Beer hops are a vital ingredient for brewing beer. Beer hops are one of the main 4 ingredients for making beer or ales: water, barley malt, hops and yeast – (other than yeast, were the only allowed ingredients of the original beer law Reinheitsgebot – since replaced by the provisional German Beer Law). When the Reinheitsgebot was written, they were unaware of yeast; it (yeast) was added as beer from a previous batch or occurred naturally. Anything else added to the beer or ale making process is referred to as an adjunct.
The purpose of hops in the making of beer or ale is:
- Bitterness – to overcome the malted barley sweetness
- Flavor – imparting its own flavor as well as bittering
- Preservative – hops have an anti-bacterial quality and extends shelf life
- Aroma – hop oils impart a pleasant aroma and flavor
- Clarity – removes some unwanted proteins for a clearer beer or ale
- Head retention – contributes to a foamy “head” that stays around
The beer hop is actually the flower of the hop vine referred to as bine. Hop bines use stiff hairlike follicles and twirling or wrapping around structures (fences, twine…) to climb where a vine has shoots that wrap around structures to support the vine. What gives the hop flower its qualities are hop oils produced from the lupulin glands of the flower and alpha acid resins. The alpha acid resins of the hop contribute the bittering effect and the oils contribute flavor and aroma. Different hop varieties have different bittering strengths, flavors and aromas. They fall into two categories: bittering and aroma – although both have a lesser amount of the other category.
The bittering of the beer hop is measured in IBU – International Bitterness Units (a standardized measurement of bittering – measuring the alpha acid content). The higher the IBU rating, the more bitter the hop. The hops used for bittering are added early in the boiling of the wort (pre-fermented beer – no alcohol exists until after fermentation).
The aroma hops are added in the last 5 minutes of boiling of the wort so as not to boil off the aromatic oils. Aroma hops are sometimes added to the beer or ale in the fermenter in a technique called dry hopping to add hop flavor and aroma.
The hops have nothing to do with the amount of alcohol in a beer or ale, that is a function of the malted barley and yeast (and any other sugars added to the wort). A quality beer or ale has a “nose” to it – the aroma. Home brewing and craft brewing have expanded upon the possibilities of flavors and aromas.
Growing hops is possible in just about any of the United States of America. Basically between 30 – 50 degree latitude (northern and southern hemispheres). There has been a hop shortage the last couple of years due to demand, weather conditions and some disease. Hops are simple to grow from hop rhizomes, so if you are a home brewer, try growing hops yourself. Grow beer hops and be self sufficient! Any farmers looking for a cash crop – think beer hops. The best article I have come across explaining the hop shortage is here.