The Dead Liver Society #5 – Let’s Talk About Hops!


Hey everybody. It’s DAVE with another edition of The Dead Liver Society.

Today, we are going to talk about hops and their importance to beer brewing. Hopheads around the world pour out in droves to get the freshest, hoppiest beers they can get their hands on and this includes your humble author. Why do we like hops? Why are they used? How are they used? Let’s find out!

Just what are hops and why do I like them so much?

Hops are a cone-like flower that comes from the Humulus lupulus plant. Hops are often described as having a “resin” like flavor which is accurate since the Hop flower is related to Cannabis sativa aka marijuana aka pot aka weed aka reefer. The female strain of hop is what is used during the brewing process. This is due to the fact the female strain has what are called luplin glands while male strain does not. These glands store the essential oils, alpha and beta acids that are the reason brewers use hops in the first place. (We will talk about alpha acids, beta acids and the oils in a little bit.)

The reason a nice, hoppy beer keeps calling you back is because hops generally bring an invigorating bitterness to a beer. This bitterness is refreshing when balanced with the sweet malt background of a beer and that refreshing quality is what draws the author back to hoppy beers time and time again. Plus they smell really f’ing good!

So why are they used in beer and ales?

Hops provide a bitterness to beer that complements the sweetness from malt that is used during the brewing process. Hops also impart flavor and aroma to beer. But most importantly, hops act as a preservative for beer and this is the reason they were first used.

At the beginning of the 18th century, British brewers began shipping very strong ale with lots of hops added to the brew to preserve it over the several month voyage across the ocean to India. By journey’s end, the beer had acquired a level of depth in terms of hop aroma and flavor. It was the perfect way to quench the thirst of British personnel in the hot tropical weather of India.

So just what are these alpha acids, beta acids and essential oils in the hop?

Alpha acids are the primary bittering factor in the hop. Hops with a higher alpha acid percentage will contribute more bitterness than a lower alpha acid hop when using the same amount of hops. High alpha acid varieties of hops are more efficient at producing highly bitter beers. Brewers often mix hop varieties with different alpha acid percentages to create different flavor and aroma profiles.

Beta acids are a secondary bittering agent from the hop but the contribution that beta acids make toward the final bitterness of a beer is small.

The essential oils in the hop are responsible for the hop aroma and flavor in beer. Brewers often mix hop varieties with different alpha acid percentages to create different flavor and aroma profiles.

Ok, so how do all of these hops come together to make yummy, tasty, hoppy beer?

Hops are added during the brewing process to what is known as “the wort”. The wort is basically boiled unfermented beer. The “boil” is timed to allow for different hop additions based on 3 different timed “stages”.

These stages are:

  • Bittering
  • Flavor
  • Aroma

These stages have to do with what specific role they play in beer brewing and are not associated with any one specific type of hop. In other words, the brewer can use the same hop variety for bittering, flavor and aroma or the brewer can use a variety of hops to achieve a certain flavor, aroma or bitterness profile.

It is also important to note that beers do not have to have 3 stages of hop addition but all beers do have at least one hop addition for bitterness, to balance the sweetness of the malt.

When using the 3 stage method with hops, it is all about timing. It usually goes something like this..

Stage 1: Bittering

The bittering hops are added once the wort has been brought to a rolling boil. This means the bittering stage is the first stage so this is where you would use whatever hop you chose to bitter your beer.

This stage means that the hops are left to boil in the wort for 60 minutes. (Although some recipes call for as little as 30 minutes.) As mentioned earlier, all beers have some bittering hops. The main reason for this is that without the bitterness from the hops, your beer would taste overly sweet and unbalanced.

Stage 2: Flavoring

The flavoring hops are generally added with between 15 and 30 minutes remaining in the boil. In this stage, very little of the bitterness will be extracted from the hops, but that citrusy, resiny hoppy flavor will be imparted into the wort and ultimately into the final, fermented beer.

The brewer may use same hop varietal in this stage as used in the previous one. Since we are boiling the hops for less time during this stage, we will get a different final outcome.

Remember, it is the time that the hops are boiled that makes the difference.

Stage 3: Aroma

The essential hop oils that are responsible for aroma are extremely volatile and can be destroyed by steam or heat. Therefore, aroma hops must not be boiled for long. They are typically added during the last 5 minutes of the boil, or at “flame out” or when the boil is over.

Adding hops at “flame out” will produce the maximum amount of aroma you can extract from the hop. This is known as “dry hopping” and this process is what gives a hoppy beer the aroma we all know and love.

How may different kinds of hops are there??

Simply put, a ton!

I’ve compiled a list of the most commonly used hops (with their alpha %) along with examples of beers they are used in below.

Amarillo – Alpha 3 – 7% – Very floral and spicy. A commmonly used to add bitterness and aroma. This hop is used in Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA and Green Flash Brewing Company’s Hop Head Red Ale

Cascade – Alpha 4.0-7.0% – The most widely used hop variety in the United States. It has flowery, citrus like characteristics and is often noted as having a “grapefruit” flavor.  This hop is often used in highly hopped West Coast ales that have a citrus-floral flavor profile. This hop is used in Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, Ithaca Beer Company’s Flower Power IPA (my favorite) and Green Flash Brewing Company’s West Coast IPA.

Centennial – Alpha 6.0-11.0% – An experimental variety which is getting a foothold amongst brewers in the USA and UK. It has strong, pungent floral qualities similar to that of Cascade along with high bittering potential. Sierra Nevada uses this hop in both their Harvest Ale and Bigfoot Barleywine.

Chinook – Alpha 10-15% – A high alpha acid hop with a very unusual aroma profile with astringent citrus and acid in the aroma. Released in the mid 1980s, Chinook has a very strong grapefruit character and is one of your author’s favorite hop varietals. This hop is used extensively in Sierra Nevada’s Chico Estate Harvest Ale

Columbus – Alpha 14-17% – Very high alpha hop used mainly for bittering but also good aroma if used late in the boil. This hop as a dank, herbal flavor and smell. This hop is used in Anderson Valley’s Hop Ottin IPA

Hallertauer (Mittlefruh) – Alpha 4-6% – A delicate German aroma hop used mainly over the years in Lager type beers. This hop is used in Sam Adams Boston Lager and..blech..Michelob.

Nugget – Alpha 9.5%-14.0% – A resiny hop that was released in 1982 by the U.S.D.A. It has a very high bittering factor and is a commonly used hop in high-end craft beers. It also has citrusy undertones that come in behind the resiny flavors in the upfront taste. This hop is used in Troegs Brewing Company’s Nugget Nectar.

Simcoe – Alpha 12-14% -This high-alpha hop has a unique, pine-like aroma. It is primarly used as a bittering hop but with good aroma characteristics, this hop is used in Avery Brewing’s Avery IPA.

Summit – Alpha 14.3% – This hop has a citrus, grape-fruit flavor. It has been used for bittering and dry hopping extensively in craft brewing. This hop is used in Green Flash Brewing Company’s Imperial India Pale Ale

There are many, many more types of hops used in brewing but I hope this list and column will help you along in your beer drinking adventures.

Until we meet again at the Dead Liver Society, hoppy drinking!


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