With the recent craft beer revolution, there has been a change in consumer tastes.
Specifically, an explosion in the use of hops, driven by aggressive brewers who gladly add more of the plant to their recipes. What was considered very hoppy only 20 years ago would be under-hopped today. To understand what that means, we will discuss how hops are utilized in the beer-making process.
Bitterness is one of the four things our tongue perceives. Hops, when boiled in the beer for an hour or more, produce bittering agents. Measurements of bitterness called IBU’s are a direct reflection of this early boil addition. Depending on the potency of the strain and how much is used, a maximum of 100 IBU’s can be achieved. Any more than 100 IBU’s is imperceivable to the human tongue.
Taste has its own addition, about 15 minutes left in the boil. The shorter time exposure to heat allows the flavor of hops to shine through without breaking down into bittering agents. Now the choice of hop strain is important as each will impart unique flavors. Old world ‘Noble’ strains produce a spicy, garden flavor. New world hops are capable of citrus, piney, herbal, floral and fruity tastes. New strains are being produced yearly by university laboratories.
A final addition is routinely added at the end of the boil or during fermentation. By not being exposed to heat, the hops only release their delicate smell. Aggressive additions here create big aromas that can be enjoyed without even tasting the beer. Of late, brewers have perfected the dry-hop to maximize aromas. Hazy IPAs remain cloudy due to the precise timing of the dry-hop addition, thus interfering with the yeast falling out.
Due to the anti-bacterial nature of hops, there is little to no risk of infection with these cool temperature hop additions. This characteristic translates into another benefit of the hop plant. Heavily hopped beers do not require refrigeration during storage due to this preservative quality.
So what has been a crazy weed that grows wild in certain climates, has now made the craft beer revolution possible. Additionally, newer, more flavorful strains of hops will only improve the quality and availability of future great beers.
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