“What’s the hoppiest beer you have?,” someone asked.
I have no idea. I don’t think anyone knows. We don’t keep track of hoppiness here, not in the sense of boasting about IBUs and alpha acid percentages. The brewers at Pilsner Urquell told me that their beer has 40 IBUs, but most brewers here wouldn’t be able to do much more than guess. It’s simply not an issue. Beer here is supposed to be good, that’s for sure. But it’s not necessarily supposed to be terribly hoppy.
However, high levels of hop bitterness and aroma seem to get a lot of attention among American beer fans, and the question got me thinking: what would it be like to take a perfectly great Czech pale lager and crank the hoppiness up a notch?
Thus my second experiment in beer hacking. The first involved dosing a Czech Baltic porter with Orval yeast dregs. In the comments for that story, Jake from Northern Table suggested “getting your hands on some hop pellets and dry hopping a few bottles.” But by that point, my dry-hopped Bernard pale lager experiment was already well underway.
For my dry-hopping hack, I didn’t use pellets. On my desk I had a single cone of Angus hop as a memento from my trip to the Budweiser Budvar hop room. So I cracked open a Bernard sváteční ležák bottle — chosen primarily because of its resealable swing-top cap — and just dropped the bud into the brew.
I resealed the bottle, covering the top with packing tape just in case, and put it in the fridge. Today — about a month later — I opened it along with an untreated bottle of Bernard sváteční ležák and poured two wine glasses to compare.
Here’s what didn’t happen. Contrary to my expectations, the dry-hopped bottle didn’t go flat: like any other swing-top bottle of Bernard, it opened with a reassuring pop. The two glasses in front of me have virtually identical amounts of carbonation and head retention.
Thankfully, it also didn’t sour or spoil. The aromas and overall flavor profiles are nearly the same. There is no trace of infection.
But what is different is just a whiff of more grassiness in the nose. And in the mouth, there’s a slight increase in the bitter, peppery notes. When you go back to the undoctored Bernard, you get much more of the grainy malt and sweet corn flavors. When you try the dry-hopped version again, you might think you’re tasting black pepper and pot resin. It’s actually not that much of a change, but if you focus you’ll probably notice the difference.
(However, there is one point at which you can’t help but notice the change. With apologies for any lack of decorousness, I have to say that the dry-hopped version burps far hoppier than the regular Bernard. How is it that a beer is only slightly different in the mouth, but wildly different upon belching? Good Lord, it’s like burping up the entire Budweiser Budvar hop room.)
As I drink the last sips, the differences are becoming more clear, probably due to the warmer temperatures. The dry-hopped bottle smells like high-grade weed; the unadulterated beer has yeast and bready notes instead. (Bernard sváteční ležák is a kvasnicové pivo, or yeast beer, which commonly has bread-like aromas.) There’s also much more citrus coming through with the dry-hopped version, as well as a touch of peppermint.
In the end, my single bottle of dry-hopped Bernard may in fact be the hoppiest beer in entire the Czech Republic. But does it matter?
That’s what some people don’t seem to get about hoppiness. To put it another way, my version certainly is hoppier. But I’m not at all convinced it’s any better.