriad nuanced combinations in between. Prior to modern refrigeration and storage, hops were prized for their antiseptic properties as well, and were credited with helping to keep beer drinkable over the long trips from imperial centers to their far-flung territories.
Hence, the term India Pale Ale; beer laden with hops was able to survive the trip from England to India and elsewhere. You may have seen the prefix "Imperial" or "Double" used for IPAs and other styles; this hearkens back to the concept that officers were granted the undiluted brew, while those of lower rank had to subsist on lesser versions.
Hops are most commonly processed in one of three forms: whole, plug, and pellet. The former is basically just as it would seem, while plugs are a more compact version, pressed into, well, a plug. Pellets are the most commonly-used form, at least for home-brewers, and are simply dried, chopped, and compacted into little nuggets of goodness.
Those of you familiar with the brewing process may have found that little detour to be a bit pedantic and tiresome, but I feel it's important to educate and to help people understand the history and the current use of hops in beer. Some associate the versatile flowers merely with bitterness or a strong aroma, and are thus turned off by the mere mention of hops.
Of course, even Miller Lite has taken to advertising its bland product as being "triple hops brewed," which is only slightly less amorphous than their claim that it's "brewed with more beer" than other light beers. But my point is that almost all beer uses hops to varying degrees.
So back to my original story. My buddy had procured some hop pellets, which he was then going to place in bottles of Bud Light (chosen for its relative absence of hop flavor) and allow to sit for a few days. The goal was to be able to sample each different hop variety on its own in the same recipe without have to go to the effort of conducting several different brew sessions.
It was a fun and educational experience, but imagine my delight when I saw the other day that Sam Adams had taken all the effort out of the process entirely by releasing Latitude 48 IPA Deconstructed, a 12-pack that included 2 bottles of the original recipe, along with 2 each of 5 single-hop varieties, each representing just one of the different hops used in the beer.
Named because all the hops used are grown on or near the 48th latitude line, the beer is comprised of Hallertau Mittelfrueh from Germany, East Kent Goldings from England, and Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Zeus, all from Washington state's Yakima Valley.
I do want to take a quick moment to mention that the three of us involved in the earlier experiment are all products of Hanover College, a small institution of higher learning best known for being Woody Harrelson's alma mater; maybe I should have mentioned that in the part about pot earlier.
In an effort to continue to trade on the name of its best-know former student, Hanover recently awarded Woody with an honorary doctoral degree. Never mind that the school has no graduate program. Likewise, Sam Adams' growth has forced the the Brewers Association to redefine "craft" beer in order to keep its main proponent in the fold.
Only a few years ago, the volume component of the definition of craft beer was a mere 2 million barrels. With Sam, well, barreling toward that total, the cap was raised to 6 million. But I digress. Despite, or perhaps because of, this its growth, Sam Adams has constantly been an advocate smaller beers, bringing new and different styles to the entire country.
With Latitude 48 Deconstructed, they give the average consumer the ability to sample different hops independently, to single out the facets of each one in its own element. More importantly, Sam is able to do this in a manner that is neither intimidating nor hard to find.
I personally enjoy Stone Brewing's offerings, but their marketing is surly and can be off-putting to those not familiar with the product. Likewise, a more local company like Three Floyds has built an almost cult-like following that comes from lack of availability, whether that be legitimate or simply a clever marketing ploy.
Rather than given a review of each different beer (that would be a bit tiresome, particularly considering that I've already vomited up 900-some words), I'll leave you with an exhortation to go out and find a 12-pack of this beer. It's a great way for craft neophytes to push their beer envelopes and for aficionados to gather some buddies for a tasting. Heck, noobs and snobs might even be able to come together.
So go out and get some, then let me know what you think, either in the comments or on Twitter. And let me know what beers/breweries you'd like to see featured in this segment in the future. I'm always looking for an excuse to try a new beer or to drink some more of an old favorite.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others. And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
And be sure to like Cubs Insider on Facebook.
Filed under: Craft Beer