There are four main components of beer: water, malt, hops and yeast. This article is the third of a four part series that will be covered in that order.
In addition to water, yeast and malt, hops are a key ingredient in making any beer. Hops play an integral role in the taste of beer, but also impart other characteristics to the finished brew. How important is it that you use the right amount of hops? What varieties of hops are available? Let's take a look at what hops are, where they come from and what they can offer your finished product.
First, hops have not always been used in beer brewing. Their addition to this process dates back to 736 AD, when they were first grown in Germany. Of course, records of hop use don't actually begin until nearly three centuries later. Hops are climbing plants, and they're grown much the same way that cucumbers and green beans or grapes are – they're trained up a wire or string and then allowed to grow into a canopy. The usable part of the plant is the flower bud (the female portion of the plant). You will also find a wide variety of hops from around the world.
Before we touch on the varieties, let's take a look at the job that hops do in beer. First, the hops must be dried before they can be used. In beer, hops have several jobs. One of the most important jobs is that they inhibit the growth of any bacteria other than yeast. Their second job is to flavor the beer – they provide the bitterness for your brew. Finally, they also add aroma to your beer. You'll also find that some hops work better as flavor agents, while others are used strictly for their aroma and are added near the end of the brewing process.
The type of hops used has an impact on your beer, as well. For example, Saaz and Strissel Spalt hops are often used in very pale brews, while Amarillo hops and Cascade hops are used in traditional American beers. English ales use Goldings quite frequently, though Bullion and Fuggles are also used. The most commonly used types of hops are noble hops, of which there are four main varieties: Saaz, Tettnanger, Spalt and Hallertau. These have a lower bitterness, but better aroma than other varieties.
In addition to the type of hops, the area where they are grown also affects their flavor and aroma characteristics. This has led to "noble hops" being considered only those that were grown in the area for which they are named, though non-noble hops can be used (and are frequently used in craft beers).
Hops are an essential ingredient to your beer and choosing the right varieties for use will help you achieve the right aroma and level of bitterness in your brew.
In our next article we will cover the importance of yeast and it contribution to beer.