Brew School: Brewing with Wet Hops

Posted on October 24th, 2010

Recently we brewed our second wet hop beer of the year with about 50-pounds of Cascades from the Yakima Valley. Our head brewer had the day off so I was brought in the brewery to assist with the brew day. I decided that within 6-months I want to be able to run a brewday completely solo so I decided to take the opportunity to sketch out some diagrams and take detailed notes to help me remember some of the more minute details of the process. Since there were only two of us working that day, I didn’t have to surrender my services to deliveries. This meant not only that I could focus all of my energy on brewing—loading and unloading kegs around NYC gets very physically draining—and even had some spare time to take a few photos.

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Sugar & Spice: An Intro to Beer Spices

Posted on August 20th, 2010

The history of spices in beer is as old and varied as beer itself. Despite the fact that hops have become the predominant spicing agent used in most contemporary styles, that was not always the case.  In areas where hops are not native or easily grown the role of hops was frequently played by another bitter and/or mildly anti-septic plant, such as marigold, burdock, juniper, or heather. In fact, during the Middle Ages, a substance known as gruit (a mash-up of various herbs and spices) was used to provide the same preservative and flavoring benefits that hops can provide. As recently as the Renaissance, spicing beer was still fairly common all across Europe. Grains of Paradise (a peppery member of the ginger family) was particularly popular and was most likely used to cover over the stale or sour flavors of beer that had been improperly made or stored.

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Hop Variety Guide

Posted on February 18th, 2010

Hops are a key ingredient in beer and as we’ve discussed before, provide much of the spice and flavor that defines many different styles of beer. In our previous article we mentioned that there were a number of varieties of hops grown throughout the world, each having a unique bitterness, flavor and aroma. The bitterness of hops is measured by calculating its alpha acid percentage, a measure of how much bittering chemicals the plant typical carries. The average range is from 2% Alpha Acid (AA) for aroma hops to 15% AA for bittering hops. Here’s a look at some of the most popular varieties of hops.

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Drinking To Your Health: Beer And The Body

Posted on November 11th, 2009

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Today’s post is part 2 of Beeriety contributor Sarah’s look at beer and health. Thanks Sarah!

The health benefits of beer (when consumed in moderation, of course) are almost in-numerable. A beer can help with everything from settling an upset stomach to improving heart health to increasing blood iron levels. It can strengthen bones, improve skin, and defend against memory loss. And as for those beer bellies, it doesn’t cause them. What beer does do, as more and more evidence is suggesting, is just about everything that red wine does – maybe more!

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Skunky Beer: How it happens and How to avoid letting it happen

Posted on June 29th, 2009

Regardless of what your favorite type of beer is, the last thing any of us want to happen is to see a sixpack of our ale or lager of choice to go bad and get spoiled or “skunked.”

Although the term is frequently used to describe beer that’s gone bad for any variety of reasons, to be precise “skunked beer” refers to beer that’s been over-exposed to sunlight, or “light-struck.” What exactly does that mean, and how can you avoid this happening to your beer? Read on to find out.

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Although there are plenty of ways to ruin a beer, overexposure to light is the only way to skunk it. Storing beer at room temperature won’t do it; re-chilling cold beer that’s warmed up won’t do it either.  These are common misconceptions, but the fact remains the only way to skunk a beer is to overexpose it to light.

The reasons why light is so damaging to your beer gets technical fast, but basically, the light causes alpha-acids (the key component of hops) to break down and combine with other chemicals in beer to create 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, a sulfur-containing substance which produces the strong sulfur smell which is extremely similar to isopentyl mercaptan, or skunk spray.  It’s easy to see why light-struck beer got its skunky nickname; it’s almost the exact same smell.

This is why most beer is sold in brown bottles or cans; the dark glass and opaque aluminum protect beer from most of the harmful UV rays that damage it, a good thing because beer without any protection can become skunked after just a few hours of exposure to direct sunlight. You shouldn’t worry about a glass of your favorite beer going skunky the next time you enjoy it on your patio, but give it an afternoon undisturbed and it might.

At this point you might be wondering about Newcastle or Miller High Life or another beer that comes in a clear bottle,  then of course there are also some European beers like Beck’s that come in green bottles. How come every single one of those beers doesn’t get skunked? Because those beers don’t actually use hops, they use a hop substitute known as tetra-hop, which thanks to the miracle of modern science avoids smelling like skunks when it’s exposed to sunlight. The downside of tetra-hops is it doesn’t smell like hops much at all either; it has almost no scent at all.

For the curious it’s easy to create skunky beer at home, just put a glass of your favorite beer on the windowsill for an afternoon and see how the smell compares before and after.  You can watch the guys over at Basic Brewing try this experiment themselves if you’re curious but still don’t want to waste a perfectly good beer in the name of science.