Beer: What Is A Hop?

Hop GardenA hop is a plant, female hop flowers are used to flavor and stabilize a beer, but their also used for herbal medicines. We’re not concerned with medication, we’ll stick to the better topic: beer.

These hop plants are native to the northern hemisphere and they’re female buds are used for making beer? Huh? Yes, if “marijuana” or “cannabis” comes to mind their is a good reason for it, they’re both from the same plant family known as Cannabaceae. Now their is some irony.

A hop plant is a bine, a flexible climbing plant which has stiff downward facing hairs to use as stability instead of tendrils or suckers to hold themselves in place. In early spring a hop plant will sprout new shoots which will die back during the chilly autumn and with its roots falling into hibernation.

Hops are very quick when they want to be and will grow 1 to 3 inches a day during its peak growth period. By late June or July the hop will begin to bloom flowers, the beautiful fruit of your favorite beer.

As a matter of fact the primary use for a hop flower is beer! Sure, it has some herbal remedies but so does beer…right?

Do hops contribute to a bitter beer? It depends on when you add the hops into the beer while your creating it (boiling it actually). If you add hops to the beer at the start of the boil it will impart a larger degree of bitterness. If you add it near the end of the boil (final 10-minutes or so) you’ll get more flavor and less bitter, if you add them during the final 3-minutes or so you’ll end up with a hoppy aroma to the beer more so than flavor.

You can also do what is known as “dry hopping” where you place the hops into the beer after it has cooled and has begun to ferment. This will add more aroma and no real bitterness to the beer. All these timing differences help add variety to the beer itself and gives each recipe a little uniqueness.

Flavours and aromas are described appreciatively using terms which include “grassy”, “floral”, “citrus”, “spicy”, and “earthy”. Most of the common commercial lagers have fairly low hop influence, while true pilseners should have noticeable noble hop aroma and certain ales (particularly the highly-hopped style known as India Pale Ale, or IPA) can have high levels of bitterness. (wikipedia)

If you’ve had a strong smelling beer with little bitterness you may have experienced the Noble Hops, those cultivated in central Europe. These will have striking flavors and scents but won’t be too bitter to the taste. European style lagers, Dunkel and Pilsners are good examples of noble hop usage in a beer. Try a Pilsner Urquell for a taste of the noble hop.

Another hop we’ve talked about in the past is an English hop known as a Fuggle! And Eroica hop is typically used in a bitter wheat beer. English ales have a large series of great hops to give it a British feeling and I’m sure each country has it’s own “hoppy beer taste.”

So, next time you’ll drinking a beer sit back and discover its full wealth of flavors and bitters. Is the beer sweat and relaxing or strong with a bit? Maybe it just has a unique smell that reminds you of an old European trip.