In the first article in a three-part series on brewing ingredients, the Humulus Lupulus is where the journey begins. As it turns out, the Michigan-exclusive Huma Lupa Licious from Short’s Brewing Company is in fact, not a name created from a certain Gene Wilder movie, but a name based off the species’ botanical designation. At this point, I may dive further into the scientific classification and mention that the hop is in the Cannabaceae family (sound familiar?), but what we’re really out to gain here is what the hop does in your beer.

Assuming we’re all familiar with standard hop packaging techniques, you’ve seen two numbers written on just about every package of hops out there. The first being alpha acid — think of this percentage as bittering potential. A low alpha acid hop such as Crystal might contain somewhere around 4.0% alpha acid, and something like Columbus might contain upwards of 15% alpha acid.

The main thing to think about here is exactly how much of a specific hop variety you’ll need to achieve a certain number of IBUs. Although some hops have different bittering characteristics than others, the actual flavor contribution of these acids isn’t necessarily going to be a huge factor.

Next stop — beta acids. This group of compounds is responsible for the effects of hop character in the long-term. Its role during the boil and presence in a fresh beer is rarely noticeable. However, over time beta acids may contribute a perceived bitterness as oxidation comes into play. For example, beer aging for 6-12 months in an oak barrel is not completely protected from oxygen due to the porosity of wood, so beta acids may influence the flavor of the beer as it is slowly exposed to minute amounts of oxygen over time.

The last few compounds contained in that sweet, sweet hop cone that determine the overall hop character are the essential oils. The essential oils are like the icing on the cake. They give us the fruity, resiny, piney, floral, noble or spicy character we all notice in the nose and finish of our favorite hoppy beers.

The oils we’re particularly concerned with are primarily humulene, myrcene and caryophyllene. Humulene is responsible for the “noble” character in hops like Hallertau or East Kent Golding. It becomes spicy and herbal when applied as a middle- or late-boil addition.

Myrcene lends the classic American hop chacarter found in Citra, Chinook and Amarillo.

Caryophllene, though typically low in concentration may add a spicy or herbal character.

A fourth oil, farnesene, is sometimes mentioned, but its contribution to flavor and aroma is often insignificant, and largely unknown. 

The final parameter to consider when building your hop profile is the origin of the hop. Unfortunately, we’d love to be able to purchase all of our hops from the various hop farmers in our Michigan backyards, but the geographical influence on a variety of hops is far too great, and our choices would be quite limited.

As far as American hops go, rumor has it that streets of the Pacific Northwest are paved with myrcene (okay, perhaps it’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea!). Massive citrus and pine character can be found in the hops that are grown there.

European varieties provide the opposite end of the spectrum, and should definitely be considered for your next saison recipe. Of course, things start to get interesting when you plant a European variety in U.S. soil. Look into a comparison between U.S. Saaz and Czech Saaz if you’d really like to watch your brain explode.

Lastly, I would be treating all of you unfairly if I were to fail to mention Austrialian and New Zealand hops. These beasts are like American hops on steroids! Prepare your tongue for the boldest, brightest fruit flavors you’ve ever experienced. Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin are positively worth investigating. 

Now that you have a wealth of information regarding various compounds in hops, you’ll surely have no trouble finding a date to help keep you warm during this unrelenting, midwest winter. Just kidding — this information won’t help you at all there! However, you will be able to select your hops with a bit more intention in your upcoming recipes, which may indeed keep you warm this winter, depending on the starting gravity of said recipe. Refer to this incredibly handy chart when you’re designing your next beer. Good luck out there, folks — you’ve got a lot of pale ales to brew.

5.7% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Golden amber color with little head
Aroma: Floral mix of hops
Taste: Slightly malty with hints of hops
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a smooth finish

Named after a 1980s Traverse City theatrical group, this IPA is truly American. It has a soft balance of hops, which makes it an easy-to-drink IPA. It is not overly bitter, as many IPAs are, and finishes quite smooth. Karma Palace would be the perfect partner to pizza and wings, or even as an enjoyable beer at the end of a long day.

In what has quickly become one of the most popular breweries in West Michigan, Perrin Brewing Company has had much success — especially when it comes to its flavor-heavy styles of beer.

Kona Brown.

Malted Milk Ball Imperial Porter.

Raspberry Blonde.

And now, Kingdom of Tonga Vanilla Porter.

Named after the group of 170 South Pacific islands, Kingdom of Tonga features a sweet vanilla flavor, accompanied with chocolate and coffee. Compared to some of Perrin’s other brews, though, this one is a touch on the dry side, and not quite as sweet.

As it warms, the vanilla flavor comes through more and more, and the malt profile becomes more evident. There’s a hint of caramel and dry fruit present as well.

And while the 7% ABV isn’t exactly considered to be low, it has the flavor fulfillment of New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, but is still rather drinkable, making for an enjoyable session porter.

For anyone looking for an in-between between the lighter Kona Brown and the heavy Malted Milk Ball Imperial Porter, Kingdom of Tonga is certainly the way to go. Currently, Kingdom of Tonga is only available at Perrin’s brewpub, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it made its way to kegs for distribution soon…

8% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Black color with a small head.
Aroma: Similar to a chai tea.
Taste: Spicy and sweet but not too strong. Chai and other earthy flavors come through.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Spice beers are tricky — they either work or they don’t. Terra Firma’s Tai Chi Seven Spice Stout is one that works very well, containing a chai-like flavor and aroma, accompanied by a variety of spices that wake up the senses. Fairly easy-drinking despite the 8% ABV — a perfect example of when sweet and savory work.

TRAVERSE CITY — Brewery Terra Firma, which translates to Solid Earth in Latin, opened in July with a different approach to brewing. It’s the first of its kind in the state, which brings agriculture and beer together. It aims to produce as many of its ingredients on site as possible, and is utilizing many sustainable practices to reduce waste. 

Finding inspiration from food and his passion for cooking, Brew Master John Niedermaier has already utilized the on-site farm. “We were able to use pumpkins and honey that were produced here on the farm in a number of our brews this year, and that will increase next year,”  Matt Heffron, Terra Firma’s taproom manager explained.

Niedermaier has been brewing for 25 years and has a collection of over 1,000 brewing recipes. He brewed for many years at Traverse Brewing Company, and was Brew Master at Right Brain Brewery. He is known for the quality of his beer, as well as his unique approach to brewing. Brews found at Terra Firma include the highly sought after Manitou Amber Ale, and creative brews such as Wicked Garden Honey Rye and Beet Wheat.

In order to create many of these unique brews while also maximizing the use of its agriculture, Terra Firma will be expanding its farm in the next growing season. Heffron explained, “Look for more spices, herbs, vegetables, squash, fruits and flowers in 2014.” 

In addition to food, Brewery Terra Firma is also working on growing its own hops. Hops have been growing on-site for the last two years while the brewery was still being constructed. 

“We are planning on moving the hopyard this spring to a much more visible location in our East field now that we have a summer of soil conditioning and building in that area,” explained Heffron. 

In an effort to limit waste, Brewery Terra Firma has also put many sustainable practices into place. Spent grains left after brewing, for example, are composted with other farm byproducts, and an innovative water system reduces water usage by 20%. 

Using this model, Brewery Terra Firma has been able to distribute to pubs and taprooms throughout the state. Currently, Terra Firma’s brews can be found on tap throughout Northern Michigan and much of the southwest area of the state.  

“We plan to continue expanding distribution throughout the state, both in range and variety of products distributed,” stated Heffon. 

With this innovative business model that reduces waste and emphasizes local resources, Brewery Terra Firma is definitely a brewery worth experiencing.