Written by Ken Carman
One of the more problematic things to really achieve as a judge is decent palate education. You can’t do it by simply drinking more beer. In fact, unless you drink a lot of defective beer, and styles you’re not fond of, and otherwise great beer that’s considered off style: drinking more may be counter-productive when it comes to educating the palate. An occasional defect session run by your homebrew club is great, except these are flavors, aromas and other parameters you need to be very familiar with; time is not your friend: memory fades, can even change.
The summer before I took the BJCP test again, every week I would stop by Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge: or wherever my tour took me, and buy a beer. Then I would pollute it with Butter Buds, corn juice from a can of corn, Chloraseptic: anything that might mimic a beer defect. I started with NAs and worked my way up to Russian Imperials and Double IPAs.
Clubs often have off flavor seminars, or club meetings where polluted beer is served: “polluted” with a defect kit offered by the BJCP containing vials of concentrated defect solution that; if you sniff them straight, really are quite “vile.” Beer could be left out in the sun, beer might be very, very old. You too can drink cardboard beer: yum!
We do whatever nasty thing we need to do to beer to experience the defects we need to be looking for when judging beer.
Note: I also recommend sessions, to provide just one example, where Anchor Porter, in a label-less bottle, is served as an American Amber and participants tell everyone why this is, or isn’t, an American Amber, or a Dry Stout, or…
A few years ago I brought a case of Sam Adams single hop series: where they took their Latitude 48 and made several versions with only one hop each, to a Music City Brewers meeting for all to try. I think we found it educational… so I was already interested in being able to understand how different hops affect beer. This concept seems to have been filtered into something called The Hop Experience, where homebrewers can take a very simple beer, usually a light beer, and put different hops in it.
Enter Clarksville Carboys…
Millie and I are members of Music City Brewers, but we live closer to Clarksville than most Davidson County residents: out towards Ashland City. I used to live even closer in Cheatham County part of Joelton and worked for a while in Clarksville. So when we found out there was a homebrew club in Clarksville, Tennessee, we decided to visit occasionally, when we had a chance. Our first visit was about a year ago, and three weeks ago we got to visit again. That’s when James Visger, president, told us about their plan to do The Hop Experience. We’re into beer education, so we couldn’t resist.
James had found a rather cheap 18 pack of Miller and, the week before, took off the twist caps, added different hop pellets to different bottles and then sealed them back up. My biggest surprise is the carbonation stayed in solution quite well. Twist caps don’t have the best reputation when it comes to that once opened.
In attendance, our eager hop adventurers: Roland Clavet, Brian Dyer, Brian Bailey, Cameron Clark, Brandon Windes, Lester Black and, of course Millie Carman and Ken. For some odd reason Ken has the same name as Ms. Millie. Don’t know why. I’ll never tell. My lips are almost as well sealed as the Miller bottles.
From the start I could tell this had been well organized. We were each given Hop Experience sheets that listed the hop in each bottle, complete with common descriptions of each what style they’re typically used for. We also got to score how strong each typical characteristic was from 1-10: spicy, floral/fragrant, fruity, citrus, herbal, grassy/earthy, evergreen/piney and European. We were free to differ with common descriptions of aroma and taste.
Note: I am pulling these comments from my notes, and Millie’s: plus what I remember regarding what the others said. I don’t actually have access to the sheets they filled out.
The first was Saaz. Considered to be a noble hop, Saaz has been used in German brewing for many, many years: and there’s even a controversy over what they were called that involved the Germans, the Czechs and Hitler.
I think most of us agreed this was the worst one. Descriptions were everything from funky lemon to dog droppings. (I’m being polite.)
Bottle #2 Apollo, described on the sheet as, “bittering hop with an intense, pleasant citrusy, orange, resiny and spicy aroma.” According to beerlegends.com Apollo was first cultivated in 2000. “Take hops variety 98001, cross that with USDA 19058m variety, then take the result and cross that with Zeus.”
Not as expected, according to our notes. “Cantalope near the rind.” “Old grassy and danke.”
One wonders, if you look at the description, if the pellet used may have been little old, though cardboard/papery was not one I remember being mentioned.
Amarillo was the second hop, described on the sheet as, “flowery, peach citrus-like and peachy aroma.” Bred by Virgil Gamache Farms Inc. in Washington State. They were actually discovered on the farm as a wild hop.
”We thought, ‘that’s a different looking hop plant,’” Darren Gamache told Edible Seattle. “And so, we smelled the cones and we thought a beer should taste like this. The rest is history.” (Quote courtesy joshuambernstein.com)
”Taste-like,” of course, was the question of the day, along with aroma. I don’t think many of agreed with the comment I’ve seen describing Amarillo as “super Cascade.” Some grapefruit but more peach, as described. A tiny bit of lemon.
Cluster: described on the sheet as, “Floral, lemony and spicy aroma.” According to beerlegends.com Cluster may be the oldest American hop, brought here by Dutch and/or English settlers. Eventually, after a lot of cross breeding, it was given the name “Cluster.”
Most of us got lemon and a few of us described it as lemongrass: the herb whole earth folks use to make tea. Orange, or blood orange as some of us described it, and spicy. But most of this was mild: very background.
