Tasting Notes: Hopsteader

A Pint of

The Hopsteader has been kegged, is fully carbonated, and I’ve been enjoying it for a few weeks.  I was looking forward to this beer, as it utilized a new (to me) method called ‘hop bursting’; the use of large doses of hops near the end of the boil, in place of the more common 90 or 60 minute bitterness addition.  By ‘large dose’, I’m talking 2-3X that is normal for a recipe – in this case 128g (5oz) not counting dry hops!  The bitterness provided by this method is supposed to be more mellow, and of course, it comes along with big hop aroma and flavour.  This was boosted by the addition of another 42g (1.5oz) of dry hops.

The beer finished close to the expected gravity – 1.016, quite close to the expected 1.014, giving this beer a healthy 6.1% alcohol.  After a week in the primary it was transfered to a secondary, along with 42g of Cascade hops.  Two weeks later it was kegged, and allowed to carbonate for 1 day at 20PSI, and then at serving pressure (12PSI) until ready (about 1 week).  Despite being kegged, it has changed a lot over the past 2-3 weeks, so I’ve waited for it to settle down before writing this review.  The first few glasses were a big disappointment; the beer had an unpleasant, almost vegetable-like taste, presumably brought on by the high dose of hops.  But, with every day, this dropped away leaving an ever more pleasant beer.  More below the fold…

Given the hop bursting plus dry hops, it is of no surprise that this beers aroma is dominated by hops.  The citrusy aroma of Cascade is present, as well as some of the woody/spicy notes of Willamette hops.  At first this is all you can smell, but as the beer degasses and the hop aroma fades, hints of mild maltiness come through. No typical yeast aromas can be found, likely due to the use of Packman yeast, which has a reputation for clean fermentation profiles.

This is a pretty beer.  It pours coppery in colour, is completely clear without a hint of cloudiness,  and is topped with a thick creamy white head.  I mean creamy – its almost as thin and smooth as a Guinness head.  The thick head slowly settles into a thin layer of looser foam that lasts until the end of the pint.

This is where the beer doesn’t quite live up to expectations.  What it does have is BIG hop flavour, and I mean big.  While the vegetable taste is long gone, those flavours we associate with Cascade & Willamette hops abound – most noticeable is the woody/spicy tones of the Willamette, which rapidly fades leaving a citrusy/sweet aftertaste typical of Cascade.  These flavours dominate the beer, but a subtle matliness provides a nice counter-balance.  The cleanliness of the Packman yeast is noticeable  providing a dry but otherwise clean finish to the beer.  On the surface that all sounds very good, but something is missing.

Hop bursting is supposed to provide a ‘different’ bitterness; one which is more refined and less sharp.  This is most certainty the case – there is no hoppy kick-to-the-tastebuds when your drink this beer.  In its place there is a subtle bitterness, very smooth to the taste, and which fades into the background.  Therein lies the problem – this is an IPA, meaning it has lots of hop flavour/aroma and a bit of maltiness.  Those require balance, and balance comes in the form of bitterness.  So while the profile of this beers bitterness is very nice, there isn’t nearly enough of it.  If I were to brew this again in the future I would either “burst” more hops to up the bitterness, or use a small dose of bittering hops at 90 minutes to build up some more traditional bitterness.

This beer is smooth to drink, and leaves the mouth with a bit of a dry sensation after the sip.  The carbonation is spot-on; not too fizzy, with larger bubbles that you can feel on your tongue.  There is a hint of astringency, but this is somewhat hidden by the dry sensation of the beer.

Overall, this is a good beer, but it has a few flaws.  On one hand, the lack of bitterness and unwanted astringency detracts from the beer.  On the other hand, this beer has an amazing hop aroma and flavour, and a bitterness that lacks the usual sharpness of hop bitterness.  I’m not in the habit of re-brewing old recipes, but this one may be worth revisiting – a slightly different hop profile (i.e. a bit of conventional bittering hops), along with more careful sparging (to avoid astringency) could make for a very nice beer.  To that I would add a yeast, like the yeastbanks newly acquired Dry English Ale, in place of the Packman.  As much as I love the American tradition of big hops, the American trend towards ‘neutral’ (AKA ‘boring’) yeasts produces beers with the many wonderful subtleties that yeast can provide.

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