Featured in issue 45 – April 2020
Hops that you see growing in British hedgerows in September are called wild hops as their variety is usually unknown. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still brew with them and, indeed, Britain has been using hops to produce beer since the 1500s. Before that, hops hadn’t been introduced to the country, and beer was flavoured with herbs and spices. It also didn’t last very long once produced.
Once hops were discovered, the industry really grew along with distribution. This was because of the amazing variety of flavours hops can produce, and also due to the fact that they act as a natural antibacterial agent, so they help keep bugs away which can contaminate the beer and make it go ‘off’.
Well known British hops, mostly grown in the south of England, are varieties like Fuggles, Goldings, and First Gold which give traditional English ale flavours such as grassy and herbal.
Hops are also grown throughout the world and, like any other plant, they require certain growing conditions, and different conditions favour different varieties.
The Yakima Valley in America is a well known hop growing region. It grows varieties that impart very flavoursome and aromatic notes like lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit. One of the best known varieties is Citra.
One of my favourite hops is Simcoe, again American, and it gives flavours like passionfruit, pine, and berries. I like it so much that I named my new dog after it!
There are various times we add hops in the brewing process, and this again affects the flavours and aroma you produce; the later you add the hop, the more flavour and aroma you can get. New infusing equipment, such as Hop Rockets and Hop Torpedos, can also help extract flavours and improve efficiencies. These enable us to really circulate and break up the hops to release all their goodness into the beer.
You may see beers named after a hop, which really showcase a certain variety, but hops are usually mixed and this gives us such complex flavours, hence why you can produce a different flavour each time. For a drink that has just four main ingredients, there can be such a variety of flavour by changing hop varieties, as well as malts, yeast, water treatment and the actual process.
So think about your next beer: can you smell fruits? If so, it is probably from these little ladies – it’s the female flower from a female hop plant used in brewing!
- Belinda is head brewer at Station 1-1-9 at Eye in Suffolk.