Anything I’m Fermenting

November 21, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 6

Filed under: Beer,Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 9:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

At this point in this series on the Champagne of Beers I will finally provide a photo for us to look at. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for, with the one’s already discussed struck out.

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv

4. Noticeable acidity

5. Light body

6. Clear – minimal cloudiness

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma

8. Fruitiness

9. Dry (i.e. not sweet)

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma. Superficially, this should be an easy characteristic to achieve – just reduce or eliminate the hops altogether! But hops play a complex and many-faceted role in beer, so it isn’t that simple. Or maybe it is, and I’ve just fallen for the mystery surrounding beer making…

Hops are traditionally associated with the bitterness of beer, which they do indeed impart. Less appreciated is their contribution of flavours and aromas to beer. Also less known are their anti-bacterial and anti-oxidative roles.

The bitterness and flavours of hops come from prolonged boiling in the wort. The boiling isomerizes some of the hop oils and resins, making them soluble. The longer the boil, the more bitter the beer (within reason). Adding more hops obviously also adds bitterness and flavour. Hops also impart aromas to beer from volatile oils. These are, paradoxically, driven off by long boiling, so hops tend to be added in several additions to the wort – some at the beginning, some at the middle, and some near the end. Sometimes brewers also ‘dry-hop’ beer – adding hops to their secondary fermentors – to get extra hop aroma. I do this usually, as I like the hop aromas.

Of course, we’re talking about the champagne of beers, not just any beer. This means that, like champagne, this beer should not be bitter, and should not have strong hop flavours or aromas. Beyond simply imitating champagne, I’ve read that bitter and acid flavours don’t work well together. Researching this, I came across an interesting article about Lambic beers in the NY Times. Meant as a come-on to wine snobs, what struck me was the author’s repeated comparison of lambic beers to champagne. This is a good sign, as what I am brewing is somewhat like a lambic in it’s lack of hop flavours or bitterness.

But as I allude earlier, achieving this is not a matter of simply eliminating the hops, because the anti-bacterial and anti-oxidative properties (I’ll call them preservative power) of hops are still valuable. This is where the accumulated expertise of lambic and ‘plambic’ brewers really helps out.

Hops have an ‘interesting’ or frustrating property, depending on how it affects you: they gradually go stale, or become ‘aged’, meaning that they lose their bittering power over time. It is frustrating when making normal beers, as your hops require special storage conditions, and you need to keep recalculating their bittering power over time to compensate for the aging. However, in the case of making lambics, or plambics (pseudo-lambics brewed outside of Belgium), this property becomes interesting, as brewers can used aged hops for their preservative power, without the bitterness.

As I haven’t owned hops long enough to age them (2-3 years) properly, I had to artificially age them (artifice within artifice! Artificially aging hops for an artificial champagne). This involved heating the hops in a 95 degree (200 F) oven for several hours. Here you can see the difference between the fresh (on the left) and ‘aged’ (on the right) hops:

Fresh vs. Aged Hops

Sorry about the focus, but you can clearly see that the aged hops became much lighter in colour – even yellowish. They lost their hop aroma (which pervaded my apartment during the baking – as warned, it smelled quite cheesy at times) as well. I guess to ensure the perservative power, lambic brewers use ridiculous amounts of these aged hops – equivalent to between 3 or 4 ounces per 5 gallons (i.e. multiples of the amounts usually used).

How much of these aged hops to use? On one hand, why not use 4 ounces for the batch? Well, I’m not convinced that these artificially aged hops have truly lost all their bittering power. When I crushed some of the hops, the some hop aroma was apparent, so perhaps some bittering power is hiding in there as well. As well, Micheal Tonsmeire reckons on his (awesome) blog that inoculating your wort with a pure culture of yeasts and maintaining generally sanitary conditions during the fermentation reduces the need for the preservative power of the aged hops – the chances of the beer becoming infected with unwanted microbes are much reduced compared to the conditions of traditional lambic breweries.

I’ll probably use 2 ounces of aged hops – a bit more than Mr. Tonsmeire, and a bit less than traditional lambics.

1 Comment »

  1. […] 7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma […]

    Pingback by Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 6 « Anything I’m Fermenting — November 22, 2008 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

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