Friday, 5 August 2016

The Sciencing of Beer in a Post-Fact Society

Same but Different


The recent release of Cloudwater’s double IPA v4 and v5 raised some interesting points which go beyond arguing over which is the best DIPA in the UK. I’m not reviewing these beers here because what I am actually more interested in is the wider concepts relating to the release of these beers, i.e. crowd sourcing opinions on how to develop future beers, taking one beer and changing exactly one specific element of the process (AKA The Scientific Method) to get two different beers, and planning the sequential development of a beer over multiple iterations. 

As usual there was beautiful artwork on these bottles

So why would a brewery release two only slightly different beers together at the same time?

For anyone who doesn’t know, v4 and v5 are (almost!) the same beer, brewed in an identical way except that they were dry-hopped at different stages. Version 4 was dry-hopped during fermentation and v5 was dry-hopped after fermentation was complete. The idea behind this was to explore the concept of ‘bio-transformation’ i.e. the effect that yeast-hop interactions at different stages has on the aroma and flavour of the finished beer. You can read in greater detail what Cloudwater had to say about the beers prior to their release here.

I drank v4 and v5 on keg at The Bottle Shop. I didn’t take to v4 at first. It was difficult for me initially to appreciate anything about v4 because I once I’d had a sip of both beers I immediately preferred everything about v5 (e.g. the enhanced aroma, the richer mouth-feel and heftier body).

A week later I tried them again from bottles. This time I was able to appreciate how bright and clean v4 was. It tasted like a classic west coast IPA to me; with appropriate and pleasing bitterness being its most striking characteristic.

As for v5, it had a greater hop aroma than v4, which you’d expect from a beer which was dry hopped slightly later in its life. But is there something more going on rather than time (and temperature too I guess)? Is this the magic of bio-transformation at work, where residual yeast is interacting with hop compounds to provide an greater yield of pleasing aroma? Or is it something else? I also get ‘JUICE!!’... lots and lots of juice flavour. 

This conflict of clean vs juicy IPA cycles right back round to my last post where I described my experience of craving a Kernel IPA while I was on the west coast of the US. The majority of the beers on offer there were similar to the Cloudwater v4 when actually I was continually looking for a beer like v5. I can appreciate both the sticky, resinous west coast style IPA (like Pliny and Blind Pig) and the juicier, drier style of IPA (like a Kernel IPA or even Cloudwater's v3 DIPA). Honestly, I do drink both types and enjoy them but I guess that if I was forced to choose I'd come out in favour of the juice.

I began to wonder if it was possible to get bitterness AND juice side by side in the same IPA. Without mentally running through every single great IPA I’ve ever drunk, I instinctively think the answer might be no. The New England IPA as a 'style' is intentionally designed to be softer in mouth-feel and gentler in bitterness - so that particular (sub-)style provides no evidence for whether it’s possible to create an IPA which is big on both bitterness and juice. The research must continue.

Spot the difference

It is less important to me whether v4 or v5 is ‘the best’ the most important point to me is that by changing one single aspect of the brewing process Cloudwater have managed to produce two strikingly different beers. They look markedly different in the glass. They feel different in the mouth. And while the aroma and flavour are thematically similar I think it's fair to say the also smell and taste distinct from each other. Quite how different you, the drinker, perceive them to be depends on how much you're into drinking IPA I guess.

But if you had been given these two beers to taste blind alongside a bunch of other beers, I doubt you’d say they were almost exactly the same beer (i.e. brewed to the same recipe and all but identical in process). I’m not even sure you’d think the same yeast had been used. You might not even guess they were brewed by the same brewery.

The most interesting contrast between v4 and v5 for me was that V5 was a little bit hot (only very slightly) and v4 wasn’t. If they are both versions are fermented with the same yeast for the same amount of time how does one version have some fusel alcohols present and the other one not? 

