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I generally understand the grain side of things, but I can't get my head around hops. Given the variety and choice, how do you go about selecting what hops to use and how much of each hop...? Are there any resources online that delve into how to build the hop profile for a beer...?

cheers,

Bob.

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5 Answers

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For me it was sort of a trial-and-error thing. When trying to learn about a given style of beer, I would typically buy a kit that lists all the ingredients. Some suppliers will tell you everything that's in the recipe, while others (like William's Brewing) won't. So I'd buy a recipe kit and note the grain and hops in it and then make that recipe and note the flavors. Then I'd try the same recipe with different hops and note the difference, with the grain mix being a control.

Once I got a basis-- making a few of the same styles from different recipes -- then I started looking online for "clone" recipes for specific beers I liked. For me it was IPAs and IIPAs so I was looking for Blind Pig, Pliny the Elder and Racer 5. That gave me an idea for the hops that make those beers tick. So I bought the hops, picked a grain mix from my past experience and made some beer. On some specialty hops, once you crack the hop vacuum seal, you'll know you've hit or missed because the smell is so distinct. Now you've got your own recipe, so you can try different hops and know the diff.

Eventually, you'll get to the point where you can spot all the common hops (cascade, hallertau, willamette) and some distinct specialty hops (simcoe, amarillo, nelson) from the smell every time someone pours you a pint.

All this assumes you've read books and blogs like others recommended above and have a basic idea about the various generalities: which are generally bittering hops, aroma hops and which are better suited to flavoring.

I've never found IBUs to be a very useful measurement of a finished beer's bitterness. It's a bit too blunt for me. You can have bitterness that manifests as skunk piss or you can have bitterness that manifests as grapefruit or passionfruit and the two are radically different. A hop's Alpha will give you an idea about how much to use to achieve a given IBU... but won't tell you how much to use to achieve a given flavor or aroma. Big difference.

Bottom line: brew some beer and you'll figure it out and have fun doing it.

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Excellent answer. This question really speaks to the art of brewing. You can't really read about all the hops and then magically put a beer together with the "right" hop profile. You need to BREW IT. More importantly...brew it again and again. Good answer. –  brewchez Feb 8 '10 at 13:44
    
Thanks to everyone for their answers, my main issue is that I can only brew about four times a year, so spending a few years experimenting will get frustrating, hey ho. @brewchez, I suppose the question was impossible to answer, it's just experience aqt the end of the day.. –  fatboab Feb 16 '10 at 19:20
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One thing I like to do sometimes is make a SMaSH (Singe Malt and Single Hop) beer. You can really get to know a hop type, malt type, and yeast strain that way.

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I appreciate that's the case, but it still doesn't help with knowing how much of variety to add. Or if like me, what combinations will go well togeather. I've had a few of the Mikkeller Single Hop IPAs and De Mollen Amarillo, which is single hop, but I still have no idea how to combine the hops to get the desired result. –  fatboab Feb 16 '10 at 19:16
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Like Jim says, Designing Great Beers is an awesome resource. The second half of the book is a study of winning recipes, which should give you the beginning of an idea in terms of hop flavors.

The next thing you can do is read the aroma and flavor descriptions at some place like the Northern Brewer's hop page or the HomebrewTalk Wiki page of Hop Varieties. Use your imagination to think about what those flavors would taste like in a beer or try to think of beers you had with those hop flavors.

Finally, get down to brewing. Keep it simple by making beers with only one or two hop varieties. When you taste your beer, again read over the hop flavor and aroma descriptions. See if you detect anything similar in your beers. Last year I made a brown ale with only Northern Brewer. Now I can fairly easily pick out that hop in a beer.

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I think the only way to really figure it out is to experiment. There really are no rules or magic formulas that makes a combo of certain hops more of an amber, pale or stout than other combos. Some beers do benefit from using hops from the country of origin. For example, you can make an irish stout with a boat load of citrusy American Hops, but then it will be a closer to American Stout.

If you stick with chosing hops that make sense based on country of origin that will take soem of the guess work out. But from there its an experimentation thing.

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Good point about brewing to style. Many of the various beer styles have developed over hundreds of years. They owe their great flavor to so many years of recipe tuning. –  Dean Brundage Feb 2 '10 at 16:35
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The main thing your beer is getting from the hops is alpha acids which produce bitter flavors to offset the sweetness of the malt.

For recipe formulation you will be balancing the alpha % of the hop factored with how long the hop is in the boil which determines how much of the acid gets extracted into the wort. The style guides and recipes will refer to this as IBUs (International Bittering Units).

Add to this the different flavor and aroma characteristics of different hop strains (more citrus, more piney etc.) makes hop utilization and major factor in the beers flavor and a complex one to use.

Ray Daniels has two chapters dedicated to this topic in his book 'Designing Great Beers' and I can thoroughly recommend this book if you are getting into recipe formulation.

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I understand the theory of getting the correct IBU, I just don't understand how to get the hop flavour profile (for want of a better term). I have Daniels book on my amazon wish list, I should just take the plunge and buy it. –  fatboab Feb 1 '10 at 16:22
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