They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Three C's and Mikkeller's Single Hop Series Musings

We're no strangers to single hopped beers these days, it seems it may be the new 'In Thing' for brewers to produce a range of single hops beers, but to be honest brewers have been doing that since we first started hopping beers, so it's not big and it's not clever.... or is it?

We've just received a selection of Mikkeller's single hopped beer series at the shop, and for all accounts, they look great - and a lot of us have been keen to get stuck into hops they've not tried before. Not myself though, I wanted to revisit 3 of my big boys and do some investigating. All shall be explained, but first the beers I tried...

It would be foolish to think I could have tried all eight beers in one session to pit the hops against each other, they're all 6.8% for crying out loud! So I went for my tried and trusted three C's: CASCADE - The American Pale Ale dream, CLUSTER - An American hybridization of styles, and COLUMBUS - The USA big guns, high in alpha acids, high yielding, it's what you need! Yes I know they're all US hops, so what? US hops are really nice!

As you can see, hops impart no visible colour difference, I just wanted to be sure.

I started with Cascade: A classic aroma for a beer if there ever was one. Grapefruit, mangos and a very slight hint of lychee. It's a super fruity beer. Citrus fruit mixed in with mango skins. It's also quite grassy, and rather dry with some straw flavour coming out of the body. It's a really interesting hop, slightly similar to Citra, but loads better in my book.

Cluster was next: Different from the first, but still fruity as hell. Peaches and pear skins are what's on the menu. There's also a slight touch of strawberries and grapes in there too. This brew is much lighter and a lot more floral than Cascade. It has that classic American sweet caramel and juicy fruitiness which so many look for, and to accompany the finish you get a great bittering kick.

Last up was Columbus. I expected a beast, but as with most beers, I was left surprised once again. The aroma and flavour were very subtle; It sounds strange but it smelled very dry... like dry straw almost. The flavour is drying as well, but there still is plenty of fruit in the finish. Nectarines and lychees dominate this beer. It almost seems like a mix of the previous two.

This brings me onto my musings.

I was pretty certain that there was the same amount of hops used in the production of each beer. After all the label makes it pretty obvious that everything was kept the same apart from the hops, so why would they add more in one rather than the other? My beer geek senses were touched when the IBUs of each beer were mentioned on the side of each bottle.

There was a reason to my choice of where to start with with my three beers. The bottle of Cascade was only '38 Theoretical IBUs'. The Cluster was 66 and the Columbus was 114! I wondered to myself 'If everything is the same, how come some have more IBUs than the others?' - I still wonder that, so I make a shout out to all home brewers and brewers to explain this to me.

I went in with this mentality thinking the Columbus would be the most bitter, so drank it last. That's why I pictured the Columbus and the Willamette above. Out of all the eight Mikkeller beers, the Columbus has the highest IBU of 114 and the Willamette has the lowest of 35. I thought to myself again, 'If you want a really bitter beer, you'd use the Columbus - it obviously gives more bitterness.'

So after I started with the Cascade, was the Columbus the most bitter with it's massively superior 114 IBUs?? Hell no it wasn't! It was the Cluster. That bad boy took the title without a fight in my opinion, and remember it was in the middle ground of the three when it came to IBUs. I can't work out why this may be, if someone can tell me, the knowledge will be very welcomed.

Everyone seems to boast these days, "Oh I've had this beer, it was well over 100 IBUs and was intense!" - It doesn't seem to me that the IBUs of a beer even matter after trying these three beers, and knowing that the ingredients are the same (apart from the hop) and the IBUs are still different. Beer - it always get more and more confusing and complex the more you look into it.

Now of course, bittering qualities all depends on when you actually put the hops into the boil, but this experience has still given me loads to think about. So yes, single hop beers may not be a new thing, but they're still taking me to school.


  1. I'm sure Zak could tell you more about this but the hops have different amounts of alpha acids so if the brewer used the same weight of hops there will be differing alpha acid and therefore differing IBU. The theoretical IBU is not very accurate as you may extract more or less alpha acid depending on the conditions of the wort but you need a lab to test it properly. Also the other components of the beer will affect the way you taste them as will the order in which you drink them. Remember your tolerance for bitterness will increase the more highly hopped IPA you drink in one session.

  2. exactly what Sam said. The bitterness of that second beer after the cascade was more noticeable than the increased bitterness for the Columbus, your tongue had already been subjected to high bitterness, but it could also be that some of the other hop compounds mask the bitterness by competing for the flavour receptors on your tongue. Measured bitterness and perceived bitterness are not the same thing.

  3. I just saw on twitter that you are a homebrewer yourself. Hope my comment didn't come across as patronising!

  4. In this series of beers, the amount of hops is the same in each beer, giving different ibus. In the hop series 6.9% beers, the amount is different, to give the same ibu. Look out for them, they'd probably interest you!

  5. Sam - Not at all, I may have done a few home brews but I am by no means an expert on the matter. I don't claim to have any know-how on different levels of alpha acids for different hops and their relation to IBUs, that was why I posed the question.

    It seems an interesting point that your taste buds can get used to bitterness in such a short space and so a beer with a higher perceived bitterness could taste less bitter in your mind than it actually is. - as Steve says; perceived bitterness and actual bitterness are not the same thing. It makes sense, and in that respect you could even take it further by labeling your beer as "the bitter-est beer ever" and some people would actually believe it.

    I just thought the relationship between Hops, Bitterness and IBUs was an interesting subject to talk about - all brought about from singe hopped beers with different IBU ratings, but with the same amount of ingredients.

  6. Tom Mann - this makes things even more complicated. I'd love to get my hands on some of these to see if the same level of IBUs has any significant impact on the difference of hops used.