Beer, the glorious nectar that can be produced with only four ingredients: yeast, malt, water, and hops; combined they make the tasty brews that we all know and love. All of the ingredients play their part, but hops are the most recent addition to the brewing process, and the little cones have proven themselves to give a wide range of benefits to our finished product. every beer recipe calls for hops, and they are one of the only ingredients that, if not added, could change the name of your brew to something other than beer: barleywine, gruit, etc. Like the other ingredients, there are many varieties of hops that offer us specific flavors, aromas, and bitterness levels to help us place our tasty brews into a particular flavor profile.
Hops have only been used as a staple ingredient in the brewing process since about 800 A.D., and they weren’t commercially cultivated until the 12th century. This seems like a long time but beer has been being brewed since the beginning of civilization, and is credited with starting civilization as we know it. Before hops were used there were a number of herbs and spices that were added to the wort to balance the sweetness and change the flavor profile. When hops began to be used regularly in the brewing process, the brewers noticed that the beer wouldn’t rot as fast because of the antimicrobial nature of the hops. Thus hops became a staple ingredient in all things considered beer.
Right Hop Right Place
Picking the hop that will give you exactly the flavor, aroma, and bitterness you desire can seem daunting not only because of the huge number of hop varieties, but also because of all of the information that is given to us about our hops. Fortunately there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of resources out there that can give us everything from which style of brews a hop works best for to how that hop will taste and what aromas it will gives. When adding hops to the beginning of our boil, they are going to give us the bitterness that we need to balance out the sweetness. Any variety can be used at this stage, however there are certain hops that have been specifically bred to be better bittering hops and they may not be good for any other boil time. The same is true for flavor and aroma hops. Selecting the correct hops for the job can be as simple as following the recipe or even just looking at a generic list to see which hops do what and experimenting. After all, it is home brew. Experimentation is the name of the game. If you are following your recipe and your local home brew shop doesn’t have a hop variety you are looking for, you are not out of luck. Because all of the hops correspond to a few “noble” varieties, it is a safe bet that you can find a substitute hop that will give you a similar profile to what you are looking for. This is not always the case because of the unique flavors of some varieties, but for the most part you can find something similar by looking online or in a hop book, or asking your local homebrew shop manager.
Hops, Hops and More Hops
Unless it is harvest season, hops are available only in dried form. This allows the hops to keep longer for year-round brewing. Hops don’t always come to us in their whole form. Sometimes they are pulverized and turned into pellets. The pellets look like rabbit food and take up less storage space and boil kettle space but can be a pain to deal with on our smaller systems because the hop matter is so tiny. When using pellets, putting them in bags can help to reduce the amount of sludge you transfer into your fermenters. The other form hops may come in is the actual oil extracted from the cones. This hop oil is best used for bittering. You don’t have to use very much to achieve the IBU (bittering units) that you are looking for, and because of this you aren’t losing a bunch of wort to absorption by your bittering addition.
Whatever beer you are brewing it wouldn’t be beer without that tasty little green flower. With all of the different choices, brewing one of our fine-tuned brews and changing up the hop profile can be a fun way to learn and experiment. The hop flower can be the easiest ingredient to change and tweak in our recipes to help us produce our award-winning homebrews.
Download the Recipes:
Fiery Wench (AG)
Fiery Wench (Extract)