October 23, 2018

Experiment: Shipping Beer and Hop Profiles

Could it be that homebrewers have the advantage over pro brewers when it comes to keeping hop flavor in your beer?


This little ditty is partially inspired by an excellent post that is no longer available at captainsbeerblog.com.

Lots of people have found that older beer loses some of its hop flavor. This is especially important in IPAs or other hop-focused beers. I've certainly found this to be true in my homebrew, as the first bottles of a batch of dry-hopped IPA are overflowing with hop aroma and flavor, and the last bottles feel a lot more subdued. In the blog I linked to above, some pro brewers talk about this factor limiting their beers to a 3 month or so shelf life. Another factor in hop aroma loss that they mention is agitation and transportation. The rocky ride from to California to Boston seems to have a negative effect on hop aroma for Sierra Nevada's brews. I stumbled across this issue when I found that the beers that I biked to the Northern Brewer warehouse tasted different from when I tried them at home. They seemed to have lost a component of the aroma; an IPA didn't taste as hoppy and a Belgian Dubbel lacked the banana esters I had detected previously. To test the hypothesis, I got together with fellow NB customer service ninja Dan and designed a delicious experiment.

I set aside two bottles of a recently brewed IPA (dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo). One I took in a car to the warehouse, the other I put in a bicycle pannier and biked 10 miles. That distance on a bike took about an hour and was enough to churn milk into a thin layer of cream, which is some serious agitation. We then tasted the two bottles side by side.

The results were clear: the biked bottle had lost some aroma and had a slightly different flavor. It seemed to both of us that the driven bottle was sharper and had a clearer, more "green" hop aroma and flavor. The hop flavor of the biked bottle was slightly "muddled" and rounder. For both of us the preference was for the fresher driven bottle. What does this mean for hopheads? Well, for one thing, choosing a recently made local beer might be a better experience than a dusty bottle from a distant brewery. And having a homebrew, which often doesn't even have to leave the building it was made in, might be the ultimate way to have your hops and drink them too.