Soaking Up the Suds


Soaking Up the Suds

by James Crane

 

 

Hello Hops!
If you drink beer, you most likely know that it has two main ingredients: hops and barley. Most people know that Barley is a grain just like wheat. The question is, however, what is this mysterious thing known as hops? And why does the taste of it vary from that of a flower to that of a lemon or that of tonic water? Better yet, what is it doing in our beer?
First, lets start at the basics. Hops are flowers. They aren’t the beauties with the big petals you’re thinking of, however. They look more like little buds or cones that form on the hop vines themselves. A hop vine climbs and twists around whatever support you give it, growing to well over 30 feet into the air.
Just like malt and yeast, hops come in many varieties. The combination of these three ingredients can create numerous tastes depending on the variety used of each. Many are named after the region they come from, such as Mount Hood or Willamette. Others have delightful monikers such as “nugget”. There are more varieties than you would expect, each one exhibiting different flavors.
Hops are often described as bittering, floral, or citrus, though it’s hard to categorize any into such simple categories. The flavors they impart vary greatly. This is why you can get two different heavily hopped IPA’s and have one taste grassy and herb-like while the other makes you pucker form the bitterness.
There is much more to hops than just their flavoring attributes, however. Hops have an antibacterial effect. This allows them to fight some of the bacteria that may grow in fermenting beer, causing undesirable tastes. Instead, the hops let the yeast do its thing and impart the tastes it is supposed to impart. Hops are also believed to have other medicinal properties, including  promoting relaxation, helping with insomnia, and aiding in digestion. It’s not uncommon to find them in various tea blends.
The antibacterial properties also makes hops a good preserving agent for beer. This is why you find hops so prevalent in IPAs. Indian Pale Ales were not made in India; they were made in England to send overseas to India. They were made with a higher alcohol content than regular pale ales. In addition, they were loaded with hops. Those two factors made the beer stand up to the test of time as it spent a lot of time just sitting in the hold of a ship. Regular brews wouldn’t have fared so well. Those Hop heavy and alcoholic brews would taste just right, however.
The same is true of Imperial Stouts. These stouts would make their way from England all the way to Russia. They were loaded up with hops to preserve them for the long journey. Along the way, they would go through intense cold. The high ABV made sure that the brews did not freeze. It was a winning combination that, if popular lore is to be believed, the empress of all Russia enjoyed greatly. Hence the name of the brew.
While the alcohol of a beer is mostly attributed to the malt and not at all to the hops, they are still an essential part of the brew. Anyone who loves a hop heavy IPA can attest to the extra relaxation these brews provide. Next time you tip back a bottle, give extra attention to those wonderful hop flavors. Those little flowers have been doing more for you than you know.