Intro To Hops
Hops are one of the four key ingredients that make a beer. While this isn’t new information for most people, the majority of people out there don’t know too much about hops past this. Hops are not only the bittering agent in beer, but above this they add flavor, aroma, and antibacterial qualities to beer. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of hops and what some of the most common terms you will come across mean.
Hop Delivery Methods
Hops are a flower-like bud that grows on a bine. A bine is similar to a vine, but instead of using roots to grow, a bine uses hair-like structures to hang on. Hops are actually members of the hemp family, but instead of giving the…effects…of some of that family’s other members, hops have a resiny essential oil in them that is extremely bitter. There are an enormous variety of hops out there, and a few key ways they are used. When brewing, hops come in a few delivery types. Depending on the beer being made and how they need to be stored, these hop types are are for specific purposes.
The first main variety of hops is whole leaf. This is just what the name says, with the entire hop bud used for brewing. Whole leaf hops are hard to store, go bad quickly, and difficult to transport. Because of all these reasons, whole leaf hops are not used often, and when they are used, it’s generally following the harvest. If you’re home brewing, you will rarely if ever use these. For taste and aroma, however, fresh hops are really the best.
Pellet hops are the most common type used when both brewing on a large scale and home brewing. Hops are dried, powdered, and pressed into pellet form, allowing them to be transported easier, be stored longer, and store for a longer time. These are one of the best ways to use hops, which is why if you’re a home brewer, this might be the only type you use. Hop pellets are 20%-30% stronger by weight that whole leaf, making them more cost-effective. Lastly, 1 pound of hop cones yields 10 to 12 ounces of pellets.
Hop plugs are similar to pellets, but with plugs, whole leaf hops are compressed into plugs. Plugs generally give a better flavor and aroma than the same type of hop in pellet form. While this is good, plugs have a smaller surface area than pellets, which means more plugs are needed than with pellets to get the same bitterness.
Hop extracts are basically what they sound like. They are used mostly for convenience and are rarely used in home brewing. These are downed upon because of the chemicals used in the extraction process, but in large breweries they can be used mostly because of their ability to be stored and the considerable decrease in storage space they allow.
Just The Facts, M’aam.
Now that you know the basics of the different delivery methods, let’s look at some of the terms used when brewing. Dry hop? Wet Hop? Triple dry aged aroma hopped? There’s more than enough terms out there to describe hops in your beer. Here’s a few that are the most common and some basic information on each.
Dry hopping is when hops are added to your beer during fermentation or to the keg after fermentation is complete. Dry hopping gives the aroma an extra kick and allows for some of the more fragile aromas to come through. Dry hops soak in the beer for anywhere from several days to several weeks.
Even though this sounds similar to dry hopping, only wetter, this refers to something totally different. Wet hopping a beer refers to using fresh hops when brewing a beer. The hops are added at the same time they normally would be, but the whole leaf fresh hops are used in place of pellets or plugs.
Aroma vs. Bittering
When brewing at home, you will generally have hops dedicated to aroma and some meant for bittering. These really mean what they say. Aroma hops are the hops a recipe uses for adding hoppy aroma to a beer, while bittering hops are used to give a good hoppy taste to a beer. Bittering hops are added early in the boil, and aroma hops are generally added within the last 5-10 minutes of the boil. The closer to the end of the boil you add hops, the more aroma you will get.
Types Of Hops
This is where hops get complex. There are an enormous variety of hops in the market. Each type of hop gives a totally unique flavor and aroma. Depending on where a hop is grown, and it’s makeup, you will get flavors and aromas ranging from citrus to soapy to earthy. Most people downplay the importance hops have for taste in a beer. Hops can totally give a unique character to a beer, or make it a muddled mess. There are way too many varieties of hops to list in this introductory post, but you can view most of them here.
The key measureables in hops are bitterness units, Alpha Acids, and Beta Acids. The balance of alpha and beta acids give the unique hop character to each beer. These acid levels must be used correctly to give beer it’s correct profile. This is where hops move beyond just bitterness and allow hops to help give a beer it’s unique taste and aroma.
There you have it. Those are the basics of hops. Hopefully you now know a little but more about hops and can translate all the code you see on bottles of beer. Each one of the topics above are a post in of themselves, but this post should serve to help you get the basics.
Thanks for reading, and until next time,