Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...
 Photo Credit: Peter Wisham

Photo Credit: Peter Wisham

I am happy to have you all on this journey with me and I hope that you enjoy yourself and learn some things along the way.  One could say that I am a hop head, which is to say that I love hoppy beers.  I crave the aroma and balanced, or unbalanced, bitterness of English and American Pale Ales, ranging from a light English Bitter to an over the top American India Pale Ale.  I am excited to learn more about the wonderful, miniature pine cone shaped, green flower that we call hops.  I will peel back a few of the pedals in this week’s quest.  Let’s hop along, sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun. 

This week’s class was held at The Shop, the garage based nano-brewery of Stacey Collins.  He is the President of the Elk Grove Brewers Guild was very kind to share his space and knowledge with the class.

 Brewmaster Stacey Collin

Brewmaster Stacey Collin

When I first walked into The Shop, I was greeted with a very tasty homebrewed beer, by our host and this weeks instructor.  When the rest of the class settled in we began discussing this week’s focus, hops.  The latin name for hops is Humulus Lupulus, which is a bit of a mouthful so I’ll stick with hops for the purpose of this post.  From Amarillo to Zythos, there are far too many varieties for me to recall from my hop head.  For our conveniance, hops are put into the three basic groupings: Noble (Central European in origin), English and Amercian.  In more recent years, there have been quite a few exciting hops coming from Australia and New Zealand; Nelson Sauvin being my personal favorite for its tropical fruit, and white wine like aroma and flavors.

Hops are used in three forms in the brewing process: whole cone (plucked and dried), plug (think small hockey puck) and pellet (these look like rabbit food).  They add three important aspects to beer, aroma, flavor and bitterness.  Hops can be, and are used throughout the brewing process.  Mostly during the boil of the soon to be beer, called wort.  The earlier additions of hops provide bitterness, hops added somewhere around mid-boil provide flavor and the additions nearing the end of the boil provide aroma.  They can also be added to beer a few days before it is bottled or kegged in a process called dry hopping, this adds outstanding aroma and is used in many styles of beer.  I could go on and into more detail, but all this talk is making me thirsty.  On to the samples.

threeformsofhops.jpg

This week’s group of samples were all, you guessed it, hop forward in either flavor, aroma or both.  We had 8 samples in total ranging from Stacy’s, oh so drinkable, Kolsch to the very familiar to me, Racer 5 IPA.  I am quite fond of English Ales and have been trying my hand at brewing a solid ESB (Extra Special/Strong Bitter).  I may have found my muse in Landlord from Timothy Taylor & Co. Ltd.  This Best Bitter had an aroma of a warm biscuit with honey and a touch of peach perserve.  It’s apperance was a bright, clear copper with a thin, white head that lasted longer than the beer did in my sample glass.  The flavor was spot on what I smelled, but with the addition of an earthy hop character that was balanced by a soft caramel sweetness.  The medium body and moderate carbonation, paired with the lingering hop presence demaded that I have more, but my glass was empty and I had to move on to other samples.

  Class at The Shop

Class at The Shop

Thank you for sharing in my journey.  I hope that you continue with me over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I have a beer suggestion to quench your thirst for a hoppy, but balanced brew.  Fuller’s ESB is a favorite of mine and is a great example of what can be done with hops is a subtle way.  The aroma of this beer is like a biscuit with a thin layer of marmalade.  Its crystal clear, copper coloration and thin white head are enticing.  The aroma does not disappoint in the realm of flavor.  Floral, spicy and citrus English hops are certainly present and well balanced with a caramel sweetness.  Fuller’s has a medium, smooth mouth feel with light carbonation.  This beer is, in my opinion, quite satisfying.  So, the next time you are in a good pub, or at your local specialty beer store, grab yourself a Fuller’s and enjoy.

Cheers!

Did you miss Week 1? Click the link below to check it out.