Hops, Hops Plant, and Beer Hops
July 26, 2014 by
Understanding How Hops are used in
Home Brewing: Beer Hops
So what's all this talk about
beer hops? I
realize hops are used in beer, but where? What
functions do hops play in the flavors or smells of a typical beer? Can the
hops plant really grow to 25 feet? Can I grow my
own hops for use in my home brewed beer? What is a
These are some of the first questions I
asked when I started learning more about hops. I
wanted to know everything there is to know about the
mysterious hops plant. The best way I know how
to do that? Start
growing hops. I brewed beer at home years ago.
But, these past two years have been the most serious parts
of my home brewing "career". So yes, some do question
why I jumped right into growing my own hops so early in my
quest for the best beer I can brew.
In just a few short months, my knowledge
has grown from systematically tossing the provided hop
pellets into my brew at the allocated times, to a small
garden of 24 plants consisting of 10 varieties of hops.
I have truly discovered the basics of hops in that short time. Though I am by no means a hops
expert, I can offer you a look at the commonly
used hops, and the aromas and flavors they apply to beer.
Hops are seed cones (strobiles) of the
humulus lupulus, or hops plant. As you know,
hops are used primarily in the beer brewing process.
They impart certain flavors and aromas in the beer, mostly
bitter in flavor. Only the female hops plant produces
the seed cone (flower). Hops also provide a certain
level of anti-bacterial characteristics and preservation
elements in beer - something the English discovered in
keeping their beer fresh en-route to colonists in India 300
years ago. This is where the term "India Pale Ale" or
Hops needs a certain environment in which to
grow, preferably in rich flood plains.
Though the first time hops were used in bittering beer goes back 1,500 years, it wasn't until the
eleventh century that the hops were tossed in the brew for
the purpose of adding additional flavors to the beer.
Prior to that time, generally any herb or flower was
In addition to providing a certain level
of bitterness and aromas, one of the chief goals of hops is
to balance the sweet, malty beer.
There are two types of acids in the hop
resins: alpha and beta. Alpha acids provide the
bittering and antibiotic properties of the beer. They
are boiled for an hour to an hour and half so as to
completely isomerize the bittering agents. Beta acids
provide the aromas and are added near the end of the boil,
so as to prevent their aromatic compounds from evaporating
during the boil. These aroma hops are sometimes added
after the wort has cooled and even during fermentation.
This is a practice known as "dry-hopping", and really gives
off pleasant aromas in the finished beer.
What flavors or aromas can be found in
hops? Piney, citrus, lemon, grapefruit, floral,
grassy, spicy, and earthy are all desirable in beer, and
come from the incredible hops plant. There are several
dozen types of beer hops.
It's the European varieties that are
called "noble" hops. They are typically low in
bitterness and high in aromas. Included are hops from
European regions such as Saaz, Tettnanger, Hallertau, and
Spalt. Noble hops are used primarily in Oktoberfest,
Pilsener, and Dunkel lagers. Look for Goldings, East
Kent Goldings, and Fuggle noble varieties in England.
hops plant is typically trained to grow up a string
to heights of 20 to 25 feet - and they do just that!
This plant grows faster than most bean plants. The
hops plant is from China, originally. It spread around
the world in both directions, with the first proven hop
field growing in the Hallertau area of today's Germany, back
in the year 736. It wasn't for another 350 years
before the hops were being used in beer, however.
The hops plant were being imported from
Holland's old country into Britain by the 13th century.
And, it was the superstitious Englanders who pronounced the
wickedness of the hops plant. Accordingly, in
1519 hops were condemned in the country.
Five years later, hops were being grown in
the Southern part of England, near Kent, thanks to the
Dutch. This is where we get all the Dutch words
concerning hops (eest huis, schop, scuppet, etc.)
Appropriately, it was the Dutch who brought the hops plant
to America, in the 1630s, where farmers grew the plant for
brewing, probably on Statan Island and Manhattan.
Today, Germany leads the world in the
production of hops, followed closely by the United States.
China and Czech Republic produce about half as much hops as
the U.S. Other countries who grow the hops plant
include Poland, Slovenia, North Korea, UK, Albania,
Australia, and New Zealand.
After harvesting, hops are dried in an "oast
house". This is basically a kiln, consisting of
several levels in which the hops are spread upon. A
wood-fired kiln is situated on the lower level. The
heat rises through the perforated floors where the hops are
spread, drying them. They are then moved outside for
cooling, and then bagged for a trip to the brewery...