Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hop University - Day 1

Ever wonder how to choose hops for your homebrew? Ever think, I don’t homebrew so what the hell is a hop? Well fret no longer because I present to you over the next couple of days Hop University! In my personal quest to brew an IPA, I have conducted extensive research on hops. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Founder’s Centennial IPA inspired me to single hop my IPA. So I set off on a quest to pick my one magical hop that will make FatCat’s IPA the best ever. My research, coupled with the Sam Adams Deconstructed sampler, has given me great insight into which hop I will choose. If you wish to attend Hop University proceed onward and bask in the knowledge of hoppy goodness.

Day 1 – Background and History of Hops

Hops (Humulus Lupus) are used in today’s brew to provide a bitter flavor to balance the sweetness of the malt. Only the female flowers/cones are used in the brewing process. The bitter flavor was the original reason for brewers to use hops in brew, but hops had a much greater impact on the brew and those who drank it than flavor alone.

The first documented cultivation of hops was in the year 736 in the Hallertau region of present day Germany. Hops were not used in beer in that area until 1079. Before then brewers used dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound, ground ivy and Heather as bittering agents. When hops are used in the brewing process, it not only provides a bittering element but also provides an antibiotic effect to help ward off bacterial infections. The Discovery Channel documentary, “How Beer Saved the World”, explained how the beer and the hops used in the beer had health benefits for people in the past. Hops prevented the beer from spoiling and provided a safe alternative to water. Untreated water will eventually develop bacteria that would cause illness and even death in ancient times. Beer which had been boiled with hops was more resistant to bacteria and could be consumed with lower risk of getting sick. Beer was also prescribed to treat illnesses in ancient times. It turns out the chemicals from the hops actually have a limited medicinal effect which can help treat some illness.

Hops are a climbing plant and grow on vines. These vines can grow upward of 25ft in a single season. The main hop producing regions are Hallertau in Germany, Yakima Valley in Washington, Williamette in Oregon, Canyon County in Idaho, Kent and Worcestershire in the UK. Only female plants are allowed in the hop fields to prevent pollination. The hop cones are harvested and dried before being used for brewing. Commercially the only major use for hops is in beer with some other minor uses in other beverages. Hops are also used in herbal medicine to treat anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. But beware hops are not all rainbows and butterfly dust, they are toxic to dogs. So don’t let Fido eat any.

The source for most of my information was

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