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By Amanda Frank

How hops make a better beer

Hops are flowers that come from a hop plant, scientifically called Humulus lupulus. This plant is loosely related to the cannabis plant, but does not contain the same properties. Hops are primarily used as a flavoring and stabilizing agent in beers, but are also used for medicinal brews and other beverages. They have both preservative and antibacterial qualities that allow beer to last longer and stay fresh. In addition, they help to balance the flavor of the beer and other ingredients used during the brewing process. They act as a counter against the sweetening agents used, such as malt.

Though hops were not traditionally used in the production of beer until around the 16th century, they are now a staple ingredient in almost all beers in mass production. Many beer experts thank hops for contributing to the rise of beer because of their ability to withstand long shipping times back before we enjoyed freight and air deliveries.

Types of hops

There are many varieties of hops, mainly separated into two main categories: bittering and aroma. Each type has a predominant quality that is used to make specific kinds of beers. The major difference between the two types, other than taste, is when they are used. Bittering hops are used in the beginning of the brewing process during boiling, whereas the aroma hops are used near the end of the boiling time.

There are also three sub-categories of hops, which are listed depending on in which region or area they grow. This is similar to how the grapes used for wine are categorized based on where they were grown.

  • Noble – Found predominantly in Central Europe
  • English – Originally imported from Flanders
  • American – Cultivated right in the United States

In all, there are over one hundred and twenty varieties of hops currently known. Each day, more are being developed that will provide new and specific tastes. There are so many types of hops currently that the flavor could be anywhere from spicy to floral to sweet to citrus, all with the bitter undertones associated with the plant.

Most commonly used hops

  • Amarillo
  • Cascade
  • Centennial
  • Cluster
  • Crystal
  • Gallena
  • Horizon
  • Liberty
  • Magnum
  • Sterling
  • Tomahawk
  • Warrior

Most experienced beer brewers use a variety of hops in combination and at different times during the brewing process to intensify and deepen the desired flavors. This has allowed the variety of beers available to increase exponentially. As a key ingredient in beer brewing, hops allow consumers to experience many different flavors and sensations with each kind of beer.

Beer is a very common alcoholic beverage and most people do not know how it is actually made. Hops are such a major aspect of their creation that without it, the taste we know would not be the same. By understanding hops and how they impact the overall flavor and quality of beer, we can begin to differentiate the variances between hop types. With the deeper respect for the ingredients used, beer can become more of an adventure in that the hops can come from all around the world.

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