Author Topic: Blending Hops  (Read 5318 times)

Offline R. Gibson

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Blending Hops
« on: November 07, 2012, 02:54:00 PM »
Has anyone got a good method for knowing how to blend hops? Or is it just a trial and error thing? I mean, I can combine hops in my hand, rub and sniff...but I know there is a lot more to it than that. Alpha Acids, Cohumulone, overall VOC interaction, etc.

I heard from a pro brewer a while back that there is more to blending hops than simply flavor or aroma alone. Some hops simply work better together than others. Some hops while great on their own, become harsh when blended with certain other hops, or harsh hops can become fantastic when blended with other specific hops.

...and then there is blend proportion...should they be 50/50, 75/25, or some other amount? What if you try to blend more than two? again, is there any "formula" for an amateur brewer to know how to at least estimate which hops work well together?

Offline tom_hampton

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Re: Blending Hops
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2012, 05:09:24 PM »
I think it comes down to a few things:

1.  Research - learn everything you can from others.  Books, charts, other brewers, etc. 

2.  Learn what characteristics the different hops really have.  Make a lot of SMaSH beers.  Make side-by-side smash beers with different hops.  Compare the results to see what really makes each one different.  Make several that use the same hops, but at different points in the boil (90, 60, 30, 15, 5, 0) minutes.  Compare them side-by-side to see the difference. 

3.  Learn about blending techniques.  Generally, you want to pick a flavor for emphasis.  One hop will dominate.  Others are then there to complement or provide interest without competing with the dominant hop.  Winemakers have turned blending into an art.  You'll find yourself reading Vintner books pretty fast.  You can use your SMaSH beers above to experiment with hop blends.  50% of this SMaSH, 25% of that one, 15% of another, 5% of this, 5% of that. 

Keep blends simple....2-4 varieties max. Otherwise it gets too hard to pick out any specifics.  It just becomes a muddy mess.

Explore different spaces of the hop flavor wheel, one at a time.  Once you know one really well...then move on to another.  Then you can explore the boundaries between two spaces.  Finally, you can start to explore the complimentary spaces.

The key point is that you can't start working in the flavor space until you have an unconscious understanding of the flavors you are playing with.  You can't just pick names off a chart or from a catalog.  The verbal descriptions don't mean have to internalize the flavors so that you have a direct memory of the flavor. 

When I say "cumin", or "chili powder", or "fresh basil" know exactly what that tastes and smells like.  I could write a 500 word essay explaining any one of them to you...but, it wouldn't help you formulate a recipe for mexican food.  Why should hops be any different, which are arguably more complex than spices like cumin?

The same thing above applies to grains and yeasts.   

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Offline R. Gibson

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Re: Blending Hops
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2012, 02:45:36 PM »
Thanks Tom. I was hoping for something a little more concrete, but I get what you are saying. I'm going to do 2 or 3 SMaSH batches here in a few weeks. That will be great for getting the character of each of the hops, but it's still going to take a lot of batches to learn what each hop tastes like and then a lot more batches to dial in the blending.

One thing that you said that I liked is to let one hop dominate, then let the other hops support it. In previous batches I have just done 50/50 blends. While drinkable, it didn't quite bring the character of the hops out the way I intended. I wouldn't call it muddy, but there just wasn't any direction to it. Allowing one hop to dominate, and then supporting it with lower quantities of the supporting hops makes a lot of sense, rather than just shotgunning it with several hops just because I like how they all taste individually.

Also, I have been adding all of the hops individually at each of the steps, which is cumbersome. I think I will start blending the hops prior to making the batch of beer, then just measure out the hop blend at each step. Any thoughts about how to add a hop blend to BeerSmith though? Would I just use the weighted average of the alpha acid content of each of the hops in the blend? I guess I'll just have to experiment with that too... ;)