For those intimately involved with the hop industry, the most popular way to evaluate hop aroma is the tried-and-true “hand-rub and sniff” method. It’s certainly simple and utilitarian. Grab a sample of hops, rub vigorously and sniff the resulting warmed, mashed hops. There is no standardized method to the hand-rub, just techniques that have been passed down through the years by different brewing and hops organizations.
However, the hand-rub and sniff analysis has its limitations and drawbacks. For one, it’s messy—strewing hops every which way and caking hands with resin. (Granted, this doesn’t seem to bother most people who employ the method; in fact, it’s often seen as a rite of passage in the industry.) The bigger issue is consistency and sample autonomy—resin on the hands often creates a carryover of aroma from one sample to the next, especially when washing hands between samples is not possible and/or too time-consuming.
I’m certain the hand-rub will continue to have its place in the world, especially for quick evaluations associated with hop selection and general aroma descriptions. However, when it came to performing serious aroma evaluations with a trained descriptive panel, as we do at John I. Haas, we needed a method that provided better consistency than the hand-rub, and avoided the carryover effect when testing multiple samples.
So I looked at the different stages and objectives of the hand-rub which include:
It wasn’t a significant challenge to devise an alternative method to meet these objectives, while providing some standardization and neatness—but it has been effective. “The Kostelecky Method,” as it has become known in close circles here at Haas, utilizes a small, single-serve blender to achieve its results, and has helped our hop descriptive evaluations, especially with our work in hop breeding and new variety development. One additional benefit of the method is that it works well for pellets as well as for whole hops, since the hand-rub is insufficient for pellets. And it’s been nice to see a number of brewers implement the method in their hop quality programs.
To learn more about The Kostelecky Method, you can download the instructional PDF here. And let us know how it works for you!