Hops are a big part of the iconic beer experience, but it’s all because hops are so terpene dense! Today, we’re covering classic beer terpenes and why terpene blends may be the next big thing in beer.
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Every beer lover knows the unmistakable hiss of a beer can being opened, the way condensation glistens as it drips down an ice-cold bottle or even the jolly layer of foam that floats atop a freshly poured glass. And the flavor, oh that delicious flavor.
The complexities involved in the flavors of beer are astounding, but like almost everything else, a large part of that flavor comes from terpenes.
Yes, even the most classically brewed beers include terpenes from the herbs and fruits used to flavor beer. The expanding field of terpene science, however, opens a lot of exciting doors for the brewing world. That’s why this week, we’re talking about why terpenes are the next big thing in beer!
The Ultimate Guide to Beer Terpenes
For our readers on the go, here’s the short and sweet of what we’re covering today:
- Beer already uses terpenes because of the terpene-dense plants used to create flavors.
- Unfortunately, the brewing process actually destroys much of the terpenes which means manufacturers have to use LOTS of plant material to make up for that loss.
- Luckily, brewers can cut costs and shorten brewing time by adding terpenes during a dry-hopping process.
- This also opens the door for new beer flavors that may completely change the face of the beer industry.
Why Should Breweries Care About Terpenes?
Even with new technology and modern equipment, the process of brewing beer is still very similar to what it was hundreds of years ago. First, you must select a grain that will go through a process known as malting (it’s dried, heated, and cracked). Then it takes a short bath to activate enzymes and release sugars. Afterward, the water from that bath (wort) is removed and boiled, and at this point spices and hops are added to infuse it with flavor. Then it’s drained, allowed to cool, and yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. The yeast eats the sugar, spits out alcohol, then bada-bing! You’ve got beer!
Ok, that was wildly simplified but you get the picture. Until now that’s been the best way to create the foamy, vibrant beverage we all love so much. But there’s one flaw…
All of the different plants used to create beer have terpenes. That’s what gives them their unique flavors and aromas, and what allows the brewing process to infuse the beer with flavor. Terpenes, however, are incredibly volatile and can easily be lost when exposed to high temperatures. Ironically, the process of brewing beer can actually strip the flavor from those plants.
To combat that loss of flavor, brewers are required to use massive amounts of ingredients. This means higher costs and longer brewing time. However, because we can isolate specific terpenes and create unique terpene blends, breweries can cut costs and shorten brewing time.
Yes, you read that right. You can spend less money, brew faster, and create more consistent flavors. We’ll give you a second so you can pick your jaw up off the floor.
Terpenes in Beer
If you’re familiar with terpene science, you’ll know that no two plants have the exact same blend of terpenes. Things like weather, soil quality, and even farming techniques can alter the terpene profile of a plant. That’s why when it comes to wine, not all grapes are created equal, and the same goes for the plants used to make beer.
Luckily, while the exact ratio of terpenes in a blend may vary from plant to plant, they usually have the same terpene isolates. So here are a few of the terpenes you’re likely to come across in more modern beers.
Myrcene is one of the most common terpenes and can be found in things like mangos, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and especially hops. Its flavor is minty yet balsam with vegetal, leafy notes.
This terpene is responsible for a lot of the spice-heavy, peppery notes in many beers. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that you’ll find Beta-Caryophyllene in black pepper, cloves, basil, cinnamon, and several other spices. If you’ve ever had a beer made from rye, you may have noticed an extra spicy, smokiness. That’s due, in part, to it’s higher beta-caryophyllene content.
Beers made from wheat tend to have more tartness than other grains (a hazy, tart hefeweizen may come to mind). That’s due, in part, to the limonene content of wheat. It doesn’t have a ton, but the small amount it has can be brightened up by adding other citrus ingredients, which is pretty common.
This terpene is known for its loud citrus flavor and can be found in lemons, limes, oranges, and other citrus fruits. It blends beautifully with the earthy bitterness of hops.
If you get your hands on this isolate and take a delicate whiff, you’ll still be smacked in the face with the scent of hops. That’s because alpha-caryophyllene is one of the dominant terpenes in hops. You can also find it in sage and ginseng, but it’s iconic bitter, woody overtones will first and foremost remind you of a nice hoppy beer.
