What are hops?
I love beer. There is no question about that. When I am passionate about something I tend to immerse myself in whatever it may be. While it would not be advisable to physically immerse myself in beer, I can do it academically. I’ve decided I’d like to learn more about what goes into our favorite beverage. First up on my list is to get an understanding of hops. This may not be the most logical place to start but it is something I’ve often been curious about. Hops grow on vines and are cone shaped seed cones or strobiles. One interesting fact is that hops are long lost cousins of cannabis. No THC here though so you’ll still pass that drug test at the office – assuming you don’t have a breakfast beer before work.
What do hops add?
There are three things that hops add to your brew. When added early in the brewing process hops add bitterness to the beer. I’ve never been one to care for heavy bitterness but I can’t hold it against the hops since the alternative is an ultra sweet and dull beer. The bitterness comes from the release of alpha acids. Adding hops late in the brewing process gives the beer that amazing hop aroma. There are so many different types of hops that these aromas are varied – but they add so much depth and character to the beer. Lastly, hops act as a preservative to keep your brew tasting great longer.
Types of hops
There are so many different types of hops it would be incredibly boring for me to go through all of them. What I will do is touch on some of the most popular hops used by breweries in our area.
The first variety I’ve have seen most prevalent with local brewers is Centennial. This hop is a hybrid of several varieties. Some hops are used specifically for bittering and some are more suited to adding aroma. Centennial is unique in that it is dual purpose and can be used both for bittering and aroma. These hops have a hint of citrus and stronger floral note. It is considered to be a relatively new variety of hop. Bred it 1974 it was not released until 1990. If you’d like to know more about this particular hop or any of its predecessors check out a full list at Beer Advocate.
First off, what a fun name to say. This hop is a notable variety from the Bavarian region of Germany. Primarily used for its spicy aroma, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh is used in many German lagers. You can find this along with the Czech Saaz showcased in Piemont Brewery & Kitchen’s Equinox German Pilsner.
Saaz comes from the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. This is one of the most well known hop varieties utilized in European Lagers and Bohemian Pilsners. They are grown in the U.S. and Belgium as well, but natural to Czechoslovakia. Saaz provides an herbal aroma and complements Hallertauer Mittelfrüh . Another benefit of Saaz is that it extends the shelf life of your favorite brew by slowing the oxidation process. Now if you’re like me the minute you saw these originate from Bohemia you immediately knew there must be a Bohemian Rhapsody beer. And you were right – Queen Bohemian Rhapsody brewed in the Czech Republic.
Amarillo is a hop originating right here in the good old U.S. of A. A dual purpose hop used for both aroma and bittering. The citrus aroma and flavor tend to have hints of orange or grapefruit. Piedmont Brewery uses these along with Azacca and Mosaic to dry hope their Sunshine Daydream IPA. I can’t hear the word Amarillo without thinking “Amarillo by Morning” by the great George Strait – and yes there is an Amarillo by Morning beer!
Mosaic is a very new type of hop that was developed and bred by Select Botanicals Group. Researching exactly what this adds to the beer has been interesting. Mosaic is a very complex animal. Some mention taste and aroma of mango or tropical fruits while others used terms like grassy, pine, earthy, etc. The descriptions really seem to run the gambit but there is no denying the popularity of Mosaic. Our own local Piedmont Brewery uses this in the dry hopping process in their Sunshine Daydream IPA. No music pun on this one but if you have one I’d love to hear it!
Want to learn more?
As with anything there is much more to learn about the complex world of hops. If you happen to have a short attention span like me the amount of information can be overwhelming. My recommendation is to try new beers and see what you like. If it is something that suits your fancy ask what types of hops are used. Most brewers are more than happy to share this information. Then head over to Beer Legends and or Beer Advocate and see what information they have. Or you know, just enjoy your beer!