Schlafly Beer from St. Louis recently sent me an interesting package of new beers for review, their Hop Trial SMaSH pack. “SMaSH” stands for “single malt and single hop,” with each beer in the series made from a nearly identical recipe, with the hop as the changing variable. The package included four golden ales brewed with two-row malted barley, each hopped to 45 IBU.
From the press release:
The Hop Trial program allows Schlafly to test out hops that will soon be introduced to market, offering feedback to the hop farmers on flavor and aromatic profiles, as well as viability in finished products. Schlafly begins the process by combining a base malt and single hop to create a simple SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer, which brings out the individual qualities of each ingredient, making the profile of the featured hop variety the true focus. Schlafly’s Quality Assurance team tests the beer before it’s released at the brewpubs to consumers, whose feedback is crucial (and welcome) in order to determine the future potential of pursuing a particular hop to use in the brewery’s beers.
Brewers experiment with new hops all the time, but this was a unique opportunity to try four new hops in isolation, picking out the qualities (good and bad) that they can bring to a beer. The Schlafly pack included Eureka! from the United States, Hallertau Blanc from Germany, Enigma from Australia, and Bramling Cross from the UK. Since this held the promise of being a fun tasting, I assembled a couple groups of beer-loving friends to try them out and take notes. The panels included myself, sake sommelier Paul Willenberg, beer enthusiast and soccer teammate William Chasse, and our beer and wine steward at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, Kyle Sanders.
Some tasting notes gathered from our sessions:
Hallertau Blanc (Germany) — A very floral aroma with pleasant notes of honey and lemon peel. Not much pine on the palate and only mildly bitter. Refreshing and mostly aromatic. “Gorgeous. Very German.” One taster noted a “wooly” character reminiscent of Chenin blanc wine.
Bramling Cross (UK) — Less aromatic. Dank and earthy with a mild blue cheese funk. Cardboard, cellar. A hint of roasted arbol spice and grapefruit pith. Gently bitter, especially on the finish.
Enigma (Australia) — Tropical, pineapple or passion fruit aroma. Slightly green and herbal. The sweetest hop on the palate, bringing tiki cocktails to mind. Not at all bitter; very fun and enjoyable up front, but a little unpleasantly murky on the finish.
Eureka! (USA) — Sweet pine, Doug fir bud, and citrus on the aroma, but a little funky in ways some tasters found off-putting (note of “sewer water”). Possessed a hard-to-place savory flavor, reminding one taster of the sauce on Totino’s pizza. Rich on the palate and quite bitter; very West Coast IPA in style.
If we were ranking these in order, the German Hallertau Blanc was the nearly unanimous favorite, with the American Eureka! the nearly unanimous least favorite. Enigma placed a solid second for most of us, though it was a bit sweet to stand as a solo hop beer. Most of us found the Bramling Cross simply inoffensive and unremarkable on its own, but one taster ranked it dead last.
Of course, most of these hops won’t be used primarily in single-hopped beers, so this tasting was mostly an academic exercise. The experimental hops will likely be used as accents along with other, more typical hops. Of the four we tasted, Hallertau Blanc was the standout, and I’d be eager to try more beers that feature it prominently. It was also the only beer of the pack that many of us said we would happily buy on its own. The aptly named Enigma was also very interesting, and while it may not carry a beer by itself, it could provide intriguing tropical notes to summer beers. The Bramling Cross and Eureka! I’d probably most like to see used in supporting roles to other hops.
Schlafly’s Hop Trial pack was released to the public earlier this month. While it wouldn’t top my list to pick up for casual enjoyment, getting to try the various hop varieties side by side makes for a very interesting tasting and highlights the extent to which selecting the right hops can make a massive difference in the final quality of a beer.