Hops are one of the most distinctive components found in beer. For those who favor a little hop bitterness, it’s a welcome flavor. For the bitter averse, a hoppy brew can be a complete turn off. But whether or not bitterness is detectable, hops are a necessary ingredient in the brewing process. If you’re a beer newbie or just trying to work through your love/hate relationship with bitterness, this tutorial should provide you with the basics for understanding a little more about hops.
So, What are Hops?
Hops are the small, green cone-like fruit of a vine plant. They belong to the Cannabis (hemp) family and are 1 of 4 primary ingredients in any style of beer. “Hoppy” is a term commonly used to describe a beer that has a significant hop flavor and bitterness. International Bitterness Units [IBUs] is the standard scale used to measure the bitterness of a beer. The scale ranges from 1 to 100.
What’s Their Purpose?
Hops can be used at 3 points in the boiling stage. How they impact a beer depends on when they’re added in the brewing process:
- When hops are added during the start of the boil, they provide bitterness, which helps to balance out all of the sugar from the malted grain.
- When hops are added during the middle of the boil, they add a small amount of bitterness but mostly contribute flavor.
- When hops are added near the end of the boil, they add aroma.
Hops also serve as a natural preservative.
More About Flavor & Aroma
The bitterness that hops offer to beer is what gives the plant a bad name, but hops aren’t all bad. Hop oils contribute greatly to flavor and aroma, and those flavors and aromas generally fall into seven categories:
- earthy or grassy
How do I Figure Out Which Hop Flavors I Like?
If you’re trying to explore hops and grow your palate, the best way to determine what you do and don’t like is to taste and take notes. Pay attention to the labels and descriptions. More than likely, the hop varietals used will be listed (or you can find them online). When you find beers that you do (or do not) like, make a note of it. Soon, you’ll know exactly what to look for!
I HATE Hop Bitterness! What Kind of Beer is Best For Me?
Even though hops are a standard ingredient found in all beers, there are many styles that are pretty low in hop bitterness. Here are a few styles and examples that you should look for:
Hefeweizen: a German style ale that is brewed using wheat as the primary grain. The yeast used in this style of beer creates a flavor and aroma reminiscent of clove and banana. Hefeweizens are known to be low in hop bitterness and may lean towards a more malty, sweet or fruity taste profile. Try a Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, brewed by the oldest brewery in the world.
Witbier: Belgian beers are ales and come in a wide variety of styles including the Witbier. They typically boast very pronounced fruity and spicy aromas and flavors derived from coriander and orange peel. Witbiers can be as low as 10 IBUs. Find a beer with “white” or “wit” in the name, and it’s a safe bet. Allagash White is one of the best in the game.
Sour Ale: Also called Wild Ales, sours are tart and sometimes have an acidic or even vinegar-like taste. They have no hop bitterness. Lambic, Berliner Weisse, Gose and Gueuze are all a part of the Sour Ale family. Fruit lambics are usually a favorite of those who absolutely hate hop bitterness. Try Kriek Boon’s Mariage Parfait for an upgraded version.
Go Forth & Drink!
So, how do you feel about hops? Are you ready to explore? Have you found any agreeable IPAs? Get out there, have a brew (or two) and let us know what you find. Enjoy!