Hops are a flowering plant which were first used as a preservative for beer. They’ve since evolved and now we’re using them for flavour and aroma, though in the beginning there was an element of that too – hops were used to bitter beer.
"What a lot a lot of the American brewers do today is to focus on the hops themselves for their flavours and aromas."
Beer is inherently sweet, because we’re fermenting malt, which is sugar. Beer would be very sweet if we didn’t add something to it, because we don’t ferment it all the way like a wine. So we’ve traditionally added hops to create that balance.
What a lot a lot of the American brewers do today is to focus on the hops themselves for their flavours and aromas. There are hundreds of varieties of hops and they’re grown all over the world. Each one has a unique characteristic. Some might be earthy, spicy or herbal, others could be floral or citrusy. We combine those characteristics to make flavour profiles in our IPAs.
"Beer would be very sweet if we didn’t add something to it, because we don’t ferment it all the way like a wine. So we’ve traditionally added hops to create that balance."
It’s funny – I can chat to a customer and they’ll tell me that they don’t like hops in their beers. I’ll pour them something and ask them what they’ve tasted. They’ll say, “grapefruits, oranges or pineapple” for example… But all of that flavour has come from the hops. The big push in IPAs is to move away from the traditional bitterness and move towards the hop flavours and aromas.
This desire to understand the flavour and aroma components of hops came in the last decade. Brewers were making flavourful and hop-forward beers – beer with a heavy hop flavour and aroma – before that, but as far as the risk-taking element and brewing science of hops are concerned, it’s only been the last ten years where we’ve seen a bit of a push.
Historically, the English brewers were the first to use a hopback (a sieve). This was a vessel that would have wholeflour hops added to it. They would act as a filter, which would pull out some of the solids in the wort – the sugar water that’s created when adding water and malt together. The wort is boiled and fermented – the wort turns to alcohol and CO2 – and in running it through hops, brewers realised they were picking up flavours. They soon learned that using different hops gave them different tastes.