Without hops, beer would pretty much taste like bread – or worse. Not that I’m dissing bread or anything. But come on, it’s not beer. Hops are vital to the creation of beer, so let’s learn a little about them and how to use them.
First off there are a lot of varieties of hops out there. Each with its own characteristics. Many can be similar, but there is a wide range out there. You can have ones that are subtle, sharp, spicy, smooth and other adjectives that do and don’t start with “S”.
Hops are mainly cultivated in the US and Europe. I’m sure there are a few other pockets in the world, but these will be the bulk of what you can get your hands on as a homebrewer. If I’m wrong, please let me know cause I would love to try out some new hops.
What Hops Do
On a very high level they break down into bittering hops (those used for flavor) and aroma hops (those for smell). Bittering hops are usually added at the beginning or before the boil and aroma at the end – or even after the boil is over. Hops have alpha & beta acids. These are what add the specific characteristics to the beer.
Forms of Hops
Besides the styles of hops, they usually come in a few different physical forms – pellet, leaf and whole. Pellets are compressed, dried hop cones. They store well and have a concentrated alpha acid content. Leaf are also dried but not compressed like pellets. Whole is the entire cone. They can be dried or wet (fresh).
Recipes will tell you how much hops to add at a certain alpha acid percent (AA%) and for how long. AA% can vary batch to batch, so always make sure you update your quantity to get your desired IBU level. I.e. if your Cascade is .5% lower than the AA% in the recipe, add more to get to the right level or put it in earlier during the boil.
Bittering. Sometimes these are the only hops you need to add. You can put them in at the beginning of the boil and let the rest run its course.
Other recipes can have multiple additions of hops and they’re all still considered bittering. For example, you can add some at 60 mins, some 45 and others at 30. It can be 3 additions of the same hop or 3 different hops or 2 of 1 and one of another. It’s pretty much all based on the style and your recipe.
Aroma. These hops are added within the last 15 mins or so. You can even add with 5, 1 or even no minutes left in the boil. For 0 minutes, you’d add and then leave them in till the wort cools. You can also dry hop, which is adding some hops to your secondary fermentor, but we’ll get to that tomorrow. But for now, that covers the basics of what hops how they work in the brew process. Check back tomorrow when we go over specifics and different hopping techniques.