With the recent surge in popularity of the hop-heavy American IPA (India Pale Ale), it’s no surprise that out of all the ingredients used in beer, there is none that piques more interest in the average craft beer drinker than the almighty hop.
While there are styles that don’t highlight hop aroma or flavour, every beer contains hops at some level. Even malt-forward beers and more commercial styles, such as American Light Lager, need a minimal bitterness to assure the beer isn’t perceived as too sweet. IPA is by no means the only beer style to showcase this ingredient — there are many sub-categories of IPA, and many additional styles have been edited by commercial brewers and home brewers alike to become “hoppy” beers, taking favourites ranging from Belgian Saisons to American Lagers and adding more varieties and quantities of hops than would be typical for the style. Let’s take a look at this leafy ingredient to see how brewers are using it in today’s beers.
Hops are the flowering cones from the Humulus lupulus plant, and were first used in beer hundreds of years ago. Prized for their antimicrobial and bittering characteristics, hops made the beers brewed with them more palatable and allowed for longer storage. The organic acids contained in the pollen-like lupulin glands play dual roles as bittering and aroma-inducing, depending on when they are used in the brewing process. When boiling the wort (the sugary liquid collected after mashing the grains is complete), adding hops at the beginning of the boil will convert more of the alpha acids, meaning the beer will be more bitter, measured in IBU (International Bittering Units). As the boil proceeds, adding hops at later times will allow more of the flavour and aroma properties to stay intact, without the aromatic oils being boiled off. It’s not uncommon for highly hoppy beers to have most of their hops added at the end of the boil, for a “whirlpool” — this involves a hop steep in the still-hot wort for a period of time, which gives plenty of aroma and flavour, while still allowing some slight bitterness to be extracted. Finally, hops can be added to a beer after fermentation is complete; this process, known as dry-hopping, gives a final blast of hoppy goodness without any bitterness, and is extremely common in many beer styles today.
There are several regions in the world where hop plants are grown, with many different varieties grown and bred in each area. Quite often, the region where the hops are grown will dictate what general characteristics will be exhibited; for example, many American varietals display strong citrus, pine, and/or tropical fruit in the aroma and flavours of a beer, while those grown in Europe are often more delicate (lower acid and oil content), coming across as spicy and earthy. With the latest trends in cross-breeding, however, more breeds are popping up that exhibit the best of both worlds, with newer growing regions of New Zealand, Australia, and recently South Africa, lending their expertise in the development of new varietals. Even right here in Nova Scotia, breeding trials are under way, for a truly local hop varietal.
For Shelburne brewery Boxing Rock, which hop varietal(s) chosen, and when they are added in the brewing process, is a personal affair. Using domestic hops whenever possible, their distinctly-styled beers exploit the flavour and aromatics of the hops chosen. Their “Bottle Blonde” Blonde Rye Ale features European hops like East Kent Goldings and Czech Saaz hops for a low underlying bitterness, without overwhelming the malt base. Their “Hunky Dory” Pale Ale features additions of American varietals including Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennial, for a medium bitterness, plus highlights of citrus and floral aromas and flavours to entice and intrigue the drinker.
Hunky Dory Pale Ale, 6×341 ml $13.49
Bottle Blonde Rye Ale, 650 ml $5.20
Chris and Shawn relay how water plays a key role in the flavour of beer and speak to the brewers at Tatamagouche Brewing Company about the role water plays in their brewing process.