Friday, October 30, 2009

Hops/Malt Balance

The title of this post is a term I use often when I'm describing and/or rating beer. Usually I shorten it by just referring to a beer's "balance." I know Joey Pants understands what I'm talking about, but maybe I take for granted that everyone else does. So, I thought I'd explain the term by sharing a conversation I had with a co-worker yesterday afternoon.

Somehow a question about what my plans are for Halloween evolved into an explanation of the meaning of hops/malt balance. In addition to telling said co-worker about KJ's Halloween party and my costume ideas, I also mentioned that I might pick up some Pumpkin-spiced beer for the gathering. I talked about how rare it is, in my opinion, that this particular style of beer is any good, but that I really want to try Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale.

My tangential nature turned this into a discussion of Dogfish's most well-known offerings: 60 Minute, 90 Minute and 120 Minute IPA. My co-worker asked me about the meaning of the names of these brews. I explained that they represent the amount of time that the hops are in the boil during the brewing process, and that the longer the time, the more bitter the beer. To offset the bitterness, higher quantities of malt are added.

Hops are bitter, malt is sweet. Increasing malt content to sweeten a highly bitter beer is the key to good hops/malt balance. Obviously, the concept also works in reverse. It just so happens that high malt content translates to high alcohol content. Although people tend to associate bitterness with strong beer, bitter brews are not necessarily strong, at least not directly as a result of what makes them bitter. But, if they're well-balanced, they are.

Pretty simple concept, really.

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