Humulus lupulus. The wolf among the willows. The other member of the cannabacae
family has seen its popularity rise over the past two decades coinciding with the rise of craft beer. As the hunger for newer, more outlandish options increases, and continues to increase, the influence of hops has, as well.
The flowering bud of the hop vine has become synonymous with one of craft beer’s most popular styles, the IPA, and, while it isn’t the only style to harness the power of the hop, it does better than most to show off its versatility.
For many people, hoppy-ness = bitterness. Yet, this is not always the case. A beer can be hoppy without being bitter. This all depends on the hop varietal and what it contributes to the beer. During the boil hops are added either in the beginning (for bitterness) or towards the end (for aroma). Some brewers have begun utilizing the dry-hopping technique -- adding hops during fermentation -- in their beers to exact even more aroma and flavor for their concoctions.
Not satisfied with just making popular beer, many breweries have begun experimenting with the hop’s delicate power. Tropical IPAs with toned-down bitterness levels are becoming more and more common, replacing the big, bitter behemoths and giving greener beer drinkers a more approachable option in the sometimes-daunting IPA market. For example, San Diego’s Modern Times and Hop Concept have rotating lineups that look to find new and unique hop combinations.
Some of the more creative brewers are even turning the linear Lager market on its head by adding imperial levels of hops to their crisp, light options. Even locally, sour fans are treated to hopped-up ales from SF’s own Almanac Brewing, adding new flavors to their Brett-infused favorites.
The mystery of the hop hasn’t always been met with acclaim, and divides opinion for many beer drinkers. Yet, it’s the mystique that gives “hop-heads” such joy from nothing more than a spice that grows like weeds. Hopefully, this answers a few question and makes hop-forward brews more approachable in the future.
Yours in hoppy-ness,
Lord of Libation