Everything You Need To Know About Hops

·2 min read
Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

If you've ever visited a brewery or tried to decipher a craft beer label, you may have seen the word hops. Beer experts may describe a brew as being particularly hoppy, but what does that really mean? Even if you love beer, you may not be entirely sure what hops actually are. How do hops fit into the beer-making process, and how do they affect the taste of beer? Here’s everything you need to know about hops.

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Photo credit: www.mariannabottero.it
Photo credit: www.mariannabottero.it

What Are Hops?

Hops are the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant. These green, cone-shaped buds are part of the Cannabinaceae family, which also includes the cannabis plant. But instead of being used like cannabis, hops are one of the essential ingredients in all types of beer. Each flower is filled with small yellow pods called lupulin, which add bitterness, aroma, and extra flavor to your favorite beers.

Types Of Hops

There are several types of hops. Some have been used since the 8th century, while others are much newer. While all hops add a bitter taste to beer, each variety has different properties, aromas, and flavors.

How To Use Hops

Photo credit: Sergi Escribano
Photo credit: Sergi Escribano

The lupulin found in hops does not dissolve well in water, so brewers add hops to the kettle while boiling the wort (a.k.a. unfermented beer) to release the bitter flavor. Adding the hops in the beginning of the process reduces the vegetal notes. If you add the hops near the end of the boiling process, the flavor will be milder but more refined.

You can also add in hops after the first round of fermentation. Dry hopping is the process of infusing fermented beer with hops for three to five days. This process adds a very strong hoppy aroma to your finished beer and is commonly used when making IPAs.

What Do Hops Taste Like?

The primary flavor that can be found in all hops is bitterness. It's used to balance sweet or acidic flavors and give beer its classic heady taste. Depending on what variety you use, hops can give the beer a punch of pepper, pine, citrus, or tropical fruit flavor. Brewers typically combine multiple types of hops to create unique blends.

Where To Buy Hops

Because hops are used for beer making, they are considered a specialty ingredient. Thankfully, the internet has plenty of sites that sell different types of hops. Stores like Hops Direct and Yakima Valley Hops offer hops from farmers all over the world. You can buy hops as whole flowers or in pellet form.

Storing Hops

To preserve as much of their acid as you can, you should keep them away from heat, light, and oxygen. Ideally, you should store your hops in a vacuum-sealed bag in the freezer. Unopened packages will last up to five years when stored in the proper conditions. Once you open them, however, make sure to use them up within six months.

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