Single-hopped beers can be a fantastic way to learn about a particular hop. From such beers you can learn about how a single hop varietal imparts bitterness, flavor, and aroma to a beer. As a homebrewer I love to try them, particularly when it’s a hop I’m not familiar with. I’ll make a mental of the characteristics of the particular hop and try to figure out what other varietals would work well with it, or if I’ve had a varietal that is similar in character and this new hop could be used as a substitute. But most of the time when I’m drinking a single-hopped beer, I feel like adding additional hop varietals would make the beer more complex and thus a more interesting beer over a few pints.
So what hops go together to make a more interesting and complex beer? Well, that’s where the fun of blending comes into play. Part of the art of brewing a great beer is finding a blend of hops to work with your selection of malts and yeast. Of course the style of beer is going to be a huge factor on your blend. There are quite a few beers out there that can be made with a single hop and even a single malt (often referred to as SMaSH beers – Single Malt Single Hop), includes styles such as pilsner, saison, Vienna lager and more.
But beyond those styles, you need to figure out the direction of the finished beer. Is it going to be traditional and based on a particular country or region? Will the beer be a hybrid of styles? Or is it something entirely new? Figure out flavor profile of the beer you want to brew. Are you going to start with the hops? The yeast? The malt? With so many ingredients at your disposal, the possibilities are endless. Find the ingredient you want to focus on and build the rest of the beer based on it.
Being that we are in San Diego, we’ll start with the hops. The quantity of hop varietals is growing every year and the range of flavors and aromas they produce continues to widen. Hops these days can produce flavors and aromas ranging from pine, citrus (grapefruit, lemon, orange, lime), earthy/woody, spicy, floral, tropical fruits, stone fruits, melon, berries, resinous, herbal, grassy, other assorted fruits, and more. With the huge variety in character, some interesting flavor combinations are possible. Knowing what hops give those particular flavors is where some research comes in – be it drinking beers with known hop profiles, checking internet resources, or asking fellow homebrewers. This is also where the fun of experimentation comes in. Oftentimes hops with have multiple characteristics that can vary by farm, the particular year’s crop, the age of the hops when used, and the type of packaging for the hops (whole leaf, pellets, plugs, extract). The variation can be staggering.
A blending of multiple varietals will not only give your beer more complexity, but will also help with dealing with hop shortages. Relying on one or two of the popular hops can be an issue if you are unable to source enough. In recent years, varietals such as Simcoe, Amarillo, and Citra have been scarce. While there are not always direct substitutes for some hops, blending different varietals can get you closer to your desired hop character. Knowing the lineage of some of the newer varietals can lead you in the right direction for substitutions. Pre-blended hops such as Falconer’s Flight, Falconer’s Flight 7 C’s, and Zythos have recently been made available to brewers. The pellets come pre-blended and can offer up lots of complexity without having to source several varietals. For a starting point, tandem hop blends such as Amarillo and Simcoe, Cascade and Centennial, Chinook and Columbus, Columbus and Centennial, Citra and Simcoe, and Citra and Amarillo have been known to work in American style ales. Going beyond two varietals can lead to even more interesting results. Mixing hops from different countries of origin can also lead to unique profiles. Blends of American and New Zealand hops can work very well, such as Nelson Sauvin, Moteuka, Mosaic, and Citra. I asked some homebrewers for their favorite blends and typically the response included three or more hops; combinations of American hops such as Columbus-Simcoe-Mosaic, Chinook-Amarillo-Cascade-
Try going beyond the known blends and come up with your own. Think outside the box (or outside the country) and looks for hops from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom that might work well with each other. Don’t be afraid to mix high alpha acid hops with lower alpha varietals. You never know what the next great hop combination could be.