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What flavors do hops add to beer? The dozens of varieties of hops taste a little different from one to the next. Here’s how to tell them apart, whether you’re a brewer or just want to understand what you’re reading on the label.

Try them

Obviously, the best way to learn what hops taste like is to try them. In the last year or two some breweries have been releasing single hop beers. These give you a chance to isolate the nature each hop variety. The most well known, from Mikkeller, totaled 19 different single-hop IPAs (They’re all listed here, search for “hop series”). Unfortunately, with import costs, it can be hard to swallow the small fortune you have to pay to buy one of each.

At least, that’s how I felt, so I was happy to find a domestic series from Hermitage Brewing Company for very reasonable prices at Bevmo. So far, I’ve tried the five in the photo above, and boy are they different from each other, from the big piney bitterness of Columbus hops to the flowery smell and nutty, spicy flavor of Amarillo. I won’t bore you with all the adjectives I cooked up while drinking these beers.

Read up

For a list of all the characters of different hops tastes, flavors, and scents, a good place to start is this seemingly exhaustive list at Bear Flavored, and the list of hops varieties at Wikipedia.

Use a chart

There are also a couple of infographics that compare the main characteristics of each variety of hops–taste, smell, bitterness. My favorite is this rundown of 40 varieties by Zeke Shore, from the bracingly bitter hops of the Pacific Northwest to the mildly bitter, high-aroma noble hops of central Europe. The chart is huge, so here’s a snippet. Click through for the whole thing.

Hops taste, aroma, and bitterness for 40 varieties--snippet

And Sixpoint Brewery runs down 12 of the most popular varieties. Click for the big version:
Hops taste, aroma, and bitterness for 12 varieties

I’ve been brewing with a few at a time to get a hang for them. Kind of like learning which spices are good together in soup.

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As any kombucha brewer knows, every time you brew a batch, your SCOBY mother grows another layer, an extra baby. Instead of composting it or pushing it onto your friends, what if you could make clothes out of it? That’s how Suzanne Lee made this jacket.

Check out the video below and visit Lee’s website for ideas. It looks like you could do it at home. But what to call it? Kombucha leather?

To get you started with the kombucha (for drinking), here’s a nice, concise recipe from House Kombucha in San Francisco.

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To celebrate the centennial of its Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the New York Public Library has asked Shmaltz Brewing Company to brew 15 gallons of small beer according to a recipe in its collection that was penned by George Washington. Shmaltz has taken a few liberties with it, probably to make it taste more like today’s brews. If you’re in New York, you can try it May 18 at Rattle N Hum.

If you’d rather brew it yourself, you’re welcome to decipher George’s handwriting above—that’s the biggest photo I could find—or read this transcription. Just watch out: At least one person reports that his attempt to follow the recipe proved “utterly foul.” (When you get to the page, search for molasses.)

James Brownlow had more success following a similar recipe by John Gaylord II written about 60 years after Washington recorded his. This second recipe also requires molasses… and cream of tartar.

James had a number of friends taste-test the brew against MGD—an understandable choice of style because a small beer was a low-alcohol brew intended for everyday drinking, not unlike a lawnmower beer or a session beer—and their overall opinion was that it was equally as good. Not a ringing endorsement in my view. But James’ report is from 2000, and since then Anchor Brewing’s own small beer has come on the market. Perhaps a new taste comparison is in order?

Oh and by the way, from Shmaltz founder Jeremy Cowan: “George Washington is like my old Jewish grandmother.”

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