It would be so easy if we could crank up the high tech machinery, identify particular oils, measure the percentage of said oils in a given assay of hops and then conclude that one cultivar is “better” because it has more of the “more desirable” oil compounds. But, alas, god’s not in the machines, and really and truly there are as many gods as there are palates, although perhaps some flavor gods are more better than others (with apologies to the grammar gods).
Does the “big oil” hop deliver the “most desirable” oils? Again, lets look at Cascade. Between 70 and 80% of the total oil in Cascades is myrcene (roughly ~53%) and humulene (~26%). In a well designed pellet, the myrcene-humulene (M-H) content is approximately 35% and 26%, respectively. In short, the M-H content in a Cascade whole hop will likely gobble up between 75 and 80% of the total oils, but in a pellet, the M-H content is far smaller at around 55-60%.
OK, so, two more questions. One, what’s wrong with myrcene and humulene? And two, all fine and dandy, but isn’t the real measure how much of the oil actually ends up in your pint glass?
|"Odors Compounds" chart from OSU|
Click here for a larger version
For perspective, take a look at some of the others, such as geraniol, limonene, citral, linalool, and we come across descriptors at least this drinker tends to find a bit more appealing (rosy, fruity, citrusy, floral, orangy, etc). Anecdotally, I haven’t heard too many brewers tout either myrcene or humulene as “target oils.” Then again, we’re huge fans of Odell and I’m sure their Myrcenary Double IPA is a knock-out!
On the second question – how much of the oil makes it in your pint glass – the answer is more complex, but equally interesting. A quick bit of background first (sorry for all the parenthetical chatter!) – IH is sponsoring research on the correlation, if any, between the medium of the hop (whole flower vs four vendors’ type 90 pellets) and the relative contribution of total and specific oils when dry hopping. The results should be forthcoming soon but we’ve already observed a thing or two of the eyebrow raising variety.
Even though the whole hop has about 70% more total myrcene than a typical pellet, the amount of myrcene from the flower that is dispersed into your pint glass appears to be substantially less (5.5 ml vs ~6.5 ml). A far lower amount of myrcene is “extracted” compared to a pellet (5% compared to 17%). It appears that a big chunk of the myrcene in the whole hop is lost. (Where did it go? Another question for another day).
Do the smaller but perhaps more flavorful oil compounds exhibit similar “volatility?” Does the design of the pellet (eg. average particle size , density and diameter) influence the expression of certain desirable oil compounds? Do certain oils have a “saturation point” where, regardless of the starting point of oil quantity in the flower or pellet, when added to a beer-like solution, is there a threshold for maximum solubility? Does the design of the pellet influence the rate of oil extraction? And how does all of this potentially impact what brewers do or should do in the brewhouse?
For those answers, and more fun questions, please stay tuned. In the meantime, viva la difference! Using the scientific method, with the aid of technology, we can draw verifiable and repeatable conclusions from the data. But, as we’ve said before, even the most sophisticated palates will disagree on the description let alone desirability of the oils from the same hop as they work themselves into your pint glass. See http://inhoppursuit.blogspot.com/2011/02/variety-uniqueness-consistency.html