So...finally have these things going...hopefully I'm using them correctly
Homebrew 101: Hoppedy Hop Hop Hops....
September 8, 2014
This particular post was inspired by recent events. I had been telling a co-worker who claims to be an aspiring beer nerd about the blog contest and the ingredients I will be procuring this weekend to make the winning brew. When mentioning that I will be using whole hop cones in my recipe, I was given the rebutting question of “but saison’s aren’t supposed to be bitter, won’t that make it all hoppy?” (quoted verbatim there folks…..) As disappointing as it was to hear this response, it was a firm reminder that hops have received a generalized reputation that is far from accurate. I think it’s time to have a good IPA and set a few things strait when it comes to these awesome little green flowers:
It’s not beer without hops, period:
While the level of flavor imparted by hops varies greatly across the spectrum of beer types, in order for beer to in fact be “beer” hops must be included in the wort’s ingredients. There are a few reasons for this stemming from both historical requirements and how hops impact the fermentation process. Most people are aware of the infamous German Purity Law, also known as Reinheitsgebot, that defined the ingredients of beer to be Hops water and malt (yeast was later included when it was discovered to be kind of important for the whole fermentation thing). Such vestiges of tradition remain strong within the brewing community and are often referenced by brewers looking to replicate classic old-world recipes.
As it relates to the bio-chem aspects of brewing, hops are important because they have an anti-bacterial quality that helps to keep the beer from being tainted by unwanted organism while still maintaining an inviting environment in the wort for the yeast. This is part of the reason the level of hops used in India Pale Ales is so much larger than those in other beer types, as it helped keep ales from spoiling in transit to and from the British Colonies (throwing all kinds of historical hoosafudge at you with this one…you’re welcome).
This isn’t to say that one can’t brew without using hops, however it does mean that you won’t be brewing “beer” as a result. Brews made using bittering/flavoring elements other than hops are known as Gruit (pronounced like fruit with a “G”). The history lesson on these types of libations shows things like Creeping Charlie, Heather, and Myrica Gale were used in place of hops in places like medieval England and Finland. Modern day examples of Gruit can be found from New Belgium, DogFish Head (in the form of Sah Tea and others) to name a few.
There is more than one kind of “Hoppy”
There are few things I find more frustrating than when someone uses the term “hoppy” as a generality to describe beer. While there are elements of hops that are consistent across the strains, different varieties of hops can produce wildly different flavors, and use of multiple hop types can create a truly complex profile in a brew. Just as the type and blend of grapes can impact to the flavor of a wine, the same level of consideration needs to be given to hops within a beer.
The common “bitter” element so often coupled with hops comes from alpha acids like Isohulomine that are released when hops are floated in the wort during the boil. The IBU ratings that I’m sure everyone has seen when ordering a pint in a taproom actually refer the ratio of Isohulomine to other components in beer, with one part per million translating to 1 IBU (wow, chemistry and history in one post, I better take the nerdiness down a notch). Certain varieties of hops have higher levels of these acids which can also change depending on the state of the hops when used (i.e. pellets, whole cones, etc.)
Other qualities of the hops also play key roles in the specific flavors they add to a beer. Strains like Northern Brewer, Nugget and Crystal have higher levels of Myrcene which is responsible for the floral and citrusy flavors often found in hoppy beers, while traditional European strains like Hallertau and Lublin impart“spiciness” as a result of the Hummulene found in these cones. Again, adding different types of hops ad different stages of the boil can result in combinations of flavors that will keep your pallet happy.
This post may have gotten a little bookish, but I hope it has at least made hops a little bit more respected if not palatable to those of you with an aversion to it. If you are someone who has been scared away form a good IPA or wet hopped creation, I encourage you to give these another try and see if you can pull the other flavors out from behind the bitterness. Speaking of which, I’m off to get another hoppy pint for myself. Cheers everyone!