|I've gotten a few inquires about Sassafras (no idea why) so let me give you a quick rundown on it. It is a
distinctively spicy folk ingredient has a long tradition of going into American drinks, including beer—though it
comes with a few disclaimers Let’s go back to our roots, so to speak, and look at a traditional American ingredient
that can add some comforting sweet-shop spice to your beer. In the American context, sassafras refers to
Sassafras albidum, a deciduous tree that grows in forests across much of the eastern United States. It has a long
history of folk use—in homemade root beer, sassafras tea, and in the filé powder used to thicken Cajun gumbo.
Long before that, people in Europe and Asia found medicinal and flavor uses for it.
Here’s the caveat: The Food and Drug Administration banned it from commercial food and drinks 60 years ago,
after mice who were fed massive amounts of it developed cancer and liver damage. These days, commercial root
beer successfully imitates the taste without using actual sassafras.However, in small doses, it’s widely regarded to
be harmless to humans.
Sassafras character, as flavor and aroma, is something like a gentler licorice or anise, but not quite—you can also
imagine the taste of root beer or the smell of an old-fashioned sweet shop. I find it to be compatible with Belgian-
style ales and holiday beers such as dark ales, porters, or stouts. It may need to hug some malt to work best.
So, where to find it? In certain states in the lower Midwest, the South, and along the East Coast, you might be able
to hunt sassafras on a walk through the woods. Far easier is to go to a health food or brewing supply shop.
“Hop Creep” isn’t the name of a beer-themed horror movie—just a real, ongoing mystery that brewers and hop
scientists are still sorting out. Diacetyl is one result of hop creep. Beer with more alcohol than a brewery
intended—which brewers call “out of spec”—is another, as are bottles or cans with dangerously high levels of
carbonation. Back in 1893, Horace Brown and G. Harris published research about “the freshening power of dry
hops,” claiming that hops contained a “diastate” that was responsible for a second fermentation in the cask due to
dry hopping. More research in 1940 confirmed that Brown and Harris were correct. Yet the matter did not come up
again for more than 70 years. So, 40 years after Anchor Brewing reintroduced America to dry-hopped beers with
Liberty Ale, why did it suddenly become necessary to consider the enzymatic potential of hops?
Allagash Brewing—which at the time dry hopped just 1 percent of its beers and bottle-conditioned 98 percent of
them—rasied the question. The brewery dumped its first 60-barrel test batch of Hoppy Table Beer in 2016
because instead of finishing with a carbonation level of 2.6 volumes as targeted, the beer reached 4.5 volumes in
three weeks. Allagash does not make this sort of conditioning miscalculation.
An (oversimplified) explanation of what is happening goes like this: Dry hopping liberates fermentable sugars in
beer (glucose and maltose, mostly maltose), and hops contribute a small amount of sugar themselves. A higher
hop load adds more sugars.. Longer dry-hopping time and higher temperatures result in more sugars. Dry-
hopped beer with high residual extract produces more fermentable sugars. Enzymatic activity varies across
varieties and may be influenced by farming practices.
For many brewers, making a recipe is part of the fun, and that means choosing which hops to mix up and throw
into the kettle or fermentor. On the other hand, there are expert hands out there who have been mixing, matching,
and blending different varieties for years, going for that hops gestalt that is greater than the sum of its parts
Buying commercially available hop blends gives us a way to take advantage of that know-how in our own breweries
while adding more variety to our options. Here are a few of my favorites - 1. Aged Hop Blend: Yakima Chief Hops
best used in lambic-inspired wild ales, to provide preservative qualities with minimal bitternessCluster 2. Fugget:
by Yakima Chief iis a homebrew-exclusive blend of Pacific Northwest varieties that have a peppery, spicy, floral
profile. 3. NZH-107: is a new BSG blend, this is a mix of New Zealand–grown hops with pronounced tropical
(guava, passion fruit) and citrus (grapefruit, lime) aroma. . 4. Trident: From Hopsteiner, this new blend of Pacific
Northwest–grown hops is said to be redolent of tropical fruit (passion fruit) and citrus. 5. Veterans Blend: Another
of Yakima Chief’s blends for a cause, proceeds of this one go to the Semper Fi Fund for injured veterans. Various
breweries also use the blend in beers whose proceeds go to other veteran charities.
Hope you found this month's column of interest. If you have any questions about beer or brewing
or just want to submit a word for me to discuss here just e-mail it to me.
Thanks and Cheers!
|Sassafras // Hop Creep // Hop Blends
|A new column by
|Jack O'Reilly attended the
famous Siebel Institute/ World
Brewing Academy in Chicago.
|I'm very excited to be part of the BeerNexus team. I think my many years in the
beer business both as a brewer and manger will enable me to explain and
investigate many topics of interest for those who really love craft beer.
Hope you join me every month.
More by Jack: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14,
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#31, #32, #33, #34, #35, #36, #37, #38, #39
|Techniques and insights
for the serious ceft beer
fan and home brewer.