The hop character of my beers is something I’ve tried to perfect since I started brewing. Sometimes it’s incredible, other times it’s very muted and dull. My IPA’s tend to have amazing aroma and character, but that’s easy to get when you dry hop. There are a lot of great beers out there with excellent hop character that don’t get dry hopped (think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Tankhouse Ale), but I can’t seem to get that definition to my hop character. Why is that? I take it as a personal challenge to figure out, as it’s important to me. After all, this is ‘Hoptomology’ isn’t it?
I’ve recently tried ‘hop standing’, or allowing my flame out additions to steep in the pot (covered) for up to 20 minutes before whirlpooling. This technique has definitely imbibed some beautiful hop flavour, but the aroma isn’t where I’d like it to be. I’ve tried shortening that time by whirlpooling immediately after flameout, but that doesn’t seem to do it either. Don’t get me wrong, these steps do give you a certain quality, just not the one that I’m searching for here. I’ve recently built a hopback that I plan on experimenting with, using whole cone hops, but that will be a topic for another time.
There are some great podcasts on Brew Strong with Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer about water chemistry and mineral additions. Most of the info is explaining how the different ions work in relation to brewing chemistry. The focus is usually on getting the pH in the mash in the appropriate range, which is important, I get that. What I don’t hear much about is how it affects the taste of the beer.
John Palmer did mention briefly in his interview with Brad Smith, that a pale ale type beer with a higher finishing pH will demonstrate a muddled, less defined hop character, whereas a pale ale type beer with a lower finishing pH will be perceived as brighter and crisper.
Building upon that thought, Gordon Strong has mentioned a few times that while he was at Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, he noticed that they adjust all of their brewing water with phosphoric acid to a pH of 5.6. Now, you can’t just take someone’s water adjustment at face value, because everyone’s water profile is different, and who knows what else they do to adjust their water. BUT, it did get me thinking about an experiment. Perhaps I could do 2 sample batches of the same beer, one with non-adjusted water, and the other with the the pH adjusted to 5.6.
My Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone recipe has always been an enjoyable one for me, so I thought it would be a good one to experiment with. From what I’ve calculated using the Bru’n Water spreadsheet, my SNPA will hit a pH of 5.6 in the mash using my existing, unaltered Toronto water. If I adjust all my brewing water to a pH of 5.6 as suggested, my mash will hit a pH of 5.3. This difference will carry on through the boil and into the finished beer, so with all else being equal, I should be able to offer a qualitative description of the effect pH may have on not only the hop flavour and aroma, but the overall beer in general.
I’ll post some results when they’re ready for sampling.