Beer Byte – July 16

Hops Lightning Round – Beer’s Misunderstood Ingredient

What are hops? – they are the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant, which needs a lot of sun and a moist environment to thrive. That’s why most American hops come from the Pacific Northwest

Why add them to beer? – hops add flavor (often balancing out the sweetness of the malts) to a beer, but most of all they stabilize it! Back in ye olde days, beer was made from a herb mix and was very prone to spoiling. Hops actually helped preserve it, plus were much cheaper then those herbal concoctions. Fun Fact: Beer made without hops is called a gruit. Not too many people make them anymore but I’m now determined to track one down someday!

All of these beers have hops!

Hops are only in “hoppy” beers, right? – NO. All beers have hops. Along with water, yeast, and malt, they make up the four main ingredients of beer. If someone tells you they don’t like hops, I give you permission to set them straight!

When are hops added? – Hops are generally separated into two main categories: bittering and aromatic. Bittering hops are added earlier in the beer making process but lose much of their flavor during the boiling. Aromatic hops are added later in the process and are more what we think of as “hoppy”. And of course, it can get a lot more complicated with things like dry-hopping, wet- hopping, hopback…honestly I think we’ll save all that for another time!

Can I grow hops? – It depends. Although you might see a small hop plant at your local brewery, the best environments for growing hops are temperate and moist. Today about 75% of the American hop market is grown in the Yakima Valley area of Washington State.

Hop Farm in Washington State (Source: Creative Commons)

Hoppy and bitter are the same thing right? – Yes and No. So hops do add bitterness which helps to balance the sweetness of the malts. But bitterness in beer can also come from other things like fruit or herbs (think spruce tips). And remember, all beers have hops but not every beer is bitter! I think people think this because IPAs and hop-forward styles have just flooded the market. If you don’t like bitterness, try a malty beer like an Oktoberfest, or a nice thick stout. Or if its summer go for a refreshing Gose! There’s plenty of beers out there without the bitterness!

But wait, why do hops in a brewery look like rabbit food? – okay yes, this was my first thought when I saw pelletized hops for the first time. I wasn’t entirely convinced the brewer hadn’t just gone to Petsmart. In order to preserve the fresh hops, they are dried, ground up and made into pellets. This is the most common form of hops on the commercial market.

Pelletized vs fresh hops (Source: Creative Commons)

Thanks for reading all about hops! It’s so fun learning more about my favorite beverage as I grow this blog. Got any fun beer facts for me? Or resources I’ve got to check out? Let me know!