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Archive January 2014

Hops:In a nutshell, why it’s in beer.

The first documented use of Hops(Humulus Lupulus) as a flavoring agent was in the 11th century in Europe.  However, Hop cultivation can be traced back to the 8th century in China.  Like gunpowder and pasta, Hop cultivation migrated west via missionaries and trade.  Hops were not the primary bittering agent used to flavor beer in those early days.  Gruit, which is a bitter mixture of herbs and spices, was most often used to bitter and flavor beer in lieu of Hops.  During the 13th century taxes were levied against Gruit so brewers began using Hops as a way to get around paying the taxes.  Thus the “modern” beer was born(hops, water, malt, and yeast).

Hops are a robust, almost invasive, climbing plant.  Seedless female Hops are the desirable type used in brewing today.  Hops prefer moist temperate climates like Germany, England, and the Pacific Northwest.  This also explains the importance of those places in beer culture.

Hops do several things for beer: they add flavor, yum, and act as a antibacterial stabilizing agent that aids in fermentation.  Hops have two primary acids in them: Alpha and Beta.  Alpha acids mitigate and inhibit the fermenting beer from bacterial infection while enhancing the bitterness of the beer.  Beta Acids do not effect the flavor as much as they enhance the aroma/nose of the beer.  That’s why Hop forward beers, if not a majority of beer styles, often have several varieties of Hops in them.  Some varieties of hops are high alpha and low beta or low alpha and high beta and everywhere in between.  Varying the quantities and varieties of Hops used in brewing ultimately effects the IBU’s(International Bitterness Units or bitterness), pallet, and aroma.  Brewing is just like cooking or baking.  Finding the harmony between ingredients is the true mastery of the trade craft.

In a nutshell, this is why Hops are in Beer.


-Jeff Smith