The kit comes in an attractive box package, about 6 by 11 by 2 inches, which contains 14 plastic "jars"—13 with hop pellets, 1 of coffee beans (the "aroma palate cleanser")—the Beer Appreciation Guide booklet and a Quick Start Guide. The inside lid of the box contains the Hop Cheat Sheet, which lists each of the varieties of hops in the jars along with a description and styles of beer they’re used in.
Using hop pellets is a good idea (with some caveats, which I’ll get to)—I had previously speculated on how they packaged the hops and whether they would be fresh or not. Pellets I hadn’t considered, but they make total sense for several reasons: portability, preservation, and economy. Each jar is labeled with the types of hops it contains, along with the alpha acid percentage and country of origin. More on those in a bit.
The Beer Appreciation Guide—indeed, along with this whole kit—is geared toward the beginner, someone who’s either new to beer or new to craft beer. On the back is a color chart, showing approximate colors of beer in the Standard Reference Method (SRM), matched up to the number on the scale. It ranges from 2 (pale yellow, a light lager) through 24 (dark brown, a porter).
The booklet is 47 pages in length, and contains the basics of beer: a brief history, introduction and backgrounds to hops, malt, and adjuncts, a bit about glassware, and the main part of the booklet itself, the beer tasting experience. It even includes the Meilgaard Beer Flavor Wheel (and the same in table format), which is a nice touch.
The booklet overall is well done; I was particularly impressed that there is a section on washing your glassware (soap = bad; detergent = maybe okay; hot water + baking soda if necessary = best).
On to the hops themselves. This is the meat of the kit, really; they’ve selected some of the most common U.S., English, and German hops, including Cascade, Chinook, Saaz, Goldings, Northern Brewer, and Perle. The intent is to try to match the hops with the beer you’re drinking: smell the beer, smell the hops, does it match?. ("Cleanse" in between with the coffee.) In this way you’ll not only learn to differentiate and identify between varieties of hops, but you’ll also be able to develop a nose, as it were, for the nuances in beer (and presumably enhance your appreciation).
I went through and "sampled" each of the hops, though not while drinking a beer. Here are my impressions, both pros and cons:
- The pellets retain the aroma of the hops decently;
- Aromas are true to the hops—i.e., there was no cross-hopping or mislabeling that I could tell (you never know when handling fairly uniform pellets);
- Freshness is a concern, especially with repeated openings;
- While the hops have their characteristic aromas, there is also the strong aroma of (as I think of it) slightly green hay—a strong, green, slightly musty aroma of alfalfa grass and clover.
This last is a problem, and it’s one that’s rather endemic to hop pellets (as opposed to whole hop flowers). The process that dries them out and compresses them into pellets is not unlike that for actually producing hay (as in, livestock feed; I’m from rural Oregon, so it’s a process I’m familiar with). So while when used in making beer, there’s no problem as the boiling process breaks up the pellets and the alpha acid conversion proceeds normally—but when used in a manner such as this kit, there’s going to be the inevitable difference from whole hops.
There’s no way to do this kit using whole hops, of course. It’s a trade-off.
My final verdict: It’s a clever, innovative kit, targeting the beginner, and the Taste Your Beer folks have put some good thought into the design, the packaging, and the contents appropriately. This would make a good gift, if—and there’s an if, unfortunately—it wasn’t as costly as it is. They are selling the kit online for $49, and while I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that has gone into this—the investment, in other words, that needs to be recouped—I think the price point needs to be cut in half. I think the average person looking to buy this sort of thing, as a gift or for themselves, would be put off by this price.
But, if you have the money to spend, and you’re intrigued by the rest of my review, check it out.