Hops are just one part of the craft beer world that beer nerds, and I include myself in this, tend to get a little crazy about. If you find yourself enjoying craft beer you inevitably find yourself drinking lots of beers and participating in conversations that involve sentences like: “I hear the brewer used five different hops and then did a 30 minute late hop addition before dry hopping with Australian Galaxy.”
If you’re tipping your toe in the craft beer world hearing something like this might make you screw up your face as you try to decipher the weird craft beer jargon.
So in the first of what I hope will be a continuing series of posts, though I make no promises on regularity of said posts, I am going to get into some beer jargon and try to drill down to the basics and interpret the lingo. First up …
This is a tricky one because “hoppy” as a descriptor for beer does not actually give you a really good idea of what the beer is going to taste like. When you think about it that’s a pretty bad descriptor given the whole reason for a descriptor is to describe the damn thing. Saying a beer is “hoppy” is kind of like saying a meal is “spicy”, I don’t know about you but there are about two dozen spices in our kitchen pantry and they are all different. Same goes for hops.
There are lots of hop varieties with a wide range of characteristics and the brewer adds hops at different stages of the brewing process which also affects what the hops will do the beer.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s go back a little.
WHAT THE HECK ARE HOPS?
Besides being the thing I do when I sprain my ankle in really lame ways (crossing the road, jumping a small fence, both real life examples) here are five things about hops …
- It’s a plant, a climbing one in fact.
- The plant produces “cones”, sometimes called “flowers”, and these are the useful bits.
- They only grow in very specific climates, fussy little things.
- They are used for bitterness, aroma and flavour in beer; in short they are wonderful.
- Hops are also a bit delicate, whilst they can be the dominant flavour of a beer, over time it will fade so the fresher you drink a “hoppy” beer, the better.
Oh and bonus fact – it’s related to marijuana, this isn’t a vital fact but people do seem to find this interesting. “If you smoke it you’ll get a lung infection,” a brewer I used to work with would caution those who were really interested in this fact.
HOW ARE THEY USED IN BEER?
Lots. That’s the one word answer but that feels like a bit of a cop out so I’ll ramble on a little more.
Basically hops are added at a various stages of brewing. Without going into the brewing process itself and keeping things simple, hops added early will result in bitterness whilst hops added late will contribute to the aroma. Of course, like everything in the brewing process, timing is critical and so it’s not a case of being able to add hops early and leave them for hours on end to get more and more bitterness, too long and things will go very bad unless you like horrible tasting, poorly made beer.
So when someone says a beer is “hoppy”, take this to mean that the brewer has used a lot of hops to make the beer and/or the flavour of the beer is dominated by flavours that the hops have provided.
AND WHAT ARE THOSE FLAVOURS?
Like the spices in your pantry, hops come in lots of different types and all have their own characteristics. Here are some descriptions of hop flavour – floral, earthy, herbal, citrus, pine, resin, grassy, spicy, tropical fruit, lychee, woody, passionfruit, minty, passionfruit, the list is extensive. Flavours tend to be grouped together depending on what region the hops are from, for instance American grown hops tend to be tropical fruit, citrus and pine driven whilst the floral, grassy and earthy tend to be English.
More Reading: Serious Eats | A Beginner’s Guide to Hops of the World
More Reading: BeerAdvocate | Hop Guide (for a list of hop varieties and descriptions)
“Hoppy” is not only a vague descriptor but it’s also a subjective one, your interpretation of “hoppy” is likely to differ from another person. No one is wrong. Also, your idea of what is hoppy can change over time. Remember how big the flavour were when you first tried olives or coffee? Lots of olives and hundreds of coffees later, I bet you don’t rate the intensity of flavour the same.
GO BUY SOME BEER
For that American hop hit …
Feral Brewing (WA) | Hop Hog
Mash Brewing (WA) | Copy Cat
Bootleg Brewing (WA) | Speakeasy IPA
Pirate Life (SA) | Pale Ale
For that Australian hop hit …
Young Henry’s (NSW) | Newtowner
Northbridge Brewing (WA) | Beerland Pale Ale
For that New Zealand hop hit …
Cheeky Monkey (WA) | Hatseller Kiwi Pilsner
Garage Project (NZ) | Hapi Daze
More Reading: Beer Geek | Kiwi Hops: A Whole New World
More Reading …
Food Republic | Beer Geekery: 13 Things You Probably Never Knew About Hops
Huffington Post | What The Hell Are Hops, Anyway?
Craft Beer | The Secret Life of Hops
To end, I have to say that this post got away from me. I thought it would be quick and now I am slapping myself for being so foolish. Hops is a MASSIVE topic, I can only hope to have brushed the top of this amazing plant and what it does to beer. This has been a super fun post to write, I am looking forward to doing more of these. If there’s a beery word or subject that you’d like me to explore please let me know by commenting below! I’ll do my best to learn with you all too!