Betiguera, river asparagus or man flower are some of the common names by which hops are known, the most emblematic plant of craft brewers.
Hops is a climbing plant of the Cannabináceas family that can grow up to 8 meters. Its scientific name, Humulus Lupulus, means something like “group of little wolves.” It is believed that it was awarded because it is a vine with cone-shaped flowers that, like a pack of wolves, “devours” the undergrowth or shrubs it surrounds.
Hops used in drinks
There is evidence of hops cultivated by the Babylonians in 4,000 B.C. and that they prepared a drink called Sikar with it. It is also believed to be one of the ingredients in the making of Soma, a hallucinogenic drink used in a ritual way in ancient India. The Romans, for their part, incorporated hops into their diet, fresh in salads or boiled as a vegetable, but also used it for medicinal purposes for its calming properties.
The first mention of hops in beer was in AD 868. in Lobbes Abbey (Belgium) when it was used as a natural preservative thanks to its antibacterial properties. Later, in the 15th century, William IV signed the famous German purity law that included hops as one of the 3 ingredients allowed in beer making along with malt (barley or wheat) and water.
When brewing beer the hop cones (female flowers) are used. These cones hide golden globules in the stem that contain a substance called lupulin. Lupulin contains bitter resins and aromatic oils that mark the personality of each beer. During brewing, hops are added in the boiling and, depending on the time, it will provide more bitterness, flavour or aroma.
The importance of when to add hops
When drinking a craft beer, we can easily identify the contributions of hops to its character and even guess how it has been used in its brewing process. Firstly, let’s bring the glass closer to the nose and take our time to smell the beer, we will perceive the most volatile compounds that come mainly from the aromatic hop oils.
Does the beer have an intense floral, resinous, fruity, spicy or herbaceous aroma? But when tasting it does other flavour notes overtake it? This means that the hops were added at the end of the cooking, leaving all its aroma and not so much flavour and bitterness. If, on the other hand, the flavour is intense, the hops were added in an intermediate phase. However, if the aroma and hop taste are scarce but the beer shows a persistent bitterness, the hops were added at the beginning. This way the hops lose aromas and flavours throughout the boiling.
By combining quotas of different types of hops added at different times of cooking, unique recipes and delicious balances on the palate are achieved.