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Cary, NC – Beer might just be the great Fourth of July beverage. Millions and millions of cans, bottles, glasses and cups will be consumed next Wednesday. But how to explain the difference in taste between a Budweiser and a Duvel Special Edition Triple? Just in time for Independence Day, here’s A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Hops.
I love the smell of lupulin in the morning. I’m a hophead.
I drink hoppy commercial craft beers and ales 75% of the time. I brew my own India Pale Ales. There’s hops growing in my Cary back yard. I sometimes buy hops – by the pound.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) grows on bines, from rhizomes. Bines are sturdy vines, that grow 20 or more feet high every year and die to the ground in the winter. Hop rhizomes look like thick roots and the hops bines sprout from its nodes. The hops used in brewing look like little pine cones, about the size of a thumb and are soft, yellow-green and covered with resin. And they smell amazing. To me. Not to everyone, so I have found.
Hops add flavor to beer and have the added benefit, that was exploited hundreds of years ago, of helping beer resist spoilage. The bitterness of hops is measured in Alpha units. The measurement of how hoppy a beer is, is measured in IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Conventional wisdom is that hops were first cultivated in Germany over 1000 years ago. Hops that are used in American craft brews and by home brewers are largely from England and Germany (often reverently called “noble hops”) and the United States. Notably, hop cultivation has become big business in the U.S. over the past couple decades in the Northwest.
My favorite varieties are indeed from the good ol’ USA.
There are two basic categories of hops in used by brewers. “Bittering hops” are added earlier in the kettle and are higher in bitterness (Alpha acids) . “Aroma hops” are often added to the kettle later in the brewing process and are lower in acidity. Sometimes beers are “dry-hopped”, meaning the hops are added to the unfermented, cooled beer wort right after the boil.
Different types of hops are added at different times during the brewing process to add complexity, bitterness, flavor and aroma.
Some people taste wine (and then SPIT IT OUT – LOL) and look wistfully into the air while describing the flavor and aroma and pontificate about grape varieties and vintages. You can do the same with beer, you know.
But try not to act like a tool.
To get you started here’s what my favorite hop varieties taste and smell like. To me. And some of the beers you may have tasted them in, thanks to Taste Your Beer.
Types of Hops
This July 4, here’s some beers you might want to try if you want to explore the glory of hops. I thought I would feature IPAs (India Pale Ales) since hops are front and center in this style.
One or more of the above are in my fridge at any given time and are good American hoppy beers. About 8 bucks a six pack for any of these.
Here’s a few more hoppy suggestions:
There ya have it. The end. The bitter end.
By the way, got any questions or comments about hops or home brewing or beer or life in general? Drop me a line!
Beer glass photo by Shadi Samawi