The Value Of The Hop To The Beer-making Process

Today, few beer addicts would be aware of the role of hops in brewing. Even fewer know that had it not been for hops, there might not be any beer at all today. It may be worthwhile for all lovers of beer as well its history to read a word or two about how hops affected the destiny of beer.
The Value of the Hop to the Beer-Making Process
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHops-1.jpg)

Today, few beer addicts would be aware of the role of hops in brewing. Even fewer know that had it not been for hops, there might not be any beer at all today. It may be worthwhile for all lovers of beer as well its history to read a word or two about how hops affected the destiny of beer.

 

"Hops are to beer what lemon is to lemon aid," so states a website introducing hops. One may not really agree with