Ale at Altitude Column: Hops is beer’s not-so-secret ingredient
Hops – what a marvelous discovery when they were first used to brew beer. It is the perfect plant match for the chore. Hops are primarily used to balance the sweetness of the malted barley, add pleasant aromas, and produce wonderful flavors. It is a delightful fit for a near-perfect beverage.European brewmasters began using hops as a main beer ingredient in the 14th and 15th century. Before this, various bitter herbs and flowers were used to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops had the advantage over these other ingredients because it possesses preservative qualities. Jump ahead to today and hops are an indispensible ingredient in virtually all beer styles. Odell Brewing has never made a beer without them.To grow hops, farmers use a pole and trellis system. The bines (hop vines) climb up ropes strung from the trellis and usually grow to a height of 18 to 20 feet. Brewmasters use the female flower of the plant, also known as cones, to brew beer.When the cones are mature, they are mechanically stripped off the bines, and are sent through an elaborate system of conveyors, tumblers, sifters and blowers to separate the cones from the leaves and stems. The cones are then kiln dried, compressed, and baled for use as either whole flower hops, or to be ground and compressed into pellets. Once in the hands of brewers, hops are added early in the boiling process to extract the bittering compounds. Hops are again added near or at the end of the boil, and sometimes in the fermenter to capture the volatile oils that are released at boiling temperatures. These oils are the source for the hoppy flavor and aroma characteristics brewmasters seek for their beer. There are many descriptors for these flavors and aromas including floral, citrusy, spicy, earthy, fruity, dank, herbal, piney and pungent. All these descriptors can be produced from different varieties of a single plant species. The names of these varieties are often as colorful as the hops are flavorful: Calypso, Motueka, Sorachi Ace, Apollo, Brewers Gold, Green Bullet, Bramling Cross and Pacific Jade.All hop varieties produce bitterness in beer. Craft brewers tend to like hop varieties that accentuate flavor and aroma, while large light lager brewers favor hops that will give a clean bitterness for a good price. Because the aroma varieties often yield fewer pounds per acre than the bittering ones, they tend to command a higher price. While price is a consideration for craft brewers, we place significantly more importance on the quality and distinctiveness of the hop.Next time you are enjoying a craft beer, take pause to experience the world of hops, and enjoy what they bring to beer. A home brewer since 1975, Doug Odell knew he loved everything about beer. After a brief stint at Anchor Steam Brewery and various brewing science classes at U.C. Davis, Odell knew he had the technical qualifications (in addition to the passion) needed to be a brewmaster. Since 1989, Odell has been the source for inspiration and growth at Odell Brewing Company, which today is served and sold in 10 Rocky Mountain and Western Plains states as well as the United Kingdom.
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