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Hops & Lagers - 3 Hops for Crafting the Best Brew


Hops & Lagers - 3 Hops for Crafting the Best Brew

Lagers are cool again, right?  We always seem to hear about how they’re the next big thing, but I think that we may be there, for once.  I couldn’t be happier.  Lagers are the ultimate exercise in skill for a brewer. The good news is that between agriculture and science, brewers have so many more roads to go down when crafting lagers. Technical advances in yeast and agricultural practices have allowed us to really start playing around with the concept of what lagers can be. Those are fun, but one of my favorite ways to play around here is with hops.

Hops and lagers have always walked a tedious line together. Historically they have been used for balance and are generally the star only in areas where subtlety is key. Sure, we have tried with “hoppy lagers” or “India Pale Lagers (IPL)” and now “Cold IPA”.  None of which have really caught on.  So, what are we missing?

I am all for tradition. Czech lagers are my absolute favorite, and the star is always Saaz. Czech Saaz is spicy, floral, and often a little lemony, depending on how you use it and the particular crop.  How can we use these in new ways? Studies are finding that Saaz has a ton of the components that are precursors needed when used in areas of the brewing process that lead to the release of aromatic compounds in bio transformative scenarios.   How can we use this knowledge to use Saaz differently in our lagers and our overall brewing processes, in general?

I find another underutilized hop in lagers is Saphir.  I always find Saphir to be a more complex version of Saaz.  While it doesn’t come from the same lineage, it does have the same herbal, floral and lemony character as Saaz.  It can definitely present a spicy character, but I find it to be muted and tends to work well as a softer bittering hop. The fun part is the berry/currant characters that can come out.  How could you use Saphir in a lager with more “Americanized” concepts? 

The last fun hops that I adore in lagers are from Germany, also. 3 hops that came out around the same time.  Mandarina Bavaria, Huell Melon and Hallertau Blanc.  All have wonderful applications in the IPA world.  They add complexity when replacing other similar hops and bring nuances that can’t be found without them.  But what if we applied the same knowledge of them to lagers?  With the public palate ever changing and evolving, the use of these hops in lagers has virtually no limit. 

Grab some of these hops today.  Play around with them.  Push lagers and bend the minds of those drinking them. We know what they can be, but it’s up to us to continue to push the envelope and experiment. I mean, a few years ago who would’ve known what a New Zealand lager even was?

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