This terpene can be found to some degree in barley, oats, and rye. However, you may notice it more strongly in seasonal holiday beers that play on pine flavors (hint: that’s where this terpene got its name). Alpha-Pinene has a distinctly woody, herbal scent and can be found in cone-bearing trees and herbs like rosemary.
While this terpene is more associated with subtle aromas like lavender and basil, it’s actually a key component of the overall hops experience. On its own, the linalool terpene is floral with a hint of mint. However, it’s also slightly citrusy. An article published by the Institute of Brewing and Beverage Technology even says, “An increased linalool content in beer results in a fruity-flowery and citrusy character and potentially increases the aging stability of the beer.”
We wouldn’t dream of talking about terpenes in beer without discussing the terpene-dense hops plant.
Hops are important to beer for several reasons. First, they contain acid which gives beer its bitterness. Second, hops is a particularly terpene-dense plant which is why hoppier beers usually have higher terpene levels.
The different varieties of hops each have their own unique characteristics that may alter the flavor, aroma, and even bitterness of a beer. The majority of hops varieties, however, have the same three dominant terpenes; myrcene, alpha-caryophyllene, and beta-pinene.
Because of the water insolubility of these terpenes, you probably won’t find them in high quantities within bottled or canned beers unless the terpenes were added during a dry-hopping process. This is the case for a number of more hops forward IPAs available today.
Another example of a beer containing a high quantity of terpenes is the SuperCritical ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company in California, which is specifically brewed to have a high-terpene content.
Want to Get Creative with Beer Terpenes?
While the knowledge of which terpene isolates you may find in your beer is interesting, the applications of that knowledge are even more fascinating. Yes, you can use terpenes to speed up and perfect the beer you’re already brewing. But what about brewing something completely new and unique.
This is where you’re going to need water-soluble blends. Our Water Soluble Blends are specifically created for brewers, beer and beverage infusion. We run them through an emulsifying process using ultrasonic homogenization. This allows terpenes to blend seamlessly instead of sitting on top like oil in water.
With these water-soluble terpene blends, you could create an entire series of beers that no one has ever tried before. Take our SFV OG Water-Soluble blend for example…
The dominant terpenes of this blend include myrcene, limonene, and beta-caryophyllene which give it a pungent earthy flavor reminiscent of both pine and the cannabis strain it mimics.
Not only would this blend complement a variety of beers (perhaps a full-bodied IPA), it would also infuse the beverage with the intense focusing effects of this blend. Now, you’re making a beer that’s not only unique in flavor, but it’s also a unique experience.
Let’s look at a more vibrant, energizing blend like Gelato.
With dominant terpenes like beta-caryophyllene, limonene, and myrcene, this blend was practically made for beer. This surprisingly creamy blend has notes of berry tang intertwined with a floral bouquet. Its subtle flavor would pair perfectly with a pale ale and these terpenes impart an uplifting effect.
Want one more? Alright, let’s try a classic blend.
This iconic blend has some surprisingly energetic effects. With a heavy dose of beta-caryophyllene, myrcene, and limonene, this blend imparts a burst of pure, unadulterated Strawberry goodness. It would complement a variety of beers, from lighter pale ales to more complex red ales.
Start Using Terpenes in Your Beers Today
We know that a lot of brewers are traditionalists, but innovation is what helps industries survive and thrive when the market is oversaturated. Plus, a small dry-hop addition creates more clarity in beer and larger quantities since the hop matter isn’t absorbing the beer and being filtered out. Basically, using terpenes allows you to brew beer more efficiently AND experiment with flavor profiles no one has ever seen before.
For those who want to get started today, we recommend our Keg Kit. It’s a 6 piece sample kit consisting of 5-gram samples of some of our favorite water-soluble terpene blends. We’ve also thrown in a 25 mL beaker to make your life a little easier too.
If you’re interested in partnering with us to brew your beer, contact us today and we can help you at every step of the process. Plus, don’t forget to follow us on social media for all the latest updates.