Hops: What Are They And Why You Should Care?

Author: Nicola Carter  Date Posted:27 July 2020 

Hops: What Are They And Why You Should Care?

Brewing beer is really simple and all it takes is four ingredients: malt, water, yeast, and hops. Ever wondered why some beers taste more bitter than others? It’s because of the hops.


Hops — or specifically, the amino acids and essential oils they contain — help beer stay fresh and preserve its foamy beer head. Hops are also the reason for some of the beverage’s aroma and flavour. There’s some debate about just how much hops matter to beer, but they’re an important part of giving the beer an extra dimension of aroma, flavour, and bitterness.


Every beer you find at the store is made with hops. Because when it comes down to it, hops are a necessity for brewing beer. Without them, the resulting beverage is something called “gruit,” which is essentially beer fermented with ingredients like myrtle, juniper, or heather.


Although the popularity of the craft brewing industry might lead you to believe hops are a new trend in beer brewing, brewers have actually used them for centuries. As early as the first century AD, Ancient Egyptians used hops as a salad plant, but around the 1200s, Medieval Germans began adding hops to beer. Since then, for centuries, hops were used exclusively for preservation. With the invention of pasteurisation in the 1870s, brewers could rely less on hops to preserve their beer. But hops were good for more than just that. They brought in differences in flavour, and aroma for beer.


Are Hops That Crucial?

The short answer? Yes. Different varieties of hops include different quantities of amino acids and essential oils that can improve the beverage, whether by enhancing its flavour stability and providing freshness, giving it a better, foamier head, or preventing it from skunking. Depending on the type of beer you want to brew, you could dabble with using different hops in the brewing process.


For example, have you ever smelled a beer with a terrible aroma? Chances are, too much exposure to light affected the beverage and caused “skunking.” Because beer is sensitive to light, brewers often put it in coloured glass bottles to avoid skunking. As an added measure, they also include certain types of hops that prevent those unpleasant aroma compounds from occurring.


Generally speaking, there are two types of hops: bittering and aroma. Bittering hops contain more alpha acids, which are beneficial for brewing more beer with fewer hops. On the other hand, aroma hops have higher levels of essential oils, which give beer those “hoppy” aromas such as citrus, melon, pine, or resin. These oils help beer taste less bitter.


Do you hate bitter beer? If you add them too early in the brewing process, even a beer made with aroma hops will taste bitter. Aging hops also helps remove bitterness, since it gives the alpha acids time to evaporate.


But if you’re just looking for a less bitter beer the next time you’re at the store, just check the hop count on the label or the IBU (international bittering units), which will tell you the concentration of hops in that particular drink. The lower the IBU, the less bitter the beer!


Choosing The Best Hops For Your Home-Brew

If you’re interested in home-brewing your own beer, it’s important to choose your hops wisely. You have the option between whole-leaf, pellet, extract, and fresh (or wet) hops. The end result will have a unique flavour and aroma profile depending on which variety you select.


Whole-leaf hops have the highest aromatic characteristics out of any other type of hop. As a result, your beer will have a more diverse aroma. Since they are also easier to strain from the wort, or the liquid that contains the sugars that will eventually ferment into alcohol, the beverage will also have a higher alcohol content.


Pellet hops are the most common variety used in the craft brewing industry. Since they are also one of the most lightweight and compact types, pellet hops are easier to store and have a lower chance of spoiling. Because they are so compact, less hops are needed during the brewing process.


Hop extracts are simply the alpha acids and essential oils removed from the hop cones with heat and solvents and are used like regular hops. As a concentrated liquid, hop extracts are easy to store and last for a long time. They help reduce wort loss and don’t require as much quantity during the brewing process.


Fresh, or wet, hops give beer a stronger, more bitter flavour as well as make it more robust and aromatic. These hops are ideal if you prefer the taste of hops and want a stronger beverage. Fresh hops get their name because they are added to the brewing process almost immediately after they are harvested.


Even though hops have a multi-purpose role when it comes to beer, there’s still debate about just how important they really are to the drink. Depending on who you ask, hops are either the worst or the best part about beer. The majority of beer connoisseurs would beg to wonder if beer is really beer if it’s not brewed with hops. After all, without those little green plants, you’d miss out on the wide range of complex flavour profiles, aromas — and yes, even bitterness — that makes beer the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage.


Thinking about brewing your own beer? You’re going to need some hops for that! Check out our selection of hops, then learn everything you need to know about homebrew, including how to make your own fruit wine

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