How is it possible for dry hopping to affect production of fusel alcohols when it’s done after fermentation is complete? I’ve tried to figure it out from first principles but I can’t make sense of it. Of course this is assuming both beers fermented under exactly the same conditions - doing the 'correlation = causation' thing and assuming that it must have been the one factor which we know to be different between the two beers (the point at which they were dry hopped) which is responsible for the touch of heat in one of them. Whereas actually it could have been some other (unintentional) aspect of the process, e.g. minor temperature differences during fermentation. I guess we’ll never know. Unless Cloudwater would like to offer any insights…

Just One Other Thing While I'm Here

From what I understand (from reading the Cloudwater blog post, from following the tweets from the brewery about this release, and from talking to Paul Jones about it) the purpose of this experiment is to learn what effect dry hopping at different points has on the finished beer for the purpose of refining their DIPA. 

It is not fiddling just for the sake of fiddling. It’s scientific experimentation in order to further improve one of their most popular beers; to make the best iteration of a DIPA that they possibly can whilst also learning something about the interaction between yeast and hops. I think this work is really valuable and it’s precisely the type of experimentation that as a home-brewer and a scientist I would love to be doing myself. I was more excited about this particular announcement than I have been about anything beer related in a long time.

And if it wasn’t exciting enough that Cloudwater are doing this work, they are also allowing everyone to get involved in the experiment and share their views. So are people intrigued and animated by the opportunity to be part of this big beery experiment? OF COURSE THEY AREN’T! (ok, some people are). But I have read more moans than excitement in relation to this release.

Here are some complaints which I’ve heard about these two particular beers (some in person, some on Twitter):

“Why haven’t they made more of it? There is much less for sale than there was of v3.”
 “Urgh. No. I’m not going to blend it. They can’t tell me what to do.”
“I’m sick of their hype.”
“If they wanted people to blend it they should have put it into bigger bottles.”

And then whilst doing a little reading around the subject online I found this blog post which provides a perfect illustration of how, even when provided with all of the facts direct from the people who designed and brewed the beer, some people willfully ignore them and create their own theories.

“Some folk (including suggestions from Cloudwater) saying blending the two is the way to go but stuff that.  I've only blended once before (my own idea of a double chocolate stout and banana bread English bitter) and to be fair it was gorgeous.  However that was my choice.  But I won't be dictated to by breweries trying to plant seeds in my head.  So I'm torn.  Is the v4 and v5 a genuine test of which is better or a marketing ploy by Cloudwater to buy 2 beers?  You decide.”

But I honestly don't know what else I was expecting from this #postfactsociety.


Peter Mac Ciarraí said...

Great post Emma. Does your scientific mind have any insight into why v4 and v5 were markedly different in hue? Did the dry hopping schedule influence this? can it?!

The above blog post you cite beggars belief, incidentally.

Bioblogist said...

This definitely appeals to the scientist in me! I think it's a great approach and, as you say, can really inform the process. I need to try and find some in Bristol so I can try. Blending a small portion of each also seems worth a shot.
Yeah, idiots gotta idiot but how dare we shame them for it.

Emma said...

Thanks, Peter. In general the DH is done during fermentation, then particulate matter (yeast, hops, large proteins which are out of solution) gets dropped out. I would guess we're back to talking protein-polyphenol interactions (I covered this in my previous post on hazy beer) - where stuff that has yet to come out of solution cannot be dropped out yet. So yes, the DH schedule can influence the clarity of the beer because clarity is all about interactions between particulate matter in the beer. It's hard to get heavily dry hopped beers brite unless you want to centrifuge and filter them - but that's another post!


Peter Mac Ciarraí said...

Thanks Emma, interesting although I was referring more to the relative lightness / darkness of tone as opposed to clarity, although no doubt related.

Emma said...

Peter, sorry about that - I think the light/dark thing is likely a function of clarity vs opacity. The one with more particulate matter (v5) appears lighter in colour - it will refract more light.

Rob Sterowski said...

I’d rather breweries did their new product development on their own dime, to be honest.