Hop to it!
Posted on October 13 2020
By Steve Germain - Brewer, Tallboy & Moose.
These days there are a lot of hoppy beers floating around…from something that might taste a little bit “flowery” all the way to a beer that is thick, hazy and looks more like turbid soup stock than an ale. So what they heck are hops anyway and what’s all the fuss about hoppy beers?
What are hops?
Hops are a plant that grows all over the world. It’s a bine, rather than a vine, which means that it likes to climb but used tiny prickles and a twisting growth patter to climb. The part of the plant that is used in beer is the hop flower which typically looks like a leafy green cone, almost like a smaller leafy version of an artichoke. In the centre of the flower is a sticky yellow resin called lupulin, this is the good stuff that brewer are looking for to impart bitterness, flavour and aroma to their beer.
Just like there are many different varietals of grapes that impart unique qualities to wine. There are many different varietals of hops too. A lot of hop varietals tend to be grown in particular regions of the world as well. For example the largest growing regions are the North-West USA (Washington, Oregon, Idaho), the Hallertau region in Germany and then there are other well-known growing regions like the UK, Slovenia, New Zealand and Australia that are all known for unique varietals and unique flavours associated with those varietals. Australia is well known for a few popular hop varietals developed and grown by Hop Products Australia. Galaxy, Vic Secret, Ella and Enigma are all unique hops grown here and they all have a distinct flavour profile. Galaxy would be the most widely grown and arguably the most popular Australian hop. It is known for imparting a tropical passionfruit-like aroma and flavour in beer.
Flavour variety from hops
The variety of flavours that can come from hops is very broad: spicy, earthy, grassy, herbal, fruity, tropical, coconutty, woody, dank, resiny, sugary, savoury, minty…the flavours are really all over the spectrum and different hops, different combinations of hops and the way they’ve been used in the brewery can bring an almost endless combination of potential flavours. These flavours come from a variety of essential oils and flavonoids in the flower. Brewers boil, hot-steep and cold-steep hops to extract the flavour and aroma potential of the flower and pull it into the finished beer. If you want to explore what hops smell and taste like, I’d recommend buying a few different IPA’s. India Pale Ales are known for being a “mega hoppy” style. Essentially it’s a broad style of beer that requires excessive hopping.
A unique brewing process that is almost always used when making an IPA or a contemporary pale ale, is called dry-hopping. This is where the brewer adds hops, often in large quantities, into the fermenter during fermentation or after the beer has finished fermenting. The brewer will let the beer condition on hops for several days to get as much hop flavour and aroma into the beer as possible.
Better hop to it then! Grab a mix of hoppy styles and dig in. Once you get on the hop train, it becomes a really fun journey to explore all of the interesting flavours they can bring. Kick it off with some hoppy pale ale, then try a couple of classic American IPAs, West Coast IPAs are typically mega bitter but refreshing and delicious. New England IPAs are very in-vogue, they’re hazy and less bitter, often fruity and juicy tasting. Milkshake or Oat Cream IPAs use lactose to build in additional sweetness. Black IPA is a dark hoppy style – there is so much exploring to do! If you’d like to ready up more on hops check out this great article by local Melbourne brewer Nic Sandry on the The Crafty Pint: https://craftypint.com/news/1889/Beer_Basics_Hops
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@markusspiske