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Understand and Describe Hop Flavors with New Tool

In this article we speak with Annika Redl, Sensory Manager at Barth-Haas about a tool they’ve developed for the brewing industry, and all beer enthusiasts, to better understand hop flavor and remove the subjectivity around describing it. Here’s the full transcript of the interview…

What is the Hop Aroma Standards Kit and why is it useful?

The Hop Aroma Standards Kit is a convenient tool to train judges on the Barth-Haas sensory language to describe hop flavor.

We realized we needed hop aroma standards when we tried training and aligning our sensory panels in Europe and the USA. We needed a way to calibrate our sensory panels on the Barth-Haas language, and to ensure the panels were aligned. For example, we want to ensure when a judge in Germany and a judge in the USA are describing the floral aroma of Cascade hops, they are both thinking of the same aroma. You’ll find a lot of flavor terminology, the flavors that we experience through food, and the way we describe flavors are very cultural and subjective. So it’s critical to have tangible tools to smell or taste, to ensure that we are referring to the same flavor and speaking the same language.

Another reason we developed our Hop Aroma Standards is that we wanted a convenient, consistent set of non-perishable standards to use in sensory training. We wanted a tool that we could easily use to train large groups of people in multiple locations with little preparation time. In the Barth-Haas group we apply many different approaches to sensory training on hop flavors including using fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, botanicals – and of course hops, hop teas, and hoppy beers. We use these techniques as a core part of our sensory training to teach hop flavor. However, these types of training tools present challenges when used in large-scale applications and in multiple locations.

Tell me a little about how the Hop Aroma Standards are made

The most interesting part of the hop aroma standards is that they are made from compounds that have been identified in hops and in hop oil. So for example, our Citrus standard aroma has compounds that are well known to exist in hops like linalool and limonene that smell like orange and citrus-like aromas. They are compounds that are native to both hops and citrus fruits. Another example, our Berry and Currant standard aroma has compounds like 4-mmp and beta ionone that are also found in hops that smell like black currant and berries, respectively.

After identifying important hop odorant compounds for each flavor category, we then formulated specific blends of hop compounds to recreate the 12 flavor categories of our sensory language. We spent a lot of time developing the chemical formulations of these aromas. In addition, we hosted repeated sensory panels to test the intensity and quality of each aroma category to ensure they are discernable and of similar intensity.

Before making the standards ourselves, we initially looked for products in the market that could be applied as flavor standards for our Barth-Haas sensory language. Our sensory language focuses on positive flavors of hops, however most of the flavor standards sold in the beer industry are focused on negative flavors, off-flavors, and single compounds. After working with multiple suppliers and products, we could not find what we were looking to do. It eventually made sense that we needed to create our own hop aroma standards to support our language, and that we had the expertise to accomplish it.

Tell me a bit about the Barth-Haas sensory program and the background on the Barth-Haas sensory language

The Barth-Haas sensory program consists of multiple sensory panels and many people located in Germany and the United States. We routinely use sensory analysis as a tool to measure hop flavor and hop quality. We put special focus into understanding the aroma of hops and the aromas that hops impart to beer. Barth-Haas is the author of the Hops Aroma Compendium volumes 1-3, which is the most extensive published sensory resource on hop varietal flavors, with sensory data on over 100 hop varieties.

Three years ago we developed the Barth-Haas sensory language, which was carefully crafted as a tool to describe the nuances of hop flavor.

We use this language in our hop breeding programs and research breweries worldwide to develop new hop varieties, new hop products, and do quality testing. The language is composed of 12 flavor categories, which are further broken down into hundreds of common sub flavor terms. The 12 flavor categories can be used to describe the flavor of any hoppy beer and can be used to profile the aroma of the 200+ hop varieties that exist worldwide. This language was purposefully designed to be applicable on both hops and hoppy beers.

Our goal with the Barth-Haas sensory language is to create a uniform way to speak about hop flavor. There are virtually infinite ways to describe the same hop flavor – none of which inherently wrong or inherently right – because flavor descriptions are subjective. The way we describe flavor is based on our upbringing and culture. The goal of the Barth-Haas language is to provide a common infrastructure to describe hop flavor and speak the same language. We encourage others in the brewing industry to use the Barth-Haas sensory language to collectively better the understanding of hop flavor.

How do you use the Hop Aroma Standards Kit?

The Hop Aroma Standards Kit is designed to be used for smelling (orthonoasal olfaction). To use the kit you simply take an aroma vial, unscrew the cap, and smell the aroma that diffuses from the aroma vial. Then replace the cap on the aroma vial and return the vial to its position in the Kit. The 12 vial colors correspond to the 12 aroma categories.

The goal of the kit is to be a convenient tool for training judges to profile hop flavor using the 12 flavor categories of the Barth-Haas sensory language. The kit can be used to improve the individual judge’s ability to identify hop flavors and associate them with specific flavor terms. In addition, the kit creates a common vocabulary amongst a panel of judges, or multiple panels of judges in different locations.

Ultimately we hope the Hop Aroma Standards Kit allows you to better familiarize yourself with varietal hop flavors. On our website we provide sensory data and flavor descriptions on all major hop varieties. You can use the Hop Aroma Standards Kit and our sensory resources to better understand the flavor of hops and hop products.

We recommend placing the Hop Aroma Standards Kit in your sensory booths, sensory room, or space designated for beer quality evaluations. In this area it can be used as a warm-up before sensory evaluation of hops and hoppy beers.

What’s been the response from brewers when you show them these standards?

I see people get really excited when we use the Hop Aroma Standards Kit in demonstrations and show them to customers. It seems like this is something people have been looking for. We initially created the standards strictly for internal purposes to train our Barth-Haas sensory panels, however over time we realized that many people in the brewing industry are interested in sensory training tools too.

Two of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a sensory manager from our brewers: What is your sensory language to describe hops? How do you train on hop flavor? I believe there is a need in the brewing industry for sensory training tools and information about hop flavor. In the United States we have more than 7,000 breweries, and the vast majority of them are small craft breweries and brewpubs. Many of these breweries sell hop-forward beers, where hops are the key flavor of their biggest volume beers. However, the majority of these breweries don’t have the resources to learn more about hop flavor and hop sensory. Our goal with the Hop Aroma Standards Kit and the Barth-Haas sensory language is to provide the brewing industry with tools to better understand hop flavor.

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