Polaris, polarization

The recent brew day with its test-drive of Polaris – and subsequent comments from several of you citizens – got me thinking about hop varieties that don’t have a gray area between love and hate.

I can easily believe that Polaris, with its alpha acids north of 20% and oil content pushing 4% and its very specific flavor profile, could fall into this category, and some of the experiences related seem to bear that out.

I’m trying to keep an open mind. Right now the krausen has fallen back but it’s still waiting on the dry hop addition. At knockout, the wort exhibited the expected minty component, but also a highly particular aroma of Indian spice – asafetida or fenugreek.

It was similar to but not exactly like the quality Summit, another super-high alpha cultivar, can have. While that onion-and-garlic character is a big turnoff for some, I have come to embrace it.

In my own highly rigorous and scientific surveys, Sorachi Ace is another polarizer – there’s no middle ground on lemon Pledge and dill, I guess. I know folks who disavow Amarillo and others from what they call the cat-piss family. I have a friend who can’t abide any of the Southern Hemisphere hops.

How about you?

20 thoughts on “Polaris, polarization

  1. I have a hard time enjoying anything stronger in flavor/aroma than centennial. I really prefer the low alpha noble/British hops. But you know, different strokes, takes all kinds etc…

  2. I think the polarizing hops can be used in a non-polarizing way as long as they’re not put on a pedestal, or they’re used in a beer where their qualities support the other goings-on of the beer. The polaris in my spruce beer vs. my friend’s, er, experiment that I mentioned in the comment on your last blog entry is one example. Sorachi Ace front and foremost in an IPA is bound to turn people off. Many say it tastes like pickle juice. For some that’s a good thing. On the other hand, I used Sorachi Ace at “normal” levels in a lime-zest saison and it complimented that beer very well. It visited the Mini-BOS in category 16 in a large comp, then was one of the first kegs to kick at a brew fest. I brew beer without odd ingredients as well, I swear. Some people really dislike Northern Brewer (the hops) and subsequently don’t like that one beer that Anchor brews. But used in a blend of other English hops in a best bitter, most will agree the subtle minty, cedary notes it provides bolster the floral, spicy, earthy qualities of the rest of the hop bill. Then there’s spalt. Eff spalt.

  3. A while back I was in a Single Malt Single Hop phase in my beer brewing and used Weyermann Pilsner malt and Hallertau Hersbrucker hops making a lager:ish style beer. Others who tasted the result loved the green grassy and minty flavour and aroma while I didn’t embrace it as much.

    I’m just saying, in line with your earlier observation MD, that one do get a different experience drinking the same beer, depending on for example, mood, location and company to name a few. Simply put, I don’t think that everyone loves all kind of aroma/taste in all beers.

    • Fenugreek is a subtle yet invaluable ingredient in alot of traditional Curries. Its the bittering component that brings out the sour, sweet, salty, and spicy notes that create the symphony of flavors….alone…….not a favorite. But a crucial piece of the pie non the less. The only other use I know of is for post partum mothers. Apparently it is an old remedy for new mothers to kick their milk production into gear.

  4. For the Polaris, I understand why people describe it as “mint”, but I get something closer to the herbal component of Ricola cough drops. I only noticed this in the aroma on the hot side when i added them to the kettle and got none of it in the finished beer. I’m not sure if whatever oil this comes from is highly volatile, or maybe fermentation changes it somehow. I didn’t get any onion/garlic from it, though.

    The only hop I’ve gotten a crapload of garlic from is Summit. Which is a shame because it has this fantastic tangerine thing going on as well. But the big thing that gets me is that I perceive the Summit flavor as savory (sort of between onion and Asiago). The flavor isn’t off-putting on its own, it’s just something that i don’t want to drink in a beverage. It’s pretty nice to cook with, though. Better than dumping a brew at least.

    I don’t get the “cat pee” thing with Citra, Simcoe, etc. I feel bad for those that do, because I can’t imagine life without Citra. The first time I smelled “tomato vine” in hop pellets was kind of bizarre. Supposedly this is from 4MMP. I’ve never picked it up in finished beer, however. I perceive it more like fresh picked black currants post-fermentation. I suppose I could see how someone could mistake this for cat pee if you’ve never picked currants, but it is distinctly different (I have both cats and currant bushes at home).

