What’s up with our hops?

It is just me, or are our craft beers showing some sharp hop notes this spring?

I wrote a few weeks ago about some strong sweaty notes coming off Three Boys’ Golden Ale on the hand pump. I’ve tried the same batches off the tap now, and the armpit aromas are still there, although not as obvious as off the hand pump. Yeastie Boys’ Motueka Monster shows the same, distinctly sweaty notes.

I’ve been told this sweatiness is coming from Sauvin hops, but to be honest I haven’t noted any gym-sock notes coming from Twisted Hop Sauvin Pilsner.

But I have noticed recent batches of old favourite beers (typically pilseners) smelling and tasting distinctly sharper and a bit more metallic than usual. Other beer heads tell me they have noticed the same thing, and it isn’t restricted to individual beers or breweries.

So here’s my questions for you. Beer fans – have you noticed different flavours coming from recent batches of your favourites?

Brewers – is the current crop of hops any different to previous crops, i.e., was 2010 an unusual vintage? And what’s your philosophy about the natural differences in hop harvests? Do you tune your recipe for consistency, or is the variation all part of the craft beer experience?

Wow of the week – Renaissance MPA is aging wonderfully. I opened a bottle of the original Beervana batch last week. It is less upfront-hoppy now and there are notes of dried fruit/sultanas in there. As the hops mature there is a savoury note starting to come though. It reminded me of blue cheese, and I matched MPA with Kapiti Kikorangi and a fruit chutney. I have always been sceptical about beer and food matching, but, wow, this one worked. MPA is a formidable beer that is maturing nicely.


Follow us on Twitter @nzbeerblog
©Martin Craig. Reproduction with permission only.


21 Responses to “What’s up with our hops?”

  1. Hi Martin,

    Yep, the sweaty note has been noted and commented on here in the ‘tron too. Three Boys Golden Ale is on tap at the RCC right now, and has the aroma of sweaty mango and passionfruit. It’s nice though. Emerson’s Bookbinder and Croucher Pilsner have had hints of the same aroma also.

    The MPA on the other hand? I agree, blue cheese. Really strong blue cheese in the aroma. I love blue cheese, and I loved MPA when it was fresh, but the combination just doesn’t work for me now. I couldn’t finish the last one I had. I guess it’s just down to preference.


  2. I’m in 100% agreement and, in the last few months, have been very thankful that we aren’t making a Pale Ale or IPA that needs to be consistent.

    Sauvin has always had that sweaty note… I compare it more to a beautiful woman’s armpit than a gym sock. There are definitely a lot more savoury/grassy characters, and less of the abundant fruit, coming through this year. Why? Cooler summer, more rainfall, picked early…? I’m not sure but it is all a part of the vintage and terroir I guess.

    Motueka Monster had all sorts of amazing characteristics used to describe it… from diesel/kerosene, through lemongrass and spring onion, to all the classic fruits associated to NZ hops. I loved that about it… unexpected, unique and very drinkable. The sweat, or oiliness, of the NZ hops seemed to lift the sweetness of the beer in comparison to it’s American brother.


  3. ps. I know that Emerson’s blend their hops to get a more consistent year ’round character… perhaps other brewers do this also (Mac’s do the same thing with their malt, which changes in fermentability as it ages).


  4. From Renaissance:

    Hi Martin,

    Yes we did notice a bit of a change in the hops this year, a bit metallic as you say.

    Soren says he notices a ‘petrol’ type note in the Nelson Sauvin.

    At Renaissance we adjust the bittering hop amounts as the alpha acids change so we keep the same IBU in the beers, but we leave the late hops alone.

    We prefer to celebrate the seasonal variation in our ales rather than strive for ultimate consistency.

    Change is good, it gives folks something to talk about.


    Andy Deuchars

    Renaissance Brewing


    • Perfectly stated… almost like a winemaker would say it;-)


    • Had that heavy heavy diesel smell coming off the emersons pils a few weeks ago (hashigo and southern cross)

      heavy heavy diesel, which i couldn’t recall ever really picking up before


      • people have said that for years about Riwaka… either diesel or burnt rubber. I’ve never really had much of either but I don’t drink a lot of Emerson’s Pilsner these days. Last time I had it was in Melbourne in May and it was smelling and tasting good.

        A beer writer actually asked me how much Riwaka was in Motueka Monster when they tried it… (there was none!). I guess something in this year’s Sauvin or Cascade (or the 50/50 combo we used) gave it that character.

        I certainly understood the diesel aroma that people were discussing in regards to Motueka Monster this year but I got more of a savoury/onion character (i love onions of all kinds!), with a bit of that sweet sweaty note that I love so much.

