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Blinded by Science: How hop bitterness is determined!

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February 20, 2015 by fhsteinbart


This is the artwork that graces every collaborator jacket in Portland. It also identifies the beer on the tap handle of every pub that serves these beers.

This is the artwork that graces every collaborator jacket in Portland. It also identifies the beer on the tap handle of every pub that serves these beers.

When I worked as a flavor chemist in a food concentrate company, I had access to all that the lab had to offer. Namely an IR spectrophotometer, and a HPG/L chromatograph. These instruments enabled me to get precise data on my beers, and allowed me to fine tune my recipes with precision. Now I know that not everybody has this kind of instrumentality lying around, but it IS accessible, and for a very small fee. If you join the Oregon Brew Crew, then you can enter the Collaborator competition, and get not only free beer (the club and Widmer Brothers subsidize up to two beers), but Widmer will do a complete analysis of your beer(s). I suggest that you make two, one malt forward, the other hop forward. The reason for this is simple: if the two beers have the same actual ratios of bitterness units to gravity units (BU:GU), then you know that your kettle utilization rate (KUR) is the same. I found out my KUR was 22% on both beers. So with that information, I was able to reproduce consistently accurate hop bitterness in all of my beers to a point of +/- 2½% of actual numbers. While I really don’t care what the exact bitterness or gravity of my beers are, I DO care about the balance of the BU:GU, as that is what determines the finish, especially the flavor, mouthfeel, balance, and aftertaste. Go join the OBC, then brew up a Collaborator winner, and learn more about YOUR beer!

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