Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hops

Tasty Beauty

There are those who love the piney, spicy character hops lend to a great IPA, and there are those who would rather be as far away as possible from these little beauties. No matter your taste preference for the herbaceous clusters of the Humulus Lupulus, knowledge is always power!

Hops were cultivated around the 8th/9th century throughout Europe, but the first documented use of hops in beer wasn’t until the 11th century. Before hops, brewers often used dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound, ground ivy, and heather as bittering agents for their beers (which was safer to drink than water back then since beer had to be boiled, killing the bacteria living in the untouched water). Today Germany is the #1 country for hop cultivation with  34,438 tons a year, followed by the U.S. with 23,494 tons a year (followed by China & Czech Republic).

Fun Fact: It is rumored that Henry VIII tried to outlaw the use of hops in the late 14th Century in England, which is untrue. During this time there were attempts to keep a division of Ale (an unhopped, malted cereal drink made in England) and Beer (a hopped, malted cereal drink brought into England by immigrants). To keep this distinction, ale was forbidden from using hops, but beer could hop to their hearts content.

A few different types of hops “at a glance”:

  • Amarillo hops comes from Washington state. The aroma is described as flowery, spicy and citrus-like with a distinct orange bouquet. Beers with Amarillo Hops: 3 Floyds Gumballhead, Dogfish Head 60 Min IPA, Magic Hat’s Circus Boy, New Belgium Mighty Arrow
  • Cascade hops, released in Oregon in 1972, are the most widely used hops by craft breweries in the USA. The notes are pleasant and flowery with grapefruit. Beers with Cascade hops: Anchor Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Harpoon IPA
  • Saaz hops accounted for more than 2/3 of total 2009 hop production in the Czech Republic. They are very mild, earthy, herbal and spicy. Beers with Saaz hops: Pilsner Urquell, Bell’s Oberon, Hansa Pilsener, Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Citra hops are a relatively new breed with fruity/tropical notes such as pineapple and papaya.
  • Nelson Sauvin hops come from New Zealand. Nelson refers to the region is it from, and Sauvin is shorthand for Sauvignon Blanc…that’s right, the grape! This hope has notes of lychee and mango
  • Centennial hops came about from a 16-year labor of love starting in 1974. These are deliciously floral with dry bitterness. Beers with Centennial hops: Bell’s 2 Hearted, Founder’s Centennial IPA, Stone Ruination IPA.
  • Simcoe hop was released in 2000 by Washington State’s Select Botanicals Group, it is known to offer both bitterness and aroma into beer (piney and woodsy with a bit of citrus). Beers with Simcoe hops: Kuhnhenn Simcoe Silly Ale, New Belgium Ranger IPA

Hops for your Health! Humulene (one of the essential oils made in hops) has been found to produce anti-inflammatory effects. Hops are also antimicrobial, which makes then useful for making natural deodorant (try this experiment at home, we won’t help you with that…).

What makes the hop bitter? It’s called Alpha acid. Want it bitter? Try beers that utilize these types of hops in their brews with high acid %: Columbus 14-18%, Summit 17-19%, Apollo 20-21%

But as a caution to hop lovers, if anyone at a brewery offers you a hop pellet (whole hops that have been ground and pressed into a pellet-shape) DO NOT ACCEPT! No matter your piney love, it will not overcome the intense flavor explosion that is about to attack your sinuses, mouth, and throat.

But if it’s not you, it’s hilarious to watch

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

2012 Trend Alert: Sour Beers in the Mitten State

Like sour beers? Well apparently you’ll be among the trendy ones in the upcoming new year as Sour Beers start topping more and more “2012 trend” lists

Sour Beers are the new Slider

So what is a sour beer anyways? Well, besides having a VERY strong flavor profile, it’s rooted in an old traditional brewing method of spontaneous wild yeast strains and natural bacteria to ferment the beer (if you leave the mash out in the open air, natural bacterias will find their way in, starting the fermentation process naturally and spontaneously), rather than manually adding a specific strain of yeast. This process has been used in many countries for hundreds of years, but just recently has become popular in the American Craft movement. What is difficult for those brewing in the U.S. is the lack of wild yeast floating in the air, so they are left to test out different strains of yeast (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, or Pediococcus), bacteria, and/or aging beers in oak wine barrels. This method can also be very unpredictable, and takes months to ferment (and sometimes years to mature)

Of Sours Beers, the Huffingtion Post says of 2012:

The rise of craft beers is now firmly entrenched enough that Americans understand that beer should taste like things other than diluted, moldy whiskey-Cokes. Indeed, stiff IPAs and creamy Belgian-style whites alike have gotten a lift as Americans have shifted their preferences towards small brewers. The time, then, may be right for a truly strange mode of beer: sour ales and lambics. Though unfamiliar to most U.S. palates, they’re popular in Belgium and among American craft brewers themselves — so they may soon gain broader recognition.

Well, living in this great beer state of Michigan, you must all be thinking the same thing: We must have some GREAT sour beers. And you know what? We do.

A few Michigan Sours to try out (if anyone asks, you were drinking them before it was “cool”)

Arbor Brewing : Ann Arbor, MI

  • Sodibo (barrel-aged sour blonde, 6% abv, available annually in March. They take their spiced Belgian-style Blonde and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak casks for 6 months, then bottle condition it for a minimum of 2 months)
  • Flamboyant Wild Red (barrel-aged Flanders’s red, 9.3% abv, available annually in December. They take their Jackhammer Olde Ale and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak casks for 6 months, then bottle condition it for a minimum of 2 months)
  • Framboozled (barrel-aged Sour Brown, 7.7% abv, available annually in June. They take a slightly boozy version of their Strawberry Blonde (7.25% abv) brewed with orange peel, coriander, and strawberries and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak barrels for at least 9 months, re-ferment it with whole raspberries, then bottle-condition)
  • Velvet Hammer (barrel-aged Sour Brown, 8.5% abv, available annually in June. It is a Belgian Dubbel-style base beer aged in a gueuze-inoculated oak cask for a year, and then bottle conditioned. A new vintage is released the first Saturday in June on Velvet Hammer Day)

New Holland Brewery : Holland, MI

  • Envious (7.5% abv. Oak aged, utilizing Michigan Pears to produce a second fermentation)
  • Blue Sunday  (8.7% abv. This is their anniversary libation, heritage-blended from their library of barrel-soured beers. It also won the Silver Medal for Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour category at the 2011 Great American Beef Fest)

Bell’s Brewery : Kalamazoo, MI

  • The Wild One Ale (Every batch of Wild One begins as dozens of distinct batches fermented in wooden barrels, each with its own unique combination of wild yeasts & other microorganisms. After several months, the brewers then sample each of the barrels and blend to taste, selecting the desired flavor attributes from this array)

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales :  Dexter, MI

All Jolly Pumpkin beers go through a secondary fermentation with wild yeast in oak barrels, technically making them all “sour.” Here are some of their more popular beers:
  • Calabaza Blanca (Belgian Biere Blanc, 4.8% abv. Spiced with orange and coriander)
  • La Roja (brewed in the Flander’s tradition, 7.2% abv. Named “top 50 beers you must try” by GQ Magazine)

A few great articles on Sour Beer:


Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!