Understanding Beer Flavor – Part I
Where does the flavor in beer come from?
Base Beer Ingredients
Malts – Base malts and specialty malts can add sweet, toasty, nutty, caramel, coffee-like, roasty, spicy, and burnt flavors.
Hops – Hops add a wide-range of flavors depending on the variety chosen, including; bitter, fruity, woody, piney, citrusy, and earthy flavors.
Yeast – Depending on the strain and fermentation temperature, yeast can contribute fruity, spicy, and earthy flavors in beer.
Water – Depending on the level minerals in water (hard/soft), the flavor perception of the other ingredients can be altered. Harder water works better for bitter beers like IPAs, and soft water with low minerals works well for many lager styles.
Mash – Mixing grains with hot water releases the natural sugars and flavors in brewing grains. Special procedures like decoction mashing can enhance malty flavors in beer.
Boil – Longer than average (1-hour) boils can create higher levels of caramel flavors in beers. Hop additions during the boil, and the timing of them determines bitterness, hop flavor, and hop aroma.
Fermentation – Temperature and length of fermentation impacts the flavors attributes produced from brewing yeast. In general terms, ale yeasts, which are top fermenting, will produce fruitier and spicier beer flavors and lager yeasts, which are bottom fermenting, will be more neutral, allowing flavors from the other ingredients to come through more. Special strains of wild yeast and bacteria can add earthy, funky, and sour flavors to beer.
Special Aging- Aging beer in wooden barrels, including ones which previously held spirits or wines, can add flavor notes from the prior beverage along, with woody and earthy flavors.
Formulating Recipes for Flavor / Learning What Flavors to Expect when Ordering or Buying Beer
In Part I of this article we’ll discuss hop-derived flavor in IPAs, as IPAs are one of the most popular styles of beer. With better understanding of individual hop characteristics, you can choose beers for the flavor profile you want.
Piney Flavored IPAs
Pine/Piney flavors are most commonly found in IPAs brewed with high amounts of American hops. Many American hop varieties have some pine character to them, such as Cascade hops, which can produce a nice mix of pine, grapefruit, and citrus flavors. For bolder flavors of pine, look for IPAs brewed with Simcoe, Chinook, or a combination of both hops. Some examples of commercially brewed craft beers using these hops are:
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA – brewed with 100% Simcoe hops
Foothills Brewing Hoppyum IPA – brewed with 100% Simcoe hops
Fat Head’s Hop Juju – brewed with Chinook, Simcoe, and Cascade hops
Drake’s Hopocalypse - brewed with Chinook, Simcoe and Cascade hops
El Segundo Two 5 Left DIPA – brewed with Chinook, Simcoe, and Cascade hops
Anderson Valley Heelch O’Hops – brewed with Chinook and Cascade hops
Tropical Fruit Flavored IPAs
A few hop varieties are know for producing vibrant tropical fruit flavors. Citra hops can produce flavors of passionfruit, mango, and guava. Mosaic hops can produce tropical fruit and pineapple flavors. Galaxy hops, from Australia, can produce moderate notes of passionfruit and tropical fruit flavors. Some examples of commercially brewed craft beers using these hops are:
Kern River Citra – brewed with Citra hops
Three Floyds Zombie Dust – an IPA-like American Pale Ale brewed with 100% Citra hops
Upland Brewing Harvest Ale – brewed with Citra hops
Lone Pint Pioneer Yellow Rose – brewed with 100% Mosaic hops
Green Flash Imperial Red Rye IPA – brewed with Mosaic hops
Clown Shoes Galactica – brewed with Galaxy hops
Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA – brewed with Galaxy and Citra hops
Citrusy Flavored IPAs
Citrusy hop flavors are a commonly produced from American hops. Amarillo hops can produce a distinct tangerine citrus flavor. Centennial hops are known for producing bright citrusy flavors. Zythos hops can produce flavors of orange, lemon, and grapefruit citrus. Cascade and Chinook hops both produce some grapefruit flavors. Examples of commercially brewed craft beers using these hops include:
Founders Red’s Rye PA – brewed with Amarillo hops
Ale Asylum Ballistic IPA – brewed with Amarillo hops
Port Brewing Shark Attack – Imperial Red Ale brewed with Centennial and Cascade hops
Drake’s IPA – brewed with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops
Three Floyds Alpha King – IPA-like American Pale Ale brewed with Centennial and Cascade hops
Black Market Rye IPA – brewed with Zythos and Cascade hops
GoodLife Imperial IPA – brewed with Zythos, Chinook, and Cascade hops
Earthy and Dank Flavored IPAs
American Columbus hops produce earthy and dank flavors in beer. English origin Fuggles and Goldings are known for producing earthy and woody flavors. Examples of commercially brewed craft beers using these hops include:
DC Brau The Corruption – brewed with 100% Columbus hops
Hangar 24 Columbus IPA – brewed with 100% Columbus hops
Newburgh New Burton IPA – brewed with Fuggles and Goldings hops
Highland Brewing Kashmir IPA – brewed with Fuggles and Goldings hops
Block 15 Aboriginale – Strong Ale brewed with Fuggles hops
Blended Hop Flavored IPAs
Many of the top IPAs use blends of hops which incorporate a range of hop-derived flavors, offering consumers a complex mix of piney, fruity, and citrusy hop flavors.
Firestone Walker Union Jack – brewed with Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Amarillo, Chinook, and Simcoe hops
Green Flash West Coast IPA – brewed with Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade hops
Surly Furious IPA – brewed with Simcoe and Amarillo hops
Hill Farmstead Ephraim – brewed with Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, and Simcoe hops
Sierra Nevada Hoptimum – brewed with Chinook, Simcoe, and Citra hops