H is for Hops
Hops are the female flowers of a vine-like plant that grows up from rhizomes every year. The flowers are harvested and dried, and then added to beer during the brewing process.
Hops are what makes beer “beer.” Without hops, a fermented beverage made the same way following a similar recipe is a gruit.
But what do hops do? What are they for?
People who love India Pale Ales (IPAs) will tell you that hops are the best, most delicious part of beer. But not everyone likes a bitter beer. Those who dislike the bitterness of IPAs might be interested to know that hops are present in even the mildest brew.
One thing that hops do is counter the sweetness of malt with some bitterness for a more balanced flavor. And, depending upon when exactly the hops are added to the brew, hops also add aroma, and therefore affect the overall flavor. Hops added early are there for bittering; hops added late – just before fermentation begins, or even during fermentation – contribute to the aroma more than anything.
More importantly, however, is that hops help to preserve the beer. The history of IPAs illustrates this perfectly.
IPAs are called India Pale Ales because they were brewed in England to be transported to India. Since it was a long trip, there was concern that the beer would spoil en route. Since hops were already known to act as a preservative for beer, extra hops were added to the beers going to India as extra insurance against spoilage. The end result was a brew that could make the trip, but that was also very very bitter.
Gruits don’t have hops, but other additives like heather and rosemary serve the same purpose.
So when you drink your beer, be grateful for hops, the little flower that could.
I’m participating in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. The goal is to write a post prompted by a letter of the alphabet on each day of April (except Sunday). My theme this year is brewing. Visit my other A to Z posts by clicking here.