Monday, November 14, 2022

Best Hops According to Untappd

Our batch analysis/QC at Sapwood Cellars is pretty basic. Mostly it's me finding time each weekend to taste a recent release (ideally side-by-side a comparable example from another brewery). I write up tasting notes, include feedback I've gotten from other people, and recipe/process tweaks for next batch. 
Part of my routine is to scroll through Untappd to see if I can spot any common threads to the compliments or complaints... but I don't put a huge amount of stock in the average score (see this post).

Blind rating by a skilled tasting panel is the gold standard... but having a large/diverse group of beer drinkers give you feedback has value as well! With four years of Untappd scores for our IPAs at my disposal, I thought it would be interesting to see which hops "the beer drinking public" preferred in Sapwood Cellars IPAs and DIPAs!

Cheater Hops IPAs

We started this series of IPAs when we opened to showcase our favorite hop varieties. We recently released #22 (Citra-Motueka). All of the batches were 6.5-7.5% ABV, with similar malt bills (American pale barley, chit, wheat, and oats), fermented with an English-leaning yeast, and dry-hopped post-crash at 3-4 lbs/bbl. The table below is the average Untappd score of all batches dry hopped with the variety listed. 

Vic Secret4.122

Seven of these varieties were only in one beer (Amarillo, Azacca, Columbus, Strata, Vic Secret, Hydra, Riwaka). So it is difficult to tease out if their score is a result of the hop or the context. See the table in the following section for a larger sample set. 

I wouldn't have guessed that Motueka would be the most popular compared to the likes of Nelson, Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe! We've had hit-or-miss results with Motueka overall, with most of the hits coming from Freestyle Hops. We've gotten a few lots from other growers that have been too herbal/spicy without the bright lemon-lime note I enjoy. 

I really like Hydra as a "less risky" alternative to Galaxy. It has similar passionfruit-gum aromatics without the dried, peanut-shell notes I too often smell from Australian hops. The lone batch of Cheater Hops with Hydra (#18) also included Vic Secret and Galaxy. Leaning into that tropical flavor didn't provide enough complexity to me, and it didn't score particularly well. 

All IPAs and DIPAs

The table below include all 65 "big batch" IPAs and DIPAs we've released that don't contain adjuncts (although I did include Phantasm beers). These are diverse in terms of recipe construction, alcohol strength, and dry hopping rate. As a result, the scores are a bit more prone to bias compared to the Cheater Hops data set. 

Hallertau Blanc4.220
Vic Secret4.131
Idaho Gem4.010

Again some of the varieties near the top of the list are expected (Galaxy and Nelson), but who would guess Hallertau Blanc or Cashmere? The issue with this data set is that we don't brew beers randomly... every batch with Hallertau Blanc also included Nelson and/or Mosaic as part of our "Dragon" series of rye IPAs and DIPAs. Cashmere is mostly used in a specific base (Exaggerated Truth/Understated Lies) that is sweeter and extra-fruity thanks to a small percentage of hefeweizen yeast. We should probably try other hops in that base, and Cashmere in other bases to gauge the response!

Pairing Hops

For some batches you'd expect to see a high rating due to pairing two great hops together (e.g., Nelson/Galaxy or Mosaic/Citra). Both varieties score well across all our beers, so no surprise combing them results in a well-rated IPA. More interesting is sorting by the average standard deviation for the hops included. This shows which combinations rated higher than expected given the average scores for those hops across all beers. Snip Snap (Citra/Galaxy), Cheater Hops #22 (Citra/Motueka), Shard Blade (Mosaic/Galaxy), Cheater Hops #13 (Mosaic/Simcoe), and The Dragon (Nelson Sauvin/Mosaic/Hallertau Blanc) were all in the top-10 "overachievers." These hop blends follow different approaches either "leaning into" a particular flavor (fruity, or winey) or balancing fruity with a danker variety. 

Rounding out the top-10 are two all-Simcoe (Cheater Hops #12 and Drenched in Green), two all-Mosaic (Fundle Bundle and TDH Trial #1), and an all-Nelson beer (3S4MP). Certainly a sign that these hops can shine alone compared to Citra and Motueka which are highly rated in blends, but haven't exceled in single-hop beers (despite our best efforts). Of course you need a great lot of hops for this to work; the bottom-10 also includes single-hop beers featuring: Simcoe (Cheater Hops #9), Nelson Sauvin (Cheater Hops #11), and Mosaic (Fumble Bumble)! 

Two beers with Galaxy and Nelson (Cheater X and X2) each had a standard deviation close to 0. They still rate well, but no better or worse than expected across all beers with Nelson or Galaxy. 
Surprisingly three of the bottom four included three varieties Cheater Hops #7 (Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic) Cheater Hops #6 (Motueka, Mosaic, Simcoe) False Peak (Idaho 7, Sultana, Citra). Blending hops can create a generic "hoppiness." These beers may have been missing a distinct "wow" aroma for people to grab onto. 

Take Aways 

The high/low scores for different batches brewed with the same single hop variety really drives home how unreliable this data likely is. Without multiple batches hopped with the same hop combination, it is impossible to say with certainty if a beer scored well because of aromatic synergy or a delicious lot of hops. Luckily several of the top-rated combinations are beers we have brewed multiple times. 

The data does suggest to me that using one or two varieties for the dry hop is the best bet for making the most appealing IPA unless you have something very specific in mind. Often when breweries use a large number of hop varieties in a beer it is to promote consistency (batch-to-batch and year-to-year). It would be interesting to expand the data set to include beers from other breweries. That would produce data that is less specific to our particular brewing approach, hop sourcing, and customers' palates.

Help Provide Data

If you are interested in trying our beers for yourself... We've been direct-shipping Sapwood beers within Maryland for awhile, but if you live elsewhere in the US and are interested in trying our beers, we sent our first pallet (Cheater Hops #22 and TDH Pillowfort) to Tavour. They direct-ship to about half the states in the country. Here's the link for the app to notify you when they are available. 


Librewian said...

Any chance you could share those tasting choices and notes somewhere? Maybe with Sapwood Club members. I'd love to do my own tasting comparisons, but don't follow other breweries enough to know what to try.

Anonymous said...

glad youre back. i still check this blog and read through old posts, glad its updating again.

DrinkinBrewskis said...

I am also quite interested in the raw data if you are willing to share

Harry G said...

Great read Mike. Glad to see you posting again!