Every year our cousins drive to Yakima to sniff hops and pick out the ones that smell the best and are most useful for what we’re trying to brew. We asked them for their thoughts on this year’s hop selection experience.
It’s awesome. I mean hops smell wonderful, it’s interesting to smell the differences of one field over another. And most importantly, it is really the only ingredient that we get to choose the desired qualities at that level. My favorite part is sharing the experience with IHB cousins and genuinely involving them in the process and the decisions.
Greg’s internal dialogue:
“Should I go this year? It’s fun, and I like hanging with the team. But am I any good at it? No, but I’ve been doing it long enough so that must count for something, right? I guess I’ll go. But I’m not gonna drink, it’s a Monday and Mondays are not drinking days.”
First hop lot selection
“Damn it, I knew it, they all smell the same. Kind of. Ok this lot smells kind of crappy, I can eliminate this one. Someone else smells honeydew. Shit, now I smell honeydew, have I been influenced or do I really smell it? They all smell like honeydew now, I’ve been influenced! Except this one, this one smells like hay and onion, eliminate it.”
Hop broker offers a beer. “I’m good” I say aloud.
5 minutes later, “Any low abv beers?” I say aloud.
“This one’s 5%”
“Close enough” I say.
At the next stop.
More internal dialogue. “These all smell identical” I’m listening to other descriptors such as mint, cedar, green tea. “For the love, I have no idea what these smell like. What am I doing here?”
I listen to more descriptors such as orange rind, blueberry, eucalyptus. “Ok, no one knows what they are talking about, they are just making this shit up. What if hop selection is all just a total farce? What if brewers from all over the globe descend upon Yakima to select hops and no one is actually doing any good except avoiding the lots that actually smell like dogshit? Could it really be? Or is my palate really that basic?”
“I guess it’s time to head home, huh?” I muse aloud to the crew. Off we go.
WE SMELL HOPS. We crush them up and stick them in our noses. haha.. NO. Basically our team smells the hops individually and collaborates to come to a consensus about aromas derived from each sample from different local hop fields and selections. We use specific hops for specific beers that we make, so we go in with a goal of what aromas were looking for from certain hops. My favorite part of the hop selection process is the people watching, which usually proceeds by laughing and pointing at them for having hop residue as a mustache. That shit gets everywhere.
Hop selection is always a good time. It is when you get to be schmoozed by the hop suppliers and you get to help with something that is a big part of the brewery. The getting to rub and smell all the different lots of each hop is probably the best part because it allows you to see how much variation you can get from the same variety of hop that came from a different field. Also the free beer is great!
Hop selection day is one of the things that makes me want to stay in the craft beer industry. It is the fun part of the job in which you get to test your senses and choose product from the hard working farmers. It puts the “craft” into craft brewing. On hop selection day you get to mush hops, smell hops, wear hops, taste hops, etc. hops. It is a good time.
I think the best part of it is seeing the fruition of all the labors of the farmers, hop brokers, and processors come into a delicious smelling holiday, where we all leave giddy, sticky, and stained hahah!
A group of us are presented with samples from various plots that we decide which would be best for our beer. Other notable details: the purple counters at Steiner where we can see the true green level of the hops, or how the BSG one was in the pelletizing plant room in a building surrounded by hop farms, or how Hollingbery’s was at a very old fruit storage building, right in the heart of Yakima.
Hop selection is seriously my favorite!!
Hop selection is basically Christmas for breweries… Except you get to pick out your presents… and then you’re contractually obligated to use those presents for about the next 2 years.
Got asked to go to hop selection about 5 minutes before the cars were leaving because a spot opened up. Thanks to Ross for bailing because it turned out to be a great time. Of course I wanted to go because I thought I’d get lots of photos and maybe a blog post out of it (check and check), but also because I’d never seen that part of the process before. Got to the first stop and thankfully Rikki provided us with descriptor sheets because I am still learning how to train my nose to smell things, and I’ve got a long way to go. As a newbie mainly I tried to focus on finding at least one other scent besides lemongrass or onion, as well as which one gave me a strong reaction positive or negative. Also focused on not sneezing. Luckily I remembered to take my allergy medication that morning. It was a unique experience and all the people we met were great! It was a fun day working in the brewing industry and I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to attend!
After hop selection day Rikki types all of our thoughts and responses up.
Here’s an example of a winning amarillo:
grassy, citrus, very slight O/G, sharp peel
hay, raspberry, green onion
perfume, licorice, cantaloupe
Here’s an example of a losing, albeit still good amarillo
slight og, citrus
onion, garlic, thyme
grass, mint, tea, woody