US Goldings: described on the sheet as, “Flowery tones, mild, gentle: classic English-type aroma.” According to Wiki: “There are many different (Goldings) cultivars such as Amon’s Early Bird, Cobbs, Bramling,Canterbury, Petham Rodmersham and in Worcestershire – Mathon. Goldings grown in U.S. is usually from the Canterbury cultivar.”
Lemon, oregano, cardamon were some of the comments. I seem to remember it being light on the aroma, and taste.
Willamette: described on sheet as mild, pleasant, slightly aroma. According to Wiki: “Popular American development in 1976 of the English Fuggle. Named for the Willamette Valley.”
Dirty socks, funky, zest of orange and danke were many of the descriptors used.
Cascade: described on sheet as pleasingly smooth flowery, citrus grapefruit, lychee fruit, pear, slight grape and woodsy aroma.
I got grapefruit, pear and a hint of lilac aroma. Millie lemon, pear, spicy, herbal grassy. I seem to remember the group liked this the most: found it the most appealing.
Note: do many Americans actually eat much, or even know quite well, lychee fruit?
According to Wiki: “Cascade is a variety of hop developed in the U.S.D.A. breeding program in Oregon at Oregon State University and released as a U.S. aroma variety in 1971. It originated from an open seed collection in 1956 including an English Fuggle, a Russian Serebrianker hop, and an unknown male.”
Ah, those “unknown males.” Always causing trouble.
Mt. Hood: sheet notes “somewhat pungent aroma, light grapefruit, lemony notes.”
I seem to remember this was another surprise when we found little there: had to fight for aroma and taste.
Millie found grassy with a grapefruit sense that may have sat too long… some lemongrass and earthy sense. I found slight lemongrass and that was about it.
Developed by Oregon State University in 1985. Related to Liberty, Ultra and Crystal according to Schmohz.com.
Our last hop was actually called CTZ: Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus., According to James Visger, who ran The Hop Experience…
”CTZ is a hybrid hop that has three names (Columbus, Tomahawk, Zeus). The abridged version is that in 1979 Chuck Zimmermann was working for the USDA hop program in Washington State when he left to go to work in private industry at a company called Hop Union and then onto Yakima Chief. Hop Union called the hop strain Columbus; Yakima Chief called it Tomahawk. After some legal action all the parties mended their relationship and each company sold the hop using their own name for it. A few years later a third company, S.S. Steiner, came up with a very similar hop and called it Zeus.”
Sheet read: “Citrus, woody and spicy: a pungent, yet pleasant, aroma.”
I got some lemon on aroma, a bit more on taste. Millie got a lot more: some grapefruit, herbal, lemon/citrus/spicy and slight tarragon. “layers of complexity.”
James’ wife Jami Visger, James’ wife, was the steward, assisted by Roland Clavet’s wife Dee.
Some advice for those who try this…
Might make sense to create separate aroma and taste categories on the sheet in the comment section, or have participants start by listing each with a column in the comments for every one they assess. That should encourage them to address both. Oh, and as a personal note: be clear on what they were saying when they try to access these notes later! I know a beer judge who starts by listing, “Hops, malt, yeast-sense, body…” under Overall Impressions on the judging sheet, and gives specifics for each before being more general in his comments. The same might apply here with “aroma” and “taste” listed before you start writing down comments for each hop. Seems like it would be easy to add that to the space where you fill in what you sensed.
We all agreed that the Miller may not have been the best method for doing this. Personally I was bothered by a DMS/corn sense that provided a prevailing funk, probably because I made a comment about Miller using corn when they brew before we started, but I think the carbonation was the major concern when it came to the whole group. I suppose not having been brewed with these hops might have also been part of the problem and the sharp: carbonic, tang that the high carbonation this style tends to have. Could you find another bubble in the body without the bottle exploding? Personally I think it may have become part of this style so brewers could convince the quaff-er there’s actually significant flavor to this style: but I admit that’s a personal prejudice.
Starting with a basic wort, then repeating with a mild ale, then maybe Bud Light (to avoid the corn), then work your way up to more complex brews could be the best way, I would think. It might provide some sense of how lagers vs. ales are affected by hops too. Then, a while later, do it all again. But I admit: a lot of work.
It was amazing the variance, and the talent, in the different palates. While each and every participant had helpful: insightful, comments, I would like to make a special note here: I was judging these samples next to Brandon Windes, who is a cook for 5th Special Forces Group. We were all chuckling about how most Army food was spice-less but: “I use plenty,” Brandon said. Apparently so: he was picking up a lot of herbal spicing notes most of us missed.
I wish to thank James Visger and the Clarksville Carboys for this opportunity. It was a wonderful experience.
In a week I will be getting some wort from Boscos brewery in Nashville, and I’ll share a gallon with the Clarksville Carboys, and we may have another “go at it.”
A very worthwhile, valuable, experience. Discovering how the different ingredients affect beer can only help a beer judge assess entries to any competition. I recommend it, and think such efforts with all the ingredients should actually be more than the occasional experience: perhaps part of every, and any, homebrew club meeting. As I found out the summer I studied for my second BJCP test: repetition helps train the palate.
The better the palate, the better the judge and, one hopes: better judging.