There are no original hop puns, to be honest
… so we’ll move swiftly along.
It’s time for the second section of your Brew With Us ESSENTIALS journey – hops!
Hops! Hops! HOPS!
It should be obvious by now that we love hops. They’re definitely an ingredient you can shout about, with very complex flavours. There’s an extraordinary amount of different chemical compounds in each hop flower that creates a unique set of aromas and flavours. The near-endless variety means hops are continually exciting and interesting.
Modern brewers are using more hops than ever, and in more different ways, but hops have always been a vital part of beer. Well… almost always. People have made alcoholic drinks from malt for thousands of years. Malt is very sweet, even when yeast has consumed most of the simple sugars, so many of these drinks were flavoured with bitter and aromatic herbs, flowers, spices, and even bits of tree!
For the last few hundred years, hops have been the preferred flavouring for beer. Probably one of the main reasons for this is that hops help keep beer from spoiling. Hops have a natural antimicrobial effect that stops many harmful bacteria and bugs from growing. This is in part where the idea that beer was safer to drink than water comes from – though the water for the beer having been boiled is a big part of that story too, as is the alcohol, which inhibits a lot of other microbes.
Hop aromas and flavours can be very complex, and you’ll often see descriptions that rival fancy wines in the bizarre comparisons used!
To make life simpler, we can use six different groups of flavours to compare and describe hops more consistently. Naturally these cross over a bit but they are still helpful!
Zesty and zingy. Grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime all fall in this group.
Bright and full fruits. Think honeydew melon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya.
Deep to dark fruits. From strawberries and raspberries, through into stone fruits like blackcurrants and cherries.
Savoury and resinous. Green herbs, aniseed, eucalyptus, and cannabis (yes, really) are found here. When brewers say “dank” or “weedy”, we mean that last one… !
Delicate and lifted. Honeysuckle, rose, meadow flowers, with vanilla as an extreme.
Earthy and complex. Everything from fresh wood chips through to nutmeg and cinnamon.
Hops are grown across the world, and where they’re grown has a big impact on their character. Hops grown in warmer climates like California or Australia tend towards brighter and more citrusy aromas, whereas hops grown in Britain and Europe have more herbal and woody aromas. If you plant the same hop variety in different places, each will start taking on the character of that region!
In the coming chapters, you’ll learn about the distinctive characters of four major hop growing regions, as well as the signature varieties from each region. Along the way, you’ll discover techniques to get the best flavour from those hops and some fun experiments to develop your tasting abilities. Then we’ll look at the many ways hops are packaged, from green hops through pellets to advanced extracts.
The bitter end?
No, it’s just the beginning!
You’ll learn how to control bitterness, a vital part of your beer’s flavour – and we’ll brew some “hop tea”…