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.