One of the most enlightening beer discoveries I’ve made this year is Humulus lupulus – or hops. That may sound odd (even a little sad) to the true beer drinkers out there, but prior to this year I wasn’t fully aware of the purpose of hops. Most of the beers I drank were dry macro-lagers that had as much hop character as soda water. Occasionally I’d enjoy a beer with flavour (the James Squire and Matilda Bay range feature here) but I didn’t understand where the bitter flavours and fruity aromas came from; I just appreciated their presence.
Fast forward 11 months – now I’m a hop-head. I’m always on the lookout for the most intensely hopped beers that I can find. I love the complexity that they present. However this complexity often overwhelms me, and I find it hard to identify specific flavours. So in order to discover the flavours and characteristics specific hops add to a beer, I’m going to attempt some self-learning. What better way to do this than by drinking some beer! – to be more specific, some single hop beer.
As the name suggests, single hop beers only use one type of hop in the brew, meaning any flavours and aromas that I get are the unique characters of the hop in question. Therefore consumption of these beers will tune my pallet into the aromas and flavours that these different hops possess! Well, that’s the theory anyway…
The single hop beers I’ll be looking at today are from Bridge Road Brewers – the Stella and Galaxy Single Hop IPA. I will be consuming each beer at the same time so I can make a direct comparison of the aromas and flavours. I’m assuming that the base recipe for the two beers is identical; ergo the only difference in flavours is due to their respective hops.
Stella aroma: As soon as the bottle pops I can smell a strong sweetness, almost like candy… or maybe Pavlova? Once poured in the glass I also get a little sweet anise. It all smells very fresh and floral, nothing like the big citrus and pine notes that I’m accustomed to. It really is awesome, and the aroma stays like this all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Stella flavour: The aroma has deceived me…the favour isn’t sweet at all. The bitterness is BIG, and long lasting. Other flavours are difficult to detect, the bitterness takes control from the start. I let it warm, but the bitterness just becomes more dominant, to the point that I’m scared to take another sip – maybe I’ll just let it sit there and smell it periodically. (Note: Of course I finished the beer – the prior remark was simply a dramatisation to highlight just how good the aroma is)
Galaxy aroma: The aromas out of the bottle are more muted, but I swear I smell cola gummi lollies. After it’s poured I smell fruit, like Fruit Cup cordial but much fresher. There are also spicy and bitter notes that give it an almost savoury smell… and I think I understand what “earthy” aromas are now, as I’m pretty sure I smell them too. The smell isn’t that big, but it’s more aggressive – it makes me think that the beer is going to hurt me. Overall it smells good, but not as good as the Stella.
Galaxy flavour: Citrus is very evident up front, followed by a prominent bitterness. It’s nowhere near as intense as the Stella, and it disappears quicker leaving a savoury, slightly nutty aftertaste. Tastes great; all the flavours you want, with a bitterness that invites you back again and again.
Conclusion: To me the Galaxy displays more ‘typical’ hop qualities and works well as both the bittering hop and the aroma hop, though the bitter flavour is definitely it’s strong point. The Stella hop smells like no hop I’ve smelled before; sweet and floral, very inviting. Unfortunately this lulled me into a false sense of security, since the bitterness that this hop imparts on a beer is BIG.
I did a little research on Hop Products.com, and this all began to make more sense. The Stella is described as an aroma hop with a high alpha acid % – hence the awesome aroma and huge bitterness. The Galaxy has a lower alpha acid %, which explains it’s approachable and pleasing bitterness.
So, was this the self learning experience I’d hoped for? No…I think I’ll need some ‘expert’ help at some stage if I want to start improving my pallet.
Did I learn anything by drinking these beers? A little bit, and it certainly helped to highlight the qualities of alpha acid % and aroma hops.
Most importantly, did I enjoy the beers? Hell yeah I did! The aroma of the Stella was awesome, and if all I wanted to do was smell a beer, it’d be my choice. However beer is brewed to be consumed, and since the Galaxy has the edge in the flavour department, it would be the beer I reach for first.