If there is one beer that has dominated the craft beer market in the last decade, then it would be hands down the American IPA. It’s the flagship beer of many craft brewers and has become the go to beer for many beer aficionados. But why? There are so many great beers on the market and everyone has their own palate and preference in beer. And to be honest we as humans are naturally programed with bitter taste buds as a defense mechanism. Things that are poisonous to us are bitter. So we are not supposed to like bitter foods or drinks. But some cultures have adapted to enjoy bitter flavored items and throughout the evolution of our taste buds have been trained to accept these items in the culinary field. Think for a moment about the Italians. They love their espresso and bitter greens on their salad. Cross fusion of flavors has brought us to acceptance of bittering agents in our food.
So let’s discuss the reason IPA are so bitter. There are four ingredients in beer. Water, malted barley, yeast and hops. Hops are the reason why IPAs are so bitter. Hops are the female flower of the hop plant. The hop plant is a climbing perennial that grows up to 17 feet tall in hop fields. American hops is mostly grown in the North West.
We use hops in beer to counter balance the sweetness of the barley used in the mash. The sugars are mostly consumed by the yeast to produce the alcohol, but there are some residual sugars remaining in the beer and hops will make a balance finished product. Unless you design beer to have more IBUs which will tip the scale from a balance beer to a bitter beer. IBUs stands for international bittering unit and is a calculated number that is used by brewers to determine the amount of hops to use when brewing the beer. The higher the IBUs the more hops we use. To give you an example, beer is determined by its style and every style has certain parameters that a brewer must meet to define the beer they are brewing. The American pilsner will have an IBU range of 8-11. An American IPA can be 60-100. You don’t even know what hops are in your pilsner and you can’t even notice them in the aroma unless you have a very trained palate. IPAs on the other hand will lend their beautiful aromas to your senses before you even take your first sip. But now its time to realize the beauty of hop flower.
Not only do we derive hard resins from the lupulin gland which is where we get our bittering agent from, but we love the essential oils found in the hop flower as well. This is why we are so crazy about IPAs.
The soft oils are responsible for the flavors and aromas of the hops in beer. They can vary from citrus, herbal, fruity, earthy, grassy and many more. The oils will give a multidimensional component to the beer that is absent in many other beer styles. Below is a spider graph that we use to determine the flavor characteristics of beer. We use hops for bittering, flavoring and aromas in the beers we brew. Each hop will have its own unique character and bittering capabilities. During the hop harvest, Yakiama Washington is flooded with brewers purchasing hops for their yearly brews. We go through extensive sensory on each lot of hops from each farmer to determine which hops we will purchase.
The sensory analysis of hops is known as “rubbing the hops”. We use our hands to crush the lupulin material between our palms to release the essential oils and smell the aromas. This will provide us with an idea of the flavors and aromas that we can expect from that lot. As home brewers, you know what to expect from the hop that is known as cascades. But believe me, after doing sensory on twenty different lots of cascades, they are extremely different. This is one reason why it is very difficult for you to maintain consistency when you brew your beers at home. As professional brewers, our job is to be consistent from batch to batch. By buying our hops in bulk, we can use the same lot of cascades for the entire year. So now you know why IPAs are so popular and unique. Some beers are all about the yeast like a Belgium beer and some beers are all about the malts, such as a stout. IPAs celebrate the unique characteristics of hops and they give us brewers artistic ability to make very special beers for you to enjoy.
CHEESE PAIRINGS: With its palate-scrubbing bitterness, IPAs will be a great beer to enjoy with creamy high fat cheeses, such as tripple-creams. The bold flavors will be able to stand up to moderately strong cheeses such as spiced cheese. My favorite cheese to go with an IPA is English-style cheddar. The acidity of a fresh goat cheese will make a great finish to a cheese plate when drinking your IPA.
All of you have brewed more IPAs than any other style of beer, so I’m not going to discuss the basics or recipe development. Instead I wish to bring to your attention two major components that will make your next IPA more enjoyable. First I want you to look at your final gravity. We are all brewing big IPAs that tend to finish on the higher side of your finishing gravity. Run the calculations for real extract and determine the ratio of hops to RE and keep a log. You will find your sweet spot for your IPA and use this ratio every time you want to brew a beer in that IBU range. You can just use a plus or minus range of 10 IBUs to separate your IPAs.
The other thing I just wanted to bring to your attention is how you can enhance your aromas during dry hopping. As professional brewers we all have our trade secrets and you can read about various crazy things that we are trying to do to enhance the perception of hops in our final product. But I want to you to experiment with agitation of hops after you add them to the carboy. You can bubble CO2 from the bottom, you can use a pump and recirculate the hops through out the beer, you can physical stir the beer inside your carboy, just try to get your hops to breakdown and expose more surface area to the beer during the maturation period. I have tried many terrific home brews and they could all use more aromas in the final product. This is one way you can achieve the great hop profile you so desire. Keep making great beer and thank you for brewing.