September 6, 2016

Not Applicable Nugget Amber Review & More on Nugget Hops

Let's first get into reviewing this nugget amber lager I brewed a couple months ago and then talk about my larger thoughts about using nugget as something more than a cheap bittering hop alternative.

Appearance: Dark amber beer, almost brown. Thick tan head erupts and lasts with the beer to the end with fantastic lacing. Clarity is moderate; could be clearer if I had lagered it or if it had hung out in the fridge for more than twenty-four hours. Bottles with more time in the fridge were clearer with a brighter amber color.

Aroma: Hops dominate the aroma. Generic forest aroma, generic tea, dried peach, subtle resin, minimal baking spices. Behind the hops there is malt sweetness, caramel, biscuit crust, toasted almond.

Flavor: Hops at the forefront of the flavor. Taste is strongly like a fresh, complex peach tea but with hoppy bitterness instead of tannins. Peach and pear fruit. Forest-y flavor behind the tea feels heavy up front but lightens in the finish, reminiscent of the dank notes in mosaic hops. Grain flavor lacks sweetness, like caramel without the sweetness. Dry bread crust. Lager-like crispness rather than subtle sweetness from amber ales. 

Mouthfeel: Spritzy mouthfeel. Moderate body while the flavor makes it feel thinner than it is. Bitterness present in the mouthfeel. Appropriate body for a lager. 

Overall: Decent beer but nothing special. Did a great job of showcasing the hop although it either needs an ale yeast to leave behind more balancing sweetness or less bitterness. It's imbalanced towards sweetness. As it is it tastes like a scaled down amber IPA but with some restraint to the bitterness it would be a pretty good hoppy amber lager. It isn't quite dank like amber/red beers with simcoe, columbus and so forth but it's definitely along that line. 

Now let's talk nugget hops.

In the recipe post I talked about the vague descriptions of this fairly old and well-used American hop that makes it difficult to really appreciate what it offers beyond a fairly smooth bitterness. Nugget hops are a strange fit in today's world of beer. It's not high enough in alpha acid to seek out for bittering. The flavor isn't as punchy as the popular fruit hops nor is it dank enough to provide the opposing note like simcoe. It's a hop, like many older hops, that struggles to stay relevant. There is value in this hop even if it's not in the fruit-overload beers. 

Nugget will never rise to the top of the heap of popular hops because it fails to bring any major flavors. It's a lot of subtle flavors mashed together. Descriptions of woodsy and tea are accurate. It's woodsy like a forest of unassuming-smelling trees, like oak, where the smell is a mixture of dried leaves, wood and dirt. It's not the pine forest of chinook hops. The tea flavor is not generic swill tea. It's a good quality tea flavor. You don't get that drying sensation of tea so it's a different experience. There's also fruit but it's subtle peach and pear, which are themselves subtle fruit flavors. They are fairly present in this beer because I used a big pile of hops but otherwise I doubt the fruit flavors would appear within normal hop rates for non-IPA beers. It's a little dank but not within the same class as columbus or simcoe. As a whole, it reminds me a little of the spice mix in particularly floral pumpkin beers but without tasting like a shitty pumpkin beer.

At normal hopping rates this hop gets lost even in a single hop beer but overloaded with big late and post-boil additions the flavor can be aggressive and subtle flavors can be competitive. The peach and pear flavors are nice even if they don't punch you in the face like citra (and lacks the cat piss flavor citra sometimes has). Nothing offensive pops out in the flavor by using a large amount in late additions but because it's a moderately high alpha acid hop one must be mindful of the bittering potential.

This hop could be used in a number of styles for flavor, particularly if you aren't afraid to be heavy-handed with the additions. I will probably attempt an all nugget saison to see how the flavors cut against the often citrusy saison yeast. I think it would make a good beer and probably even better with nugget mixed with European hops that can round it out with some floral and light citrus flavor. With heavy-handed additions it works well in these amber beers similar to columbus or simcoe, although large additions are definitely necessary for big hop flavor. In moderate amounts I could see it flavoring American renditions of English bitters (in place of say, Fuggles) but a beer that immediately feels like an American beer pretending to be an English beer. It certainly works in amber/red beers where the dank flavor could be extended by columbus or simcoe or the fruit flavors accented by the addition of any number of citrusy hops. 

Nugget probably gets its best use in blends with other hops. It's a hop that doesn't stand out on its own in any spectacular amount but has a low level of lots of desirable hop flavors. For that reason it's a great option to add depth and volume to a hop blend. It fits with the high notes of fruity hops as well as the low notes of dank hops. It gets out of the way of grassy or floral hops. It fills in the voids in the range of hop flavors without muddying the flavors you want in the forefront. I suspect a citra/nugget/simcoe IPA with nugget used at a lower rate than the other two would provide a lot more complexity than citra and simcoe by themselves. 

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