Thursday, December 13, 2012

Belma Single Hop IPA - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: American IPA
Brewed: 11.4.2012
ABV: 6.7%

Appearance: pale amber, great head retention, slightly murky
Smell: intense strawberry, melon, peach
strawberry creamsicle, melon, peach, bubblegum, bready malt
Mouthfeel: light bodied, yet surprisingly creamy mouthfeel, soft

Well, this is a weird but pleasant surprise.

After reading various reactions from other homebrewers to these new Belma hops — a Hops Direct exclusive variety, released for the first time a few months ago — I wasn't expecting anything too intense from this batch. Hops Direct describes Belma hops as a clean hop, "with a very orange, slight grapefruit, tropical (but not mango/guava, more like pineapple), strawberry, and melon" character, but the consensus from other homebrewers was that they're much more mild than that description suggests — a pleasantly fruity but subtle hop. People are recommending it for saisons and Belgians and the like.

I guess it was a good idea to brew this with Conan yeast, then, because the two together created one of the most intensely fruity IPAs I've ever had in my life. I have never encountered a beer that smelled (and tasted) so much like strawberries — I mean, this smells more like strawberries than beers I've had which were actually brewed with strawberries. It's absolutely bonkers.

Since this beer contains only three (fairly unique) ingredients, I'm going to break down my analysis ingredient by ingredient.

Belma Hops-
Strawberry, strawberry, strawberry. The aroma of this beer is so potently strawberry-forward that I can hardly believe what my senses are telling me. If some other homebrewer handed me a glass of this and insisted it was a single-hop IPA with no other additions, I would challenge them to a duel for insulting my common sense. But having actually brewed this myself, I am suspicious that some kind of Beer Gnome snuck into my apartment at night and dumped a few quarts of strawberry concentrate into the fermenter. (As any homebrewer can tell you, stranger things have happened).

There are a couple of ways you can look at Belma hops, in my opinion. For one, any hop with this much clarity of flavor and aroma is a clear winner — although my IPA, as mentioned above, seems to have come out far more intense than other homebrewers have experienced with their own Belma brews. I fermented this with Conan yeast, as I'll discuss more below, and Conan seems to act as steroids for hop flavors, taking whatever "fruity" character the hops have and pushing it to the forefront, particularly in the aroma. So my IPA is probably not representative of how intense Belma will be in other brews (unless you have access to Conan yeast). Plus, I started drinking it very fresh — after about two weeks in the bottle — and the intensity of the aroma had noticeably faded within just another week of time. Nonetheless, I don't have any doubt that strawberry is the primary flavor Belma contributes — it's too clear, too specific, not to be. In a more subtle brew, the hop's other nuances will probably pop out more, but the flavor of my IPA is almost one-dimensional. It's super tasty and among the most unique beers I've ever had in my entire life — but it really, specifically, tastes like strawberry, even more so than Citra tastes like mango, or Cascade tastes like grapefruit.

I don't know that I would regularly brew a single-hop IPA with Belma hops, but that's true of most varieties. However, if you can find the right varieties to pair Belma with, it should make an excellent blending hop, adding a fruity character you won't get from any other variety. It really can't be stressed how great it is to have a new hop adding new flavors to the brewer's arsenal — it's rare that this happens, as most new varieties tend to focus on slight variations of the same existing groups of flavors: citrus and grapefruit and pine and so forth. Strawberry? Like I said, I can hardly believe my nose.

The bitterness is soft, clean and pleasant in this 70 IBU IPA, which makes Belma a more versatile hop. Belma should make a really pleasant addition to a number of other styles: almost any light summer beer would absolutely benefit from their addition; try Belma in a kolsch, blonde, wheat beer, pale ale, and Belgian styles. I can also imagine some tasty sours dry-hopped with Belma for an extra kick of fruit character. In IPAs, you could take this in a number of directions, but I'd recommend a hop bill that will help balance the fruitiness.

This hop has a lot of potential. And please, someone else brew a Conan-fermented IPA with Belma, so I know I'm not going crazy.

Conan Yeast-
I already knew that Conan, the Alchemist / Heady Topper proprietary yeast strain, was something amazing. (Follow this entry for all the details and stats on Conan, and updated info batch-to-batch). In addition to contributing its own creamy, sweet peach/melon character, Conan has the uncanny ability to highlight the unique flavors of hop varieties, and seemingly even intensify their aroma. My Belma IPA only confirms what I had already basically known, but it's nice to see the yeast at work in a beer with a totally different profile than my first Conan-fermented IPA — it doesn't just push one specific flavor, but acts as a chameleon. Honestly, it's hard to guess where the Belma hops leave off and Conan begins, here.

Despite the high attenuation of the yeast (81%), Conan leaves a creamy, semi-sweet mouthfeel that I notice in Heady Topper as well. (Both Heady Topper and this beer have about the same Final Gravity). Both its flavor and fermentation properties make Conan a wonderful all-around yeast — and I'm thinking it may just be the perfect yeast for IPAs. Brew a single-hop beer with it, and you'll get a potent impression of that hop. Brew a complex, multi-hop IPA with it, and... well, Heady Topper should be example enough.

Canada Malting Pale Malt-
As one of the cheapest base malts available, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this grain — something about as flavorful as basic two-row with a slightly higher Lovibond rating, I figured. And while I can't really comment accurately on its specific flavors based on this beer — I'd need to brew a simpler, less hop and yeast-forward beer to do that — I have nothing negative to say about it. It might not have quite the flavor of Maris Otter, but it seems to at least be in the same realm; an affordable, bready, British-inspired pale malt.

