Tap This: One of four key ingredients in beer, hops can complement or shine
Hops are an ingredient that any craft beer lover has heard discussed. Even the most casual of beer drinkers is at least familiar with the term. What exactly are they though? Where do they come from and what are they doing in beer?
IPA lovers flock to beers loaded with hops. They add a bittering quality that has become much sought after with many looking for the hoppiest of beers available. However, this was certainly not always the case.
Historically, bitter beers are more connected to English brewers than with German or Belgian beer makers. But these regions do have hops in their beers. Hops are one of the four basic ingredients in beer along with water, yeast and barley. While hops are not a necessity in beer those brewed without them are often sickly sweet and not very drinkable.
The main reason hops were used in beer throughout history was for balance. They added bitterness to keep beers from becoming overly sweet. While hops are now commonly connected to IPAs, they are used in some manner in all beers.
Hops are a very interesting ingredient and have been used far and wide outside of brewing as well. One main usage for hops that still exists today is as a natural sleep remedy. Hop pills are sold in many holistic stores and online. This also gives rise to a curious fact about hops. When consumed by men, they can act as a natural aphrodisiac, whereas, when consumed by women, they have a natural tendency to cause fatigue, which can lead to some frustrating evenings for couples!
The hop plant, or humulus lupulus, also comes from a fairly famous family lineage. The closest plant family is the cannabaceae family most famous for cannabis. This is often why some hops have an aroma that is described as dank and some can even smell of wet marijuana. However, hops neither contain THC nor do they have effects on the body similar to those caused by marijuana.
So how did the hop come to dominate the craft beer landscape? The long told story of IPAs was that when England colonized India, the British would send pale ales to troops stationed in the country. To make the beers last the long boat journey, brewers would add extra hops to the beers and the crates would be marked India Pale Ale. However, when researching for his book on IPAs, former Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele discovered that this may not be true.
It seemed that many of the beers were being brewed with higher hopping rates regardless, but they were nowhere near the hopping rates that exist in many of toady’s IPAs. That trend did not begin until America began brewing their version of pale ales.
Anchor’s Liberty Ale is credited by many to be the beer that kicked off the current American IPA craze. It was brewed with cascade hops that gave the beer a wonderful citrus twist with the bitterness. This created a very easy drinking beer that still offered more bitterness than many macro-brewed beers.
The push toward hoppier beer continued when Vinnie Cilurzo, current owner of Russian River Brewing Company, was brewing at The Blind Pig Brewery in CA. He brewed what is considered the first double IPA with Blind Pig, a beer still brewed by Russian River today. After this, the hop craze seemingly exploded.
As craft lovers began to grow accustomed to hoppier beers, they began to demand even hoppier ones. Brewers were more than happy to oblige and craft drinkers flocked. The trend continues to grow with new hops being crossbred and interesting new takes on the IPA developing. No matter how you feel about hoppier beers they are here to stay. So grab a cold one and drink up!
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.