Ben Stange on April 24, 2015 1 Comment SMaSH Brewing: The Best Way to Evaluate a New Hop Every brewer I know loves to experiment. Most brewers I know revel in trying new processes, ingredients, and flavors in their beer, so whenever we get a new hop variety, we can get a little excited. When I am evaluating a new hop variety, I often make hop tea, brew a SMaSH beer with the hops, or both. A Different Kind of Brew One good way to evaluate a hop for use as an aroma hop is to make hop tea. It’s incredibly easy to do, and will give you a good idea of the aromas you can expect from a hop addition at flameout and beyond. To make a hop tea, steep about a quarter of an ounce of hops to 8 ounces of near-boiling water. Don’t boil the hops, or you’ll drive off some of the delicate aromatic oils. To steep, you can use a French Press, tea ball, or tea kettle made with a steeping basket. Steep the hops for about 10-20 minutes in the hot water. Then, smell them. This will give you an idea of what aroma characteristics the hope will lend to your beer. There are some distinct advantages to this method of evaluating hops. First, it allows you to evaluate exactly what the hops will bring to your beer without any other ingredients getting in the way. Second, if you choose to drink the hop tea, there are supposedly several benefits to your health. Hop oils are often attributed with relaxation, aiding insomnia, promoting appetite, relieving arthritis pain, and soothing muscle spasms. It can also aid smokers in cessation and help nursing mothers produce more breastmilk. After the aroma evaluation, you can also add honey to sweeten it or other herbs if you’re looking for other benefits. I’m gonna SMaSH it! My favorite way to evaluate a hop is to put them into a beer. While it can be tempting to try and match the style of the beer to each hop you use, this doesn’t truly allow you to evaluate hops against each other. My preference is to brew the same recipe the first time I use any new hop variety. If you have a favorite pale ale recipe, for example, this can work very well, as long as you are using only the new hop throughout the recipe. I prefer to try and keep the recipe even simpler than the average pale ale recipe. To evaluate my hops, I use a SMaSH recipe. What is SMaSH Brewing? SMaSH stands for Single Malt (SM) and Single Hop. The idea of SMaSH is to make a delicious beer using only one type of malt and one type of hops. This method of stripping a beer recipe down to its most basic elements of base malt and single hop is very good for evaluating your brewing procedures and systems, but it also makes an excellent way to evaluate a hop variety. The advantage of the SMaSH method is that you are can use your hop throughout the brewing process to really put it through its motions. In addition, you are only using a base malt instead of several malts, so the flavor profile of the beer is as simple as it can be, with no strong malt flavors to cover up any of the more subtle notes from the hops. When I brew a SMaSH for hop evaluation, I try to keep the alcohol within reason (and therefore the malt flavor) while leaning a bit more on the hoppy side. I commonly use this SMaSH Pale Ale recipe to evaluate a new hop. This recipe uses pale malt and cascade hops, but you can substitute in any hops you like. However, you will have to allow for the difference in hop bitterness on any hop addition that will be boiled longer than 20 minutes. How to Convert the Alpha Acid Percentage of Your Hops The easiest way to convert hops from one alpha acid percentage to another is to use AAU, or Alpha Acid Units. AAUs are often used by homebrewers as a way of quickly adjusting a recipe to their ingredients on the fly. All it takes is a simple mathematical calculation, and you can know how many 7.3% Alpha Acid Ahtanum hops to use to replace the 6% Cascade hops in your original recipe. To convert the quantity of hops in your base recipe to suit the hops you are brewing with, start by multiplying the number of ounces of hops in each hop addition by the number of ounces in the addition. As an example, let’s take a look at the hop additions for the Cascade SMaSH! pale ale recipe: 1 ounce of Cascade Hops (6%AA) for 60 minutes 0.5 ounces of Cascade Hops (6%AA) for 30 minutes 0.5 ounces of Cascade Hops (6%AA) for 15 minutes 0.5 ounces of Cascade Hops (6%AA) at flameout 0.5 ounces of Cascade Hops (6%AA) Dry-Hopped for 7 days As you can see from our list, the only two additions that are boiled for more than 20 minutes are an ounce for 60 minutes and 0.5 ounces for 30 minutes. So, we’ll convert those to Alpha Acid Units and scale them to our new hop. Let’s pretend our new hop is the 7.3% AA Ahtanum hops we discussed above. To convert the first addition of the hops to the 7.3% AA hops, we first need to find out how many Alpha Acid Units one ounce of 6% Cascades contributes to the wort: 1 ounce x 6% AA = 6 AAU So, we now need to calculate how many ounces of 7.3% AA hops to add to reach 6 AAU: 6 AAU / 7.3% AA = .82 ounces So, in order to contribute the same bitterness to the beer as the Cascade hops do to the original recipe, we need to add .82 ounces of Ahtanum hops at 60 minutes. For the 30 minute addition, we follow the same equation: 0.5 ounces x 6% AA = 3 AAU 3 AAU / 7.3% AA = 0.41 ounces For the rest of the hop contributions, we’ll perform a straight substitution by weight, so our final hop additions for the Ahtanum SMaSH! recipe is as follows: 0.82 ounce of Ahtanum Hops (7.3%AA) for 60 minutes 0.41 ounces of Ahtanum Hops (7.3%AA) for 30 minutes 0.5 ounces of Ahtanum Hops (7.3%AA) for 15 minutes 0.5 ounces of Ahtanum Hops (7.3%AA) at flameout 0.5 ounces of Ahtanum Hops (7.3%AA) Dry-Hopped for 7 days Please keep in mind that the 20 minute limit has been set arbitrarily by me as the point at which I consider the difference in bittering secondary to the contribution of flavor and aroma compounds. Hop additions prior to 20 minutes are typically intended to contribute more bitterness, and those after 20 minutes are intended to contribute more of the other qualities of the hops. The best thing about working from the same recipe for all of your new hop tests is that you will establish a good baseline for what to expect from the beer. Every time you brew it, you will get a clearer picture of what flavors are specific to that hop variety rather than muddying the waters by changing up the brew with each batch. I hope you get the chance to try some new hops this year. There are some seriously unique and incredible hops available to homebrewers these days, and I encourage you to go forth and experiment. Please click here to view the SMaSH pale ale recipe referenced above.