        For the record, I thought Yakima Monster was a shade better technically and far more “to style” but that Motueka Monster blew it away in regards to interest and drinkability. Anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest similar – beer geeks tended to prefer the style-conforming Yak but general beer lovers (thus, the majority of drinkers) preferred the Mot.


        • Aww Stu, does that mean I’m not a beer geek anymore, but “just” a general beer lover? ;)


        • After several e-mails and some other obscure commentary in the background, I have been compelled to make a posting which in itself is quite a rarity for me but here it goes. Over the past few days I have followed the developments in this dialogue and have fielded some interesting questions which have prompted me to point out a few things about hops that have obviously been missed in many people’s education. Not through any fault of their own either I might add, rather that the hop itself is quite an enigma, made even more complex by modern science’s ability to tell us what its make-up is but not how it’s made up. Hops are impacted by seasonality however not to the degree that has been suggested here, especially the flavour and aroma components which are determined by the essential oils, these show little variation, at least analytically annually. The soft resins which contain the alpha and beta acids show the most seasonable variation and contrary to popular belief these can’t be manipulated in the garden. The percentage of alpha acid a variety produces is keyed in to its genetics, and why some years are high and some years low remains a mystery. There exists some belief that it is tied back somehow to the early growing conditions in the season but there isn’t sufficient evidence to corroborate this. What determines alpha remains a mystery and if anybody tells you different they are very mistaken. What is important to remember though is that if alpha moves around year to year and the essential oil content is relatively stable the variation is in the ratio. This can run into issues for a brewer who is increasing his hoping to counter a lower alpha year but inadvertently increasing the oils level. These types of changes are significant as these larger weights of oils require judicious handling in the brewhouse, especially if malt bills or mashing temperatures haven’t been considered in the balance of things. The slightest changes in water chemistry can impact considerably on the buffering potential of mashing water which quite simply can have detrimental impacts on beer quality creating markedly changed flavours and aroma in the finished product. I could continue in this vein, but my point is fairly clear and that is that there are seasonal impacts on hops as well as both chemical and physical interactions that the brewer needs to consider within their process. Asking, “What’s up with our hops”? May be the first question but it certainly shouldn’t be the only question…
          I will field any questions on this up until midday Friday 5th at which point I will extract myself from the blog world.


  5. Shamlessly plagarised from the TwitFaceBook:
    Green Bullet is the new Nelson Sauvin – you heard it here – #threeboysbrew


  6. Thanks Doug

    Here’s one – where can brewers go to get more information on hop dynamics, especially in NZ strains? Any articles/papers/websites you recommend?




    • The Web would be my starting point if you wanted to get further into it but be aware that a lot of the science has produced more questions than answers. Something to understand about New Zealand Cultivars is that although they are different from the Northern types they share the same parentage, agronomic ally they behave in very much the same way and require the same inputs to achieve the same sort of outputs. We do things a little differently to suit the conditions and of course no two varieties are the same, they are all very different and treated as such in the garden.


  7. Hi Doug

    Great little response – thank you. I’d love to see some of these ideas go through to a Pursuit of Hoppiness article.

    I was thinking of emailing you before this piece even came up, in fact it’s somethijng I’ve meant to ask you in person the last couple of yimes we’ve met, but I thought my questions would be of interest to others… so why not put it on here.

    Firstly, let me say I’m in agreement with Andy at Renaissance that we should celebrate and promote seasonal diversity. As I’ve said above, I loved our Motueka Monster (NZ Cascade + NZ Sauvin pellets with a little flutter of Southern Cross flowers) earlier this year because of its unusual character – it was quite different to what I expected and that made me love it even more. Every single glass that I drunk made me think for a minute. If I wanted consistency, I’d drink Stella.

    1) I guess with like hops, just like the finished beer, there is only so much you can analyse in a lab and then other things that can only be picked up by people through sensory analysis. Are there any sensory studies that look at different characteristics from vintage to vintage? And, if so, are these results published anywhere? Do they drive growing philosophy?

    2) I would imagine that there are some anecdotal thoughts (and possibly data) that give yourselves and the farmers some idea of what they might expect from the particular conditions in a year. What are some of the key things you guys hope for (even at the most basic level)?

    3) Is there any chance we will see another region growing hops in the near future? I’m not sure what I imagine we’d get a difference out of Marlborough (which I guess is a bit drier) or Central Otago (which would seem more intense and extreme).

    4) Besides what is on your website, are there any recommended reading materials that you would point people to if they are interested in really improving the way they work with hops?

    5) A personal one… I see (through the homebrew and craft community) a big demand for the classic “big” aroma and famous named hops like Riwaka, Motueka, Sauvin, NZ Styrian, NZ Cascade but I am starting to become more interested in lesser talked about hops like NZ Willamette, Southern Cross and Pacific Jade. Obviously you know hops better than most people, and I’m sure you have your thoughts on how they’re used, are there any hops that you think are under utilised in NZ?

