Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Infinite Possibilities of Beer

by Matt Cathcart
Guest Blogger and Official Spokesperson for Troegs Brewing*

The other night I was having a pint with a coworker. We were discussing the different tastes of beer, particularly hops. My coworker stated that she absolutely loves hops, but that she might be coming out of the “hop phase” of her beer journey. The clear implication here was that it had all been done before, that our palettes have tasted all that we could glean from the craft beer movement in America today. This irked me a little bit, since I have been in love with hops since my wife (she always knows best) turned me into a hophead a while ago. So I decided to crunch some numbers.

Enter the Google search. A quick query revealed to me that Wikipedia lists 76 varieties of hops grown throughout the world today. While this isn’t a comprehensive list — the Wiki leaves out New Zealand hops for some unknown reason — this still gives us a huge inventory to work with. [Editor's Note: Bear Flavored's Ultimate Guide to Hop Varieties / Hop Cheat Sheet currently lists 83 different varieties of hops. Just sayin'.]

Another quick spin on Google lead me to a combinations and permutations calculator. If we pick from all 76 hops listed on Wikipedia [Editor's Note: a smaller number than the 83 currently listed on bear-flavored.com], and only choose five equal amounts of them per batch of beer (Most batches I’ve brewed only use two or three, so this is embellishing a little bit, I understand, but there are breweries that use far more than five varieties per batch) excluding repetition, we arrive at a staggering 18,474,840 possible combinations. The number jumps exponentially when we account for varying amounts of hops in a single beer. Even at three hop varieties per beer, we still have 70,300 possible combinations. Have you had that many different beers in your lifetime? I sure as hell haven’t.

Now, I understand that a lot of hops can be substituted for others, but the argument still stands that we have by no means exhausted the possibilities for experimentation, especially when we account for the water chemistry, different commercially available malts, growing regions, adjuncts, yeast strains, and other factors such as equipment used, and techniques used. A conversation I recently had with a brewer at Troegs Brewing Company affirmed that if you take the recipe for any beer, drive sixty miles out of the way, and brew that exact same recipe, it will taste totally different just because of the water chemistry.

So what am I trying to say? At the heart, experimentation is not dead. As long as there are people looking for new things to try, there will always be a market for new and interesting beers. If your beer journey leads you away from hops, or malts, or any particular flavor found in beer, there are still staggering amounts of different flavors to fill that particular void.

*Not really, but he does work there in the tap room and gift shop. Go visit some time, it's a great place. Right near Hershey Park, too! Take the kids, make a day of it.

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