Beer effectively has 4 ingredients, but actually only 3 of them are essential in the brewing process; water, malt and yeast. But on their own these 3 ingredients are very dull and just create a rather sickly, sugary liquid. The 4th ingredient that we brewers use to create flavour, aroma and bitterness is, of course, hops!
Just gonna do my usual geek out here for a bit, so bear with me… Hops are the flowers of the plant Humulus Lupulus. These plants are perennial (dying back and re-growing each year) and can generally remain productive for 10-20 years. With a little help from their farmers they can grow up to 5 metres high and they send their roots down to a depth of up to 3.5 metres. Big.
Traditionally, the plants are tied or trained up a string in the Spring. They reach the top of the string by July and begin to flower, and cones develop, around that same time. The hop cones consist of layers of soft tissue petals where lupulin glands form and they look like large yellow pollen grains.
Each lupulin gland contains oil resins which confer bitterness, preservative properties as well as aroma and flavour. It is the alpha acids in the lupulin that imparts the bitterness in beer. Subtle differences are evident in the cones of different hop varieties, which individually contribute to the flavouring of the beer.
Hop production is concentrated in moist temperate climates. Hop plants prefer the same soils as potatoes and the leading potato-growing states in the United States are also major hop-producing areas. The United States and Germany lead the way comfortably in terms of volumes of hop production, but other important centres include the Czech Republic, China, Poland, Slovenia, UK and Australia. To put that into context, the US produced 44,000 tonnes of hops in 2017*, the UK produced 1,400 tonnes (*thanks Wikipedia!).
Geek out over! We all learnt something though, didn’t we.
So how do we decide which hops to use and how to use them??
Hops are traditionally added to the wurt during the boil stage of the brewing process. The earlier in the boil stage you add them, the more bitterness you extract from the hop. Adding later during the boil stage, you extract less bitterness and more aroma and flavour is added to the beer.
They are commonly added in either pellet or leaf form. The majority of the hops we use are in pellet form as they have the most concentrated levels of acids. However, for dry hopping (will come to this later), where you focused on aroma and flavour, we might use loose leaf hops.
At Friendship Adventure we generally use American hops as we think they are the nicest and also the most readily available (with some notable exceptions because some are a little too God damn popular!). We have, however, also recently started experimenting some recipes with Slovenian hops, which are also pretty darn tasty.
Some hops make better bittering hops, generally the ones with high levels of both alpha and beta acids, such as Centennial, Chinook or Columbus. Some hops make for better aroma hops, generally have lower levels of acids, and therefore contribute more flavour and aroma, such as Amarillo or Citra (we bloody love this one, everybody does…). After that it’s down to personal preference, recipe testing and deciding which combination of hops, and when to add to them to the boil, works best for your taste!
A lot of breweries share on their beer cans which hops they use, as well as which malt, but won’t reveal quantities, combinations or when they add each hop to the brew.
And then of course, we have dry hopping! Dry hopping is when you basically throw in a load of leafy hops into the beer while it’s fermenting (either primary or secondary stage, or both!). This can give your beer a floral hop essence and an intense flavour that is desirable in “hoppy” beer styles like pale ales and IPAs. Some commercial beers that are dry-hopped include Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, Young’s Special Ale and Sam Adams Pale Ale. So if you don’t like “hoppy” beers, then I suggest you avoid anything that says it's been dry hopped. However, if you love “hoppy” beers like me, keep an eye out for DDHPs; Double Dry Hopped Pales. Oosh.
That’s it from me folks. Hopefully the next time you’re sipping a delicious, florally hopped Stowaway, you can appreciate the thought, love and hops that have gone into it.