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Letter from the President:
Closer look into our 'Big QC Day'

By Chris White

Earlier this year, we concluded our first Big QC Day, which involved testing multiple beers from at least 10 percent of craft breweries. As we chronicled in the last issue of the Quarterly, the tests revealed interesting, sometimes surprising and certainly unprecedented data about craft beer.

I will speak at greater length about these tests at beer gatherings around the country over the next few months. The purpose of this column is to pass along some aspects that caught my attention, not to provide a thorough overview of all test results. Comprehensive results are available at our Website, www.whitelabs.com. My comments in the past about these tests have focused on bacteria and contamination issues, but in this column I will tell you about the hops and bitterness data that we gathered. I looked into this data as part of a talk I gave at the recent Hops and Brew School in which I was a guest. (Please turn to page 7 for more information on the hop school).

The great majority of beers entered in the testing program were hoppy beers, such as IPAs, pale ales and Double IPAs. Although there is much talk about the hoppy nature of today’s craft beers, the IBUs, or International Bittering Units, were lower than one might expect. While they ranged from as low as the teens to 99, in the case of one IPA, most were somewhere in the middle. I expected many samples to be over 100. What does this all mean? I think there are several explanations:

— These beers are becoming the signature styles not just for brewers on the West Coast, but also the Midwest and East.

— If these beers are not necessarily the best-selling beers at a particular brewery, they may be the favorite style for the brewer, who wants to learn as much as possible about them.

— The pale ales entered in our testing were generally lower in bitterness units than the American standard for the style, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This may run counter to the commonly held beliefs in the craft brewing world. Some people believe that the craft breweries are pushing the taste buds of Americans beyond this traditional pale ale, but our tests do not necessarily support this view.

Would it improve sales if breweries increased the hoppiness of their beers? This is an intriguing question, and one I am not sure I can adequately answer. On one hand you want to provide customers with the beers they are happy with, but on the other hand you want to encourage them to step up to more aggressive beers. If they become fans of your hoppy beers, they will probably enjoy and appreciate almost any beer that you make.

One intriguing aspect of our testing, at least in terms of hops, is that the hoppiest IPAs, appeared to come from the Northwest and California. IPAs entered from the West Coast were 20% higher in IBUs than beers from the Midwest and East Coast.

I must add that breweries in the East and Midwest are making very hoppy beers, in such large numbers that many in the craft brewing industry would be surprised. As I mentioned earlier, I reviewed these numbers in greater detail at Hopunion’s annual hop school in August, and I would be happy to discuss these results with brewers at future events.

Chris White is President of White Labs Inc. and is a chemistry and biochemistry lecturer at the University of California, San Diego. He has a Ph.D in biochemistry. Feel free to write him about this column.