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Beginner’s Guide to Beer Hops

Have you ever thought about what is in your beer? To put simply, there are 4 basic beer ingredients: water, malted barley, yeast and hops. Though hops are not essential, without them, there is nothing to balance out the sweet taste of the malted grains that come out during the brewing process. But what are these hops and how are they used in the beer-making process? Let’s find out.

In the context of beer production, the often-repeated word “hops” refers to the green flowers of the hop plant, scientifically named Humulus lupulus. They have 4 main compounds: Alpha acids, beta acids, essential oils and flavonoids. Alpha acids, when turned into iso-alpha acids during boiling, give beer its bitter taste. Beta acids and essential oils give flavor and aroma to a beer. Flavonoids, like Xanthohumol, are insignificant as they get converted to flavanones during brewing.

Different Timings of Hop Addition

Hops have a variety of different types and they can be added to the wort during various stages to get different effects. If the hops are going to be used for bittering purposes, they are added early to the wort and left to boil between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. The longer the hops stay in boiling water, the more alpha acids they release. The high heat during the boiling process isomerizes these alpha acids into iso-alpha acids or isohumulones. These iso-alpha acids give a beer its bitter taste. By measuring a beer’s isohumulone content, one can measure a beer’s general bitterness, which is called an IBU (international bittering unit) score.

Conversely, if the hops are used for aroma and flavor, they are added at the end of the boiling process, left to boil for about 5-25 minutes. This is because the high heat of boiling damages the essential oils in hops, which are responsible for aroma and flavor.

To get the most aroma, brewers also use a strategy called dry hopping, which is often used in the making of IPAs and pale ales. In dry hopping, hops are not boiled; they are added directly into the beer after fermentation. Though this is the simplest method, there are a variety of different dry hopping methods that achieve different results.

Different Timings of Hop Addition

Well-Known Hop Types

Like any other plant, hops have different strains. These different strains have varying levels of essential oils and alpha acids. They are often named after their country of origin and the most known ones are American hops, Noble hops and English hops.
American hops are usually known for their bold, aromatic taste with distinct flavors. They have a wide variety of hops, including Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Chinook. The 2 most known ones among these are Cascade and Centennial, which are known for their grapefruit and floral aromas.
Noble hops are the most traditional hops in the world, as you can understand from their name. Noble hops can have varying aromas such as spicy, floral and earthy. Some of the well-known ones like Hallertauer give German pilsners their distinct aromas.
English hops, even though they make a small percentage of the world’s total hop production, are well-known because of their original aromas such as minty, lemony or tea-like. Some popular ones like Fuggle and Golding are known for their floral, minty and lemony flavors.

Summary

If you have even the slightest interest in home brewing, the vast number of different hop types and timings can be intimidating, but that sheer number of possible varieties is what makes beer production something more than just production, and something that is closer to art. Even if you don’t have any interest in home brewing, start reading the labels on your favorite beers and learn which type of hop they use to educate your palate while experimenting; the possibilities are endless.

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