I’ve read countless posts on r/Homebrewing and HBT about individually dry-hopping ultra-light beers to evaluate different hop varieties in their purest form. The Bertus Brewery blog documented this experiment and inspired me to try it for myself. I’ve done a handful of yeast experiments, here and here, but I’ve never really done anything as it relates to single-hop experiments or SMASH beers. For those of you who arent familiar, SMASH is an acronym for single malt and single hop. SMASH beers are very simple recipes that are valuable for understanding the character of a single hop and a single malt in a finished beer.
I was certainly skeptical this experiment would be a total bust. Bud Light sucks and how could a few hop pellets possibly make it any better? Furthermore, would I really be able to tell the subtle differences in hop varieties by simply adding them to Bud Light? Well, the answer is yes. I was blown away by how successful this experiment was and I highly recommend you give it a try for yourself. I’m going to break down everything I did and share what I learned.
The Hop Varieties
My motivation for this experiment was to evaluate as many heavy hitter NEIPA hops varieties out there. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I went with a mix of hops I’ve already brewed with and hops I’ve never brewed with. I may go back and do a few more and add to this list later on. I intentionally left out Sabro because I have a serious aversion to the hop—it’s just too potent for me and tastes nothing like coconut. A few others I would have liked to have added are Riwaka, Motueka, and BRU-1.
You’ll also notice at the bottom of my lineup are 3 hop combo varieties. This was a 50-50 split of two varieties in a single bottle. This proved to be very important because it showcased the importance of layering hops and combining complementary hop profiles. I ordered all my hops from Yakima Valley Hops. I stole a few pellets from each pouch and vacuum sealed them back up. If you want to learn more about hop storage, read this post.
- 2020 El Dorado
- 2020 Idaho 7
- 2021 Citra
- 2020 Vic Secret
- 2021 Nelson Sauvin
- 2021 Strata
- 2020 Azacca
- 2021 Mosaic
- 2020 Eclipse
- 2021 Galaxy
- Strata & El Dorado
- Nelson & Vic Secret
- Eclipse & Strata*
- Hallertau Blanc**
*Eclipse & Strata was actually a mix of the two single variety beers, rather than an official sample of 50-50 split hops.
**Hallertau Blanc was a later addition that was dry-hopped in a mason jar for 2-3 days.
Process and Experiment
The experiment itself consisted of chilling down 12 bottles of Bud Light so they were very cold, opening the top (Bud Light bottles are screw caps), adding 8-10 hop pellets, and sealing the bottles back up. I kept my beers in the fridge the entire time so the hops would eventually settle on the bottom. I only kept the hops in the bottles for 24 hours before sampling.
My rationale for the quick timing came from my own dry-hopping observations while brewing NEIPAS. I’ve had some explosive hop flavor from beer samples in contact with hops for 3-4 hours. Hop character certainly evolves over time, but I wanted to experience fresh raw flavors before the cold temperatures started introducing anything negative.
I read a recent post on Reddit that this experiment renders gushers. The hops react with the beer in some scientific way I cannot understand and produces extra C02 in the bottle. This happened to me on all 12 bottles. The good news is, it won’t totally ruin the experiment.
Here are a few observations and tips:
- The hops tend to swell up and get stuck in the neck of the bottle. This experiment would be a lot easier if you used something like the wide-mouth aluminum Miller Light cans. At the 12 hour mark, I laid each bottle on its side to help the hops fall to the bottom of the bottle. This caused some fizzing in the beers as the hops sloshed around.
- I experimented with a separate (13th) sample by transferring the beer into a glass mason jar and dry hopping directly in that. This proved to work much better in terms of allowing the hops to fully settle to the bottom of the jar without producing gushers. I also let the hops sit for 48 hours before sampling. If you go this route, I would leave the lid cracked for the first hour after you add the hops so the extra CO2 can escape. I’m not sure mason jars are intended for outward pressure.
- I degassed each bottle by barely cracking the cap and letting some extra CO2 escape. I don’t know if this actually helped as these beers all gushed when I opened them.
- I opened every beer in the sink, and let the foaming run it’s course for 2 minutes. The good news is, the foaming pushes most of the hop matter out of the top of each bottle. You will still have at least 6 ounces of beer in each bottle.
- Pour each beer through a fine mesh strainer. This is going to collect 90% of hop matter that could end up in your tasters. I would say my beers were pretty clean in general. Let the beers rest in the cups for 10 minutes before sampling so more hop matter can sink to the bottom. Warmer samples will also help your tastebuds detect the flavor.
- All of the beers were nice and hazy (to be expected).
- Don’t overthink it. I added about 8-10 pellets of each hop variety to every bottle. I thought about measuring it out but decided it probably wasn’t worth the aggravation. This is not about scaling recipes, this is about understanding flavor. 10 pellets rendered strong hop character without producing intense hop burn.
- None of these beers tasted like Bud Light anymore.