  5. One of the fonder memories I have from a homebrew is the pre-prohibition lager kit from NB that I brewed. I really liked the rustic notes of cluster, but a lot of my friends thought it to be too….. erm…. catty for their tastes.
    Something thing I look for now is the quality of bittering you get from different verieties. Like cluster, it gives you a flat earthy bitterness that shows up halfway through the sip, and then dissapears, leaving little lingering flavor. Northern brewer is flat, earthy, and long drawn. My only realy experience with summit I didn’t like the bittering quality, it was spicy…. not like saaz, like hot jalepeno, grabs you by the tonsils.

  6. Interesting thought – but I wonder if it is one of those palate things – depends on the mood, changes with time, can be developed, etc…I find myself much more tolerant as to some taste aspects and yet at the same time more particular in seeking out an expected profile from my hops these days. One thing I learned, not surprisingly, is that fresh is best!

  7. For me the first love/hate that I’ve encountered is the Horizon. I’ve used it a couple times and not really enjoyed the brews that resulted from it. I’ve also had the commercial uses of it and I’ve not enjoyed it very much. Cluster is also an odd duck, some usages of it I’ve been okay with but when it goes heavy in to usage I don’t enjoy it as well. It is further odd for me because when in its own use as a single dose hop for a cream ale or pale ale I enjoy it, combine it with other things or get complicated with it then I find I do not enjoy using this hop.

  8. I’ve yet to have a negative experience with a “polarizing” hop. I especially like the onion and garlic of Mosaic/Summit. Kinda makes me feel romantic.

    • Funny you mention Mosaic here. I don’t get the onion/garlic with it, but can’t touch Summit or Apollo for that same perception. I get tropical notes out of Mosaic, I absolutely loved a SMaSH I had with it.

      • I did get a hint of onion way in the background when I brewed a single-hop test batch with Mosaic, but it wasn’t enough to turn me off to it, and certainly nothing like Summit. I haven’t gotten any onion in other brews where I’ve used Mosaic in combination with other hops.

        Summit I just can’t use because it is so oniony, but the Apollo I got this year from Yakima Valley Hops was un-freaking-believably good. It was like the perfect combo of Amarillo and Columbus. I got a lot of orange, a bit of dank, and no onion at all. I think that goes to show that growing and harvest conditions have a lot to do with hop character, since so many brewers avoid Apollo like the plague due to the onion character and I got none from this crop.

  9. I hated all Southern Hemisphere hops until I decided to focus on adapting some recipes. Currently, my cream ale with AU Helga is my biggest polarizer. People who love it really, really, really love it. Those that hate it refuse to be in the same room with those people. Personally, I think the flavor profile works very well with a cream ale base. Tends to have a little “earl grey” character…. I think that is the love/hate component.

  10. Hey MD,
    Just watched you rap about Polaris on C&B. The minty notes of Polaris hops and the love it or hate it question immediately got me thinking about how mint is used in cooking. Mint is a flavor and ingredient that when you eat it you taste it but you strongly sense it in your nose and sinuses. Traditional lamb dishes come to mind, a very savory and gamey meat, and recipes often call for a mint jelly or just fresh mint. Mint adds some brightness to it to juxtapose and even compliment those intense savory flavors. So you can imagine how such a minty flavor could juxtapose deep roasty biscuity favors of a beer. On the other hand My mother makes a very simple vegetable dish of thinly sliced (the long way) grilled zucchini that is left to cool, add a little olive oil, salt and pepper. No garlic, no onion, just a liberal portion of coarsely chopped mint. In this case the mint acts more like a flavor & aromatic hop in a beer. Zuccini has a very mild vegetable flavor, but when you bite into the mint you get flavor and aroma in your nose (just like a piece of mint gum). The mint brightens and elevates the range of flavors. It even cuts through the flavor of the oil. Kind of like how a hop can cut through the chewy oiliness of a big IPA. This is even more apparent when you let the dish sit in the fridge overnight and the mint is really releases its flavor. One more analogy would be adding mint to a basil or parsley pesto. Basil and Parsley are both very bright, aromatic, strong flavors by themselves, but adding a bit of mint again expands the spectrum of flavors even higher to something even brighter. So just an idea, but maybe Polaris hops with its strong mint and menthol flavors, could be used effectively in small doses, just to expand the spectrum of the aromas beyond the usual pine & citrus of hops, and also to juxtapose the roasty and bready flavors of malt.

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