Most surprising and impressive: the head retention of this IPA is actually great. While I attribute the creamy mouthfeel to the Conan yeast, the lingering cap of foam that remains for a good 30 minutes or so is probably from the Canada Malting pale malt, as I've noticed it in a few of my other beers since I've switched to this as my base malt.

Update: I have decided, after a few more weeks in the bottle, that this pale malt is perhaps a bit too dark for an IPA — even as it's the only malt. Which is strange, considering that it's only 3 SRM, supposedly. The beer pours much darker than that; more like an amber pale ale than a West Coast IPA. In a pale ale, this would be perfect, but once the hops and yeast character faded a bit here, I'm noticing that this pale ale malt is kind of bready and heavy for the style, on top of not looking quite right. While I still recommend it — it should be perfect for amber beers or darker styles — I'm going to switch back to simple 2-row for my IPAs and other super-pale beers.

3.33 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78%
Mashed at 151 degrees for 75 minutes
Fermented at 62 F, let warm to 68 after 4 days
OG: 1.063
FG: 1.011
Attenuation: 81%
ABV: 6.7%

100 % Canada Malting pale malt

Hop Schedule-
70 IBU
0.5 oz Belma @FWH
1.0 oz Belma @10
1.0 oz Belma @5
0.5 oz Belma @2
3 oz Belma  dry hopped 7 days

Conan (The Alchemist proprietary strain)


  1. Another very interesting read, which makes me want to culture some conan for myself. I was wondering if you might have some recommendations for what temperature range on the yeast brings out the flavors you mention.

    1. I've fermented beers with Conan from 62 F to 68/9 F, and it seems to be content in that whole range, but I think lower is better. This one was fermented at 62 — and at one point got as low as 60 without slowing — and Conan seemed quite happy, and the flavors are smoother and stronger.

      62 - 64 F should be the sweet spot.

  2. Got a batch of all Belma IPA in a secondary with three ounces of hops. It's been cold crashing for a few days now, but doesn't want to clear. You noted the slight murky look to your beer. Any chance that it could be a Belma hop trait? I used the same yeast and grain bill from a previous beer that cleared just fine.

    1. Hmm, hard to say, honestly. The yeast I used always gives me a slightly-murky beer, and I feel like leaf hops add more particle matter into the mix than pellet hops, which I find easier to cold crash out. Was the previous beer (the one that cleared) brewed with pellet rather than leaf hops?

      Hope the end result is tasty, even if it's a bit cloudy.

    2. I have had similar experience. My Belma XPA (10 gallons, 20 oz Belma Hops, 7% abv with Pils/2-Row) is super hazy. I cold crashed 1/2 of it for over 3 weeks (because I got tied up with other obligations) and it still did not drop bright. It may be the high hopping rate (yes, 2 oz per gallon) that made it hazy... but it's very similar in appearance to your SMASH.

    3. In my case it was all pellet hops, but like you Brandon, counting all the additions, I was at about 2oz/gal hop rate. Got tired of waiting for the cold crash to work and kegged. Still pouring hazy, but tastes delicious. I also did a Belma Red Rye at a lower hop rate that has cleared up well. The strawberry notes combine wonderfully with the spiciness of the rye. For some reason there’s more of a citrus character along with the strawberry in the IPA. Must be the way the different grains complement this hop.

  3. Nice write up. I've got two pounds chillin' in the freezer now. Can't wait to try them out.

  4. I'll be brewing a 10 gallon batch of a Pliney clone tomorrow using Warrior, Chinook and Columbus but my finishing hops are 2 oz. Centennial and 2.5 oz. Belma. Based on your review it won't taste like pliney but will be delicious non the less. Thanks for the review and giving me a heads up on what to expect. Cheers

  5. I have a new pound in the freezer too!
    Looks like I'll be brewing with Belma this weekend.

  6. Great writeup, thanks! I'm planning to make a SMASH pale ale or IPA with Belma this weekend using Wyeast 3522 (Belgian Ardennes). Looking forward to that strawberry nose. Cheers.

    1. Curious to hear how Belma pairs with Belgian yeast! Sounds like it should be tasty.

    2. Unfortunately, didn't get the Belgian culture going in time, but had a batch of barleywine finish and used the yeast cake (White Labs 001). I used Crisp pale malt and all Belma. You're right about strawberry and melon. Wow. Also, Belma has a soft bitterness that makes the relatively high AA% seem surprising. Hoping to try the belgian with Belma as aroma hops in the future.

    3. Glad you got good results even though the Belgian experiment had to wait. Yeah, it's a really soft, gentle hop — works great in the right beer. A lot of friends who "don't like IPAs" loved this.

  7. Im working on a Belma Farmhouse Saison. It is currently in primary and fermenting away. It is also 100% Belma

  8. Great write up and thanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully I can purchase some Belma at harvest time this year.

  9. Brewing up a Belgian Pale Ale on Thursday and am planning to up the volume/grain bill so I can pull of a gallon or and make some Belma Belgian pseudo-IPA with 3522. Planning on 1 gal of 1.052 with 61 IBU coming from .1 oz @ 20 min, 0.3 oz at 10 min, 0.3 oz at 5 min, 0.3 oz at 2 min, and 1 oz dryhop. Can't wait to try it!

  10. I'm drinking a Belma beer a brewed to use up last years hops and i thought the strawberry taste was an off flavor in a previous batch but this beer proves that it is definitely the hops. Not my cup o tea but very interesting


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