Pubpaper 654 – In Praise of the Mighty Hop

Posted: 23rd April 2012 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing
Tags: , , ,

Where would we be without hops? Well, if English Ale had remained as it was before hops introduction around 1400, then it would a be murky malt based fermented liquid with an alcohol content of about 13%. On the continent, hops had been in brewing use since about 800AD, but took 500 years to take over as the main flavouring ingredient of beer. It took another 100 years to cross the channel, it was only then that English ale became beer.

Germany leads the world of hop growing (as per 2010 figures) with nearly 30% of global production and the Hallertau region of Bavaria accounting for the vast majority of this in an area only 178 square kilometres in size. Ethiopia are not far behind, with the USA making up a triumvirate of nations which produce nigh on 75% of the worlds’ total crop. The UK produced 1,500 tonnes (compared to the Germans 34,000 tonnes), mostly in the Kent know as the “Garden of England”, with a popular variety being Kent Goldings.

Hops are a climbing plant that can be trained to follow a wire to maximise sunlight exposure and generally only the female plants are grown at commercial hopfields to prevent pollination and flowering. The resultant dried crop can be added at most stages into the brewing process. They can be added to the wort (the process of extracting a liquid from mashed malted barley and producing an alcoholic liquor) at boiling time to add bitterness, or at a later stage of this process for aroma.

Hops can also be added when cooled in what is known as “dry hopping” to increase the aroma and inject a more direct hop flavour to the beer. An example of a dry hopped beer is “Brewdog Hardcore IPA” which is a veritable 9.4% hop bomb, something that is saying a lot from an ex hop head when it comes to beer.

The distinguishing elements of hops are bitterness, and a taste which can be described as grassy, floral, citrus, spicy, piney, or lemony. Different varieties of hops can enhance aroma, bitterness and one or more of the flavours listed previously in different ratios, and a good blend will bring out all of these. Generally English hops are a balance between the bittering and citrus elements, slightly more restrained than the American plants which are more in your face, typically American. German hops are have low bitterness but high aroma properties while the Australian and Kiwi plants are known for their floral and fruit notes.

Last week I mentioned the mix which went into Septimus Prime from Bridgestones, to quote “German Hersbrucker hops add a citrus edge, while Challenger hops develop the aroma and the bitterness.  When it gets to the second stage Goldings hops are added, and finally Fuggles hops towards the end both bringing out the aroma more”.  The art of the brewer is the mixing of the hops, malted barley and yeast.  The hops are what you taste first in most ales and what you remember.

However there are now a number of breweries who are producing a range of single hops beer highlighting the differences between the different crops. One of the more local brewers who are doing this is Mallinsons based in Lindley just outside Huddersfield. I’m now into double figures counting beers I’ve tried from this brewery. These include bitters and stouts (I recommend the Oatmeal Stout especially) with not one of them dropping below good, however 7 of the beers I tried are single variety hopped.

Aramis, Amarillo, Chinook, Sorachi Ace, Galaxy, Motueka and Citra hops are all featured in their range with beers of the same name. It is only when you try a range of these focused hopped brews that you appreciate the range of flavours and bittering. All share the same fresh taste with the hints of citrus and dryness well balanced, but are slightly different in the inherited flavours from the hops. The Sorachi Ace and Chinook are my favourites out of a very good batch, with the preferred drier hop taste for my palette really appealing. Citra doesn’t fall far behind, but with more of tendency toward the citrus than these. Aramis, Motueka, Galaxy and Amarillo sit on the citrus side of the fence with less dryness, but still being extremely drinkable, well flavoured beers.

Of course other people will disagree with me on these flavours, as these are merely my interpretation, but that is part of the fun of drinking good beer.  If you have been normally drinking blended hop beers, then these single plant varieties are very pleasant diversion in the journey that is beer drinking.

On that note, happy drinking.

  1. santobugtio says:

    I got a letter back via the Pubpaper commenting on this, obviously quite a bit of effort to write this, so deserved to be put on here……

    Letter to the Editor

    Dear Editor,

    I always enjoy Sean’s “Thoughts from the Taproom”,
    even if I don’t always agree with him about CAMRA!

    However I was surprised to read in the article about hops
    in the 27 April issue that the world’s second major hop
    producer was Ethiopia. My understanding was that it
    was Germany, followed by the USA and China, but as
    my figures were a few years out of date I did an internet
    search – and even more surprisingly found at least
    two references to Ethiopia which Sean probably used.
    However I simply do not believe this and it’s probably
    a good reminder to treat with caution anything you see
    on the internet unless from a trusted source.

    Another site listed Germany, USA and China way ahead of the
    rest; with the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and then
    perhaps surprisingly France slightly ahead of England.
    Ethiopia was not listed in the top 15 producers. This
    is broadly in line with the previous figures I had.

    Hops are normally grown commercially between 30 and 50
    degrees latitude and at about 10 degrees north of the
    equator Ethiopia is decidedly tropical and would not suit
    a plant needing a period of winter dormancy.

    Sean is right about hops having separate male and
    female plants, they are what botanists call dioecious and
    in most areas the male is excluded to prevent pollination
    – but not flowering. The female plants flower and
    produce the hop cones the brewer wants regardless of the
    presence of male plants. The male is only really needed
    for breeding! Hop plants are normally propagated by
    cuttings which grow true to variety; new varieties require
    a breeding programme and pollination to produce a new
    combination of genes. Even with promising parents the
    majority of the off spring or new varieties will never get
    past the trial stages and go into commercial production.

    In the presence of males and pollination the cones
    develop seeds although these are of no benefit in the
    brewery and are largely wasted weight. I’m not sure
    what percentage of English hops is still seeded but when
    I was at a Worcestershire hop kiln a few years ago they
    were being labelled as seeded. So why do English hop
    growers traditionally plant the occasional male amongst
    the females to produce seeded hops?

    My understanding is that seeded hops tend to ripen
    earlier and can thus be picked sooner and be at less
    risk of damage from autumn winds and rain. Kent is
    already 51 degrees latitude and the Herefordshire and
    Worcestershire hop growing region is about 52 degrees.

    I have managed to grow un-seeded hops in Calderdale
    for 15 years and have been largely successful but had
    one disastrous year when almost the entire crop was
    lost to the weather – this is not something a commercial
    grower can afford given the high costs involved in their
    production and is probably why I am not aware of any
    significant commercial production in the UK further
    north than the West Midlands.

    Cheers, Ian Priddey