Hops 101, with Prof. Mikkeller

  Posted on March 24th, 2010

The other day I had the rather unique opportunity to try five versions of Mikkeller’s Single Hop IPA. My home-away-from-home, ChurchKey, obtained all ten of the Single Hop series and, in a testament to true beer-geekery, decided to tap them all on the same day for the ultimate drunken compare and contrast session.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first…

A Brief Introduction
Mikkeller is a Danish-based (but not always Danish-brewed) one man gypsy operation. The man behind the name is Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a one-time homebrewer who turned professional in 2006 with his friend Kristian Klarup Keller. The Mikkeller is - clearly - a portmanteau of their two names. Keller departed the brewing world in 2007, and Bjergsø has kept the brand alive since.
As I mentioned earlier, Mikkeller is a gypsy brewer. What this means is that there is no Mikkeller Brewery. There is no facility somewhere in the middle of Denmark that spews forth award-winning and genre-challenging beers. There is, sadly, no brew house tour or tasting room that you or I can dream of someday attending. In order to produce his beers, Mikkel relies on using available space in other breweries around Europe and the US.
Without a facility, Mikkeller tends not to have any type of consistently available or perennial beers. Definitely sticking to his homebrewer roots, Mikkel thrives on experimenting with ingredients, styles, and is in my opinion one of the most innovative brewers in the world today.

Speaking of innovative…

The Style
Single Hop IPA is an ‘educational’ series of beers, each highlighting a different variety of hop. There are ten instances of Single Hop: Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, East Kent Golding, Nelson Sauvin, Nugget, Simcoe, Tomahawk, and Warrior.
Aside from the hops, every recipe is identical in water, malt, and yeast. Also, to further control the experiment, different amounts of each hop are used in order to keep IBU’s consistent across the board ( by definition, hop varieties with a higher Alpha Acid percentage will impart a higher IBU level per pound). All of this control really allows the flavor and perceived bitterness (rather than IBU value) of each individual hop to stand out. For more about perceived bitterness, check out this Beervana article.

As an aside, Mikkeller is apparently doing two more of these educational series: one with Yeast and another aged in various liquor barrels. I can’t wait.

The Tasting(s)

Note: I’m only going to comment on taste here. All five of the beers I tasted (and all ten that I saw) are identical in color and effervescence. Nice deep copper, a typical pale ale coloring. Pretty great head retention as well, which is nice for the aroma.

Alpha Acid: 7-9%
Usage: Flavor and Aroma in American style ales

A citrusy, light grapefruit aroma.
Flavor up front is a tempered sugary malt. Hops have a sharp grassy tinge, followed by bitter grapefruit. Fairly bright & clean finish, slight astringence on the edges of the tongue.
Very reminiscent of big American IPAs, with a bitter citrus profile, this is a big but accessible beer.
East Kent Goldings
Alpha Acid: 4-6%
Usage: Flavor, Aroma, and Bittering. Traditional English ale hop.

Aroma is hay-like.
Big amber malt backbone dominates this beer. Hops aren’t very agressive. Very earthy, with a faint allspice and anise background. Lingering numbing bitterness in the finish. This doesn’t taste like an IPA at all. More of an English bitter (logical, since this is where Kent Goldings are most commonly found).
An interesting example of what the hop tastes like, but not a good IPA. After drinking this, it’s obvious why this hop is used primarily in malt-forward beers, where it provides a welcome contrast to the sweetness. As a frontman, Kent just doesn’t work.
Nelson Sauvin
Alpha Acid: 12-13 %
Usage: Flavor, Aroma. Fruity, wine-like New Zealand grown hop

Barnyard, earthy aroma, with a faint bitter acai smell.
Biscuity malt upfront (it’s amazing how the same grain bill can present itself so differently in the finished product when offset by a different hop). Bitterness is almost fruity - wild berries and dry white grape juice. Finish is long and spicy. Interestingly balanced and delicate, followed by some aggression at the end.
This is by far the most unique hop I’ve ever tasted. It’s absolutely wine-like, very full and rounded. It only suffers in its drinkability. I happily put down one glass, but I didn’t want more.
Alpha Acid: 11-14%
Usage: Mostly bittering, recently becoming popular for dry-hopping

Aroma is sweet pine.
Malt is very toasty. Lots of spice in the hop. It’s almost sugary over bitter. Notes of heather & rosemary (or is it sage?)
Very reminiscent of a scotch ale more than an IPA.
My notes on this one are a bit hazy (surely the effect of swilling five consecutive IPAs), but I remember enjoying it. In line with the traditional use of the hop, it tended toward bitter astringency over pungent aromatics found in more popular high acid hops.
(aka Columbus)
Alpha Acid: 14-18%
Usage: Bittering. The first US ’super-alpha’ hop.

Big hit of spicy evergreen on the nose. The bitterness really comes out in this one (which is why I drank it last).
From the first sip, it’s obviously the bitterest of the bunch. Pungent, piney hop oils totally overwhelm the malt profile. A big spice follows. The finish is quickly astringent, but ends surprisingly clean.
For such a big piney hop, the tomahawk is nicely drinkable. Definitely the most aggressive of the five I’ve tried, but one of the best tasting.

The Verdict
A very cool experiment, for Mikkeller and for myself. As a budding homebrewer, I relish the opportunity to really gain some insight into how certain varieties of hops actually effect the final product. I definitely recommend picking up more than one of these if you can find it. A few are good on their own, but I think that in order to truly appreciate the depth of the Single Hop IPA, and the brilliance of the philosophy behind it, two, three, five, or (if you’re lucky) all of them need to be stacked up side-by-side.
If this idea catches your fancy, all ten were still on tap at ChurchKey as of last night, and likely will last for another day or two. If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend cozying up next to a flight.

20,739 Responses to “Hops 101, with Prof. Mikkeller”