Beer 101: What Are Hops?

Image via craftbeer.com

Image via craftbeer.com

When it comes to beer, there’s one ingredient that probably gets talked about more than any other.

Hops. 

You could argue that hops are the most important part of beer. Without them, beer would more or less be coloured water. Some flavour could still be drawn from the other ingredients such as yeast and malt, but hops are what makes beer what it is.

Whether you like big hoppy flavours or not, almost every beer contains hops. So even if you don’t like bitter flavours that some hops bring, you won’t be able to enjoy your favourite suds without them. 

There was a time when hops weren’t used in beer. The first documented use of hops in beer dates all the way back to the 9th century. However, it wasn't until a few centuries later that Hildegard von Bingen, a German mystic, became the first person to talk about hops in a scientific manner. 

Before hops, gruit, a variety of herbs and spices, was the most popular way to flavour beer. Over time, brewers started to realize that beer lasted much longer when brewing with hops instead of gruit. Add that to the fact that hops also have antibacterial qualities, it’s no surprise that they quickly became the favourite of brewmasters everywhere. 

At their core, hops are the flowers of the hop plant known as Humulus Iupulus. These plants can basically be grown anywhere, including right here in Saskatchewan, where many of our local brewers source their hops from. 

While hops are generally associated with bitter flavours, different type of hops can infuse different flavours into beer. They can be floral, piney, fruity, citrusy, and yes bitter, among others. 

Brewers will generally add hops to their beers in a couple of different ways. They’ll either come dried out or in their natural form. Dry hops require less work to get brewing but they do need to be boiled in the beer to bring out more flavours. Hops in their natural form require extra equipment, mostly a hopback, in order to be used in a batch of beer. A hopback draws out the oils in the flower that provide the flavour. 

Most brewers, including here in Saskatchewan, use dried hops and Rebellion in Regina is only one of the few who have a hopback machine. 

There’s no right or wrong answer, ultimately it comes down to the preference of the brewer and of course whether they have the funds to invest in the equipment or not. 

Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about one of beers most important and misunderstood ingredients.

What’s your favourite hop-driven flavour? Comment below and let us know!