Posts Tagged ‘Mystery’

Can You Use Unknown Hops?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

from theweeklybrew

hopsIt’s been awhile since I’ve done a homebrewing post. This isn’t because I haven’t been brewing, It’s because my area of study has been primarily in brewing history lately, rather then the process. Just today though I realized that with the hop harvest recently that I could’ve been posting on that process.  So I figured I’d post today on an issue that I recently had.

In September I received an email from someone telling me they had some unknown hops they thought were fuggles and were wondering if I wanted to pick some. Considering the price of hops I was happy to go pick free hops. The problem was when I showed up I discovered they neither looked, nor smelled like fuggles. In fact I didn’t recognize the smell from any of the hops I’d used before. Usually in a case like this you identify the hops by leaf characteristics and the cones size shape and smell. Naturaly I brought up some hop databases and started comparing. Comparing leaves and cones proved difficult with this variety though. The next step in hop identification when comparison fails is genetic identification or a gas chromatography. These methods are expensive though and impractical.

After some more digging I found out the owner of the plants had purchased them discount at a nursery to use as cover on a fence. This meant there was a good chance these were a decorative variety. If you ask most brewers, or do some googling you’ll find most people don’t think that it is a good idea to use wild or decorative hops. Many people feel that these hops can’t be used for brewing. The reality is that although their not bread specifically for brewing these hops can be used for making beer.

The most difficult issue to overcome when brewing with mystery hops is alpha acids. Not knowing the bittering properties of hops makes it difficult to properly use them for bittering. The easiest way is to use trial and error. With these I started with 1.75oz. I figured it was safer to risk it being a high alpha hop and aging the bitterness out rather then having a sickly sweet brew from too little. Taste and aroma are much easier to gauge using a tea made from the hops. I just tried the brown ale I brewed with them turned out great.