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A Comprehensive Guide About Hops for Beer Brewing

A Comprehensive Guide About Hops for Beer Brewing

A Comprehensive Guide About Origin, Botany, Uses, Types, and Sources of Hops for Beer Brewing

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Hop plant (Humulus Lupulus) is a native plant in many parts of the world and its botanical affinities are like the Stinging Nettles. It is commonly found in the countries having North temperate zones. The development of modern hops plants is from wild plants and this development has an ancient history. In the first century of AD, hops plants were used as a salad plant, and its origin is believed to be from Egypt. At the end of the 15th century, hops cultivation was introduced from Flanders to England. Hops are cultivated in many countries across the globe, but they are widely grown in the USA, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, South Russia, and France.

At that time, the hop was only used for the preservation of beer. Other than beer preservation hops were used in the traditional medicines for the alleviation of insomnia, inflammation, migraines, urogynecological infections, bladder problems, menopause symptoms, disorders of the central nervous system, and skin problems. The fate of hops is affecting the fate of many people, as it is offering excellent taste and bitterness that is wanted by many people. Although, hops were only used for beer preservation in the ancient times, but now hop is one of the essential ingredients of the beer as it gives balance and taste to the beer.

Botanical Features of Hops

It has perennial and stout roots and its stems have twining nature and are tough angled, prickly, flexible, with tenacious fiber. The stem can reach to a greater length and grow well in terms of size dimensions. The leaves are lobed, and heart-shaped, and are present on the footstalks, as the opposite of other stems. Sometimes, the upper leaves are only arranged on the single stem or they may also be springing from the alternative sides. Hop leaves are dark green and are provided with the finely toothed edges.

Hops are dioecious plants and their female and male flowers are produced on separate plants. The flowers are produced on the leaf axles. Male flowers are produced in the panicles, or bunches which are 3-5 inches long. Whereas, female flowers are produced in the leafy and cone-like catkins called as strobiles. These fully developed strobiles are round and oblong and consist of various overlapping bracts of yellowish-green color that are specifically attached to another axis. This axis is hairy and has little zigzag courses and can only be seen by the removal of leafy organs.

Each of the bracts is enfolding at the base of achene (small fruit). Both bract and fruit are sprinkled translucent yellowish glands having granular substance type appearance. The value of hops and their use is greatly dependent on the powdery substance containing 10% of Lupulin that gives tonic bitter properties to the hops. Due to this reason, only ripened parts of the female plant are used for beer brewing purposes.

Hops can be grown in the rich, and deep soil having a dry bottom, where good aeration or air circulation can be maintained. The specific aroma of hops is due to the presence of volatile oil and is chiefly constituted of sesquiterpene Humulene.

Types of Hops

hop in basket

There are many types and varieties of beer hops and they offer different kinds of aromas, flavors, and bittering capabilities. These hops can also be differentiated in terms of essential oils, and fatty acids. Hops having a good amount of alpha acids are significantly useful to add angular, and sharp bitterness to the beer. Whereas, the hops having a good amount of essential oils offers the best contribution in terms of aroma, and flavor.

Generally, the strains of hops are classified based on their geographical origin and most famous categories include English hops, American hops, and Noble hops. English hops contain low levels of myrcene and give a more subtle aroma to the beer. The profile of these hops is milder and delicate, so they have a less worldwide distribution but are widely grown in the British ales. American hops are bright, and bold, and add offer good aroma to the beer. Generally, these hops have a good amount of myrcene essential oil that gives their characteristics pine and citrus notes.

How to Use Hops Flowers for Beer Brewing

Brewing value of beer is dependent on its bitterness and aroma that comes from oils and resins in the present in the lupulin glands of hops. Just like yeast is characterized into different types for beer brewing, hops are also classified into three main categories such as followings

Finishing: Having high levels of aroma

Bittering: Having a high amount of alpha acids

Dual: Having the feature of both, or having both good aroma and high amount of alpha acids

Hops are good natural preservatives and they were also used for beer preservation in ancient times. These were directly added to the cask after the fermentation process to keep beer fresh during the transportation period. Beer is not even supposed to be beer without hops as these are signatures in many beer styles and help to add balance in beer composition.

Hops are used in different ways, and at different times of beer brewing, and brewers can add hops at any time of beer brewing process according to their taste, and preferences. However, there are 5 main types of adding hops to beer, such as first wort hopping, bittering, flavoring, finishing, and dry hopping.

  • First Wort Hopping

It is an old but recently rediscovered process among homebrewers and is being used for home brewing. In this process, a large amount of finishing hops is added to the boiling kettle as the wort is being received from the lauter tun. Soon as the boiling tun is filled with the wort, hops start steeping in the hot water and will release resins, and volatile oils. This volatile is water-insoluble and evaporates during the boiling process. So, the hops having low alpha levels should be used for first wort hopping. More bitterness and taste can be added by longer boiling, but care should be taken to avoid the loss of composition and value of beer.

  • Bittering

Bittering is the primary use of hops, and these hops are boiled for 45 to 90 minutes for the isomerization of alpha acids. During this process, the aromatic oils are boiled away and will not leave any aroma but little flavor. So, bitter varieties can be used to a good level of bitterness to the beer without the addition of aroma.

  • Flavoring

The addition of hops during the midway of the boiling process offers a good compromise between the evaporation of aromatics, and isomerization of alpha acids and yield a characteristic unique flavor. Hops should be added 20-40 minutes before the ending of the boiling process. Any variety of hop can be used for this purpose, but usually, the varieties containing low alpha contents are used. The creation of a more complex character is also possible by the combination of small amounts of different varieties.

  • Finishing

The addition of hops during the final stages of boiling causes the less loss of aromatic oils and offers good retention of aroma and value. Usually, these hops are added 10-15 minutes before the ending of boiling and should be allowed to steep 10 minutes before cooling of wort. Sometimes, hop back is also used while the hot wort is running through the small chamber filled with fresh hops. However, the amount to be added, freshness, and use of varieties are greatly dependent on the brewers and consumers. Sometimes, short boiling time is not enough to yield the desired aroma, and it may result in grassy flavor. In this situation, the use of hops by following dry hopping or first wort hopping is an excellent approach to get a good quality taste and bitterness.

  • Dry Hopping

The addition of hops to the fermenters helps to retain more aroma in the final beer product. This process is known as dry hopping and it was being used in the fermentation cycle in ancient times. If the addition of desired hops to the fermenter is made when it is still at the bubbling stage causes the loss of aroma along with the escape of carbon dioxide. So, hops should be added when the bubbling has stopped or slowed, and the beer is going through the conditional phases. These hops can also be removed before the bottling process, and consumers can enjoy the excellent taste of beer.

Where to Find Hops

hands touching hops

Brewers can directly obtain the hops flowers from the plants and can use them in the beer brewing process. Many people are also growing hops at home as if they are properly cared for and supplied with essential requirements, they can produce excellent hop yield at home.

Moreover, hops are also available at the stores, and brewers can get desired variety, and type according to their taste, and preferences. Currently, hop is considered an important cash crop and is being grown on larger farms. Small scale farmers are also growing hops and are selling it at the good prices. However, the composition and quality of hops are greatly dependent on various management factors, so brewers should buy only excellent quality hops to ensure the good taste of beer.

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