    Slainte mhath

    ps. interestingly there is another article on a similar subject in Capital Times this week – http://www.capitaltimes.co.nz


    • Hi Stu, I agree that celebrating seasonality is great, but I think the consumer should at least be aware of that intention. Not everyone wants their beer conceptual or a free form variant, some folk want consistency. At the small brewery level this can present some challenge’s, especially as small brewers grow into bigger brewers. I feel that the whole piece is around what an individual brewer is wanting to achieve and which space in the market they wish to play in, it can encompass many things, certainly too many to start into here….. With regards to analysing seasonal variations, what is analysed annually across commercial varieties is limited, although every bale has a sample removed and is graded and scored on several physical criteria as well as Spectrophotometer analysis for Alpha, Beta etc. We do some reference oils assays to update the typical analysis information we publish but be aware that we are dealing with 7,000 bales arriving over a 4 week period…. Other than what is sold as leaf hop (cones) everything else is blended and mixed to arrive at a stable and fairly consistent type 90 pellet. As has been mentioned earlier oils don’t seem to move around that much annually but we do blend to deliver consistent alphas as these do shift around not only seasonally but also area to area and even garden to garden. Alpha isn’t something that can be determined by the grower through farm practice, however all other areas of how a hop presents in the bale when it arrives into store is generally in the hands of the grower….. With regards to the growing season and particular conditions throughout the season, there are definitely things that Hops like and don’t like. Hard frosty winters, followed by warm wet springs and sunny summers are typical. They don’t like late or early frosts and certainly aren’t happy with prolonged high wind periods. Hops could grow in Marlborough or Otago as they are latitude dependent, but certain varieties may not perform that far south. Something hops enjoy are stable conditions, extremes may work for achieving low yield high value “spindly” Pinot Noir, however good yield and plant wellness in particular are prerequisite for hops. I would only see hops expanding commercially or on scale out of the Tasman district if something extraordinary were to happen. New Zealand produces less than 1 % of the world crop in what is a very competitive international market…… For Brewers to work better with their hops they first need to understand what it is they are trying to achieve, if it’s the big hop bomb they want, they need to understand it isn’t going to work if they haven’t got the other elements sorted. There’s heaps of excellent reference material available that a quick web search will turn up but even armed with that the brewer will need to know what he or she wants and the reality is that some people are better at that than others. I see plenty of brewers shifting into extreme beers before they have actually mastered more basic stuff…..All the hops you have mentioned can all be used much less aggressively to produce much subtler characters. My personal preferences draw me toward styles that are clever rather than brash and out of the New Zealand portfolio I think Southern Cross is a stand-out hop that has never really received the recognition it deserves, I also like working with lower to medium alpha hops and combinations of.


      • thanks for the overview and your personal thoughts Doug… I’d love to see some sort of seminar at Beervana 2011. Something like “Beer 201” (an intermediate guide to the up and coming beer geek – those who already know the basics). People are really getting into hops but have little understanding about many of the other ingredients (let alone the process!).


  8. Hi Stu,

    Easy to see you weren’t going to let me get away before I’d answered a few questions…. I’ll get back to this when I have some more time.




  9. All good stuff. My Captimes column geared to the masses might not have convayed the effect of vintage climate variation quite accurately.

    I would put my hand up for Super Alpher being under utilised. I love that hop used late. Although there were alot of puzzled faces from judges when I served up a golden ale that had been dry hopped with them after the NHC had been judged.


    • Hi Kieran,

      Of interest…. back in the day I was brewing at the Hahn Brewing Company in Sydney where the original Hahn Premium was brewed using 100 % Super Alpha for both Bittering and Aroma additions. It was an excellent beer modelled on the 70’s German Pils. Supers are definitely under rated as a hop and the name no longer does it any justice, back in 1976 New Zealand was producing the highest alpha hops in the world, 11 % seems quite modest these days in comparison. Ironically Germany was one of the export markets for Super Alpha.


  10. My question is about the hop ‘crush’. With malt we know that a coarse crush will behave differently to a floury crush in terms of efficiency/extraction. But what about hops? The 2009 NZ Cascade pellets have a coarser crush (same as previous years), whereas the 2010 NZ Cascade pellets are almost powder – what impact (if any) is that going to have on the finished product?
    And secondly, I’d be facinated to know why the 2010 crush is so different to previous years?
    Nige (Croucher Brewing)


  11. certainly like your web site but you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to tell the truth however I will surely come again again.


  12. I’ve read some just right stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting.
    I wonder how so much attempt you set to make any such wonderful informative website.


Leave a Reply

Copyright © NZBeerBlog.com     Powered by WordPress MU    Designed by WPDesigner    Hosted by