- Pour some ground coffee in a small bowl to cleanse your nose in between smelling each sample. This helps the flavors pop. If you sip coffee before tasting a beer, the hops appear to SCREAM out of the glass.
- Any light, tasteless beer should work here. The more open the canvas, the more hop character will shine through. Just look at the typical NEIPA grist, it’s very basic so hops/yeast dominate.
The best part of this experiment was the short waiting period and quick turnaround. No waiting 3+ weeks to finally sample your brew! I tasted each sample one by one and wrote down the first thoughts that came to mind. Each sample was very different and truly expressed the unique hop characters really nicely. The Bud Light tasted more like fresh session IPAs than anything else.
In terms of sampling beers for tasting profiles, it can be really hit or miss depending on what you’ve eaten that day. Personally, my tastebuds don’t always cooperate with me. Swirling the beer around in your mouth a few times helps with detecting flavors. I wouldn’t consume any food while doing this experiment or it could distort your palette. For best results, I wouldn’t drink any other beers before starting this tasting.
Notes below tasted in the following order:
- 2020 El Dorado: Candy, bursting with tropical flavor and aroma, peach, melon, pineapple, tropical fruits. Really nice overall and a favorite all around.
- 2020 Idaho 7: Spicy, floral, and slightly woody. I detected subtle citrus with notes of green pepper. A stark difference after sampling El Dorado. Could be a good complimentary hop.
- 2021 Citra: By far the most citrusy and fruity sample. Vibes of apricot, sweet fruit, and black tea. Citra is described to have berry/currant flavors, which is what I often associate with tannins/tea flavors. Probably the most aromatic sample. It’s a no brainer why it’s so popular in fruit-forward IPAs. This is no secret, but it’s interesting to experience it first hand.
- 2020 Vic Secret: White grape and citrus that reminded me of Nelson Sauvin. Also similar to Idaho 7 because of the herbal and spicy notes.
- 2021 Nelson Sauvin: Subtle fruity notes with a black pepper finish. I’ve noticed this same black pepper in some Trillium beers brewed with Nelson. I think this variety is largely thought of as a fruity hop, but the black pepper notes really popped. I like the contrast.
- 2021 Strata: Really well balanced hop that was clean, fruity, and mildly herbal without being overpowering. Vibes of currant/tea similar to Citra. This was one of my favorites and one I’d like to use in a future brew.
- 2020 Azacca: Melon and mango, slightly spicy finish but with nice tropical notes. It’s been a long time since I’ve used this hop but a promising addition for future batches. Another one of my favorites from this tasting.
- 2021 Mosaic: Mosaic stood out from the pack the most from any other sample. This had strong dank notes of weed. It also had a significant vegetal aroma. Probably my least favorite sample in comparison to the others. This caught me by surprise as I thought I really liked Mosaic.
- 2020 Eclipse: This came recommended by YVH as a hop to keep an eye on. Really nice notes of apricot and sweet fruit. Also detected a lot of peach. Another one of my favorites and a hop I look forward to exploring in the near future.
- 2021 Galaxy: Very fruity and assertive. A nice balance of tropical fruits and subtle spice. One of the more complex varieties with a lot of depth.
- Strata & El Dorado: Very interesting blend of tropical fruits, spice, and black tea. Without surprise, this one rendered the most interesting result with a lot of different layers. It really opened my eyes to blending citrus with subtle spice to incorporate a range of flavor and aroma.
- Nelson & Vic Secret: These hops taste like they belong to the same family. Vibes of white grape and herbal spice. Can’t say I was in love with the combo.
- Eclipse & Strata: Well balanced tropical notes with a hint of berry and herbal notes. A great future combo I would really like to try at scale.
- Hallertau Blanc: Tropical fruits, lemon/lime, berries. Also picked up some of the same currant notes as Citra. This is another hop I would love to experiment with in future batches in larger quantities.
This was a truly worthwhile experiment. It cost me $27 in hops, $9 in shipping, and $12 dollars in Bud Light. The good news is no hops are going to waste. I’m only 10 hops short of several 2-ounce bundles… which let’s be real, it’s close enough. I would highly recommend you try this for yourself. It would be even better to do with a friend who appreciates and drinks craft beer. This will of course give you another opinion and more analysis.
I was really worried my palette would be totally shot by the time I reached the later beers. Most samples were unique enough to really keep me guessing so everything was constantly changing.
The highlights for me were El Dorado, Citra, Strata, Azacca, and Eclipse. I’m sure if I were to do this again I may get slightly different results, but these hops jumped out at me the most. Mosaic and Idaho 7 were probably my least favorite on their own. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be great paired with other varieties. It’s all about balance. I’m curious to go back and read the hop descriptions of ALL varieties and see how my own perceptions jived with the pros.
I hope you enjoyed the read. If you’re looking to try this experiment yourself head on over to Yakima Valley Hops and don’t forget to use code HAZY20 to get 20% off your entire purchase of $100 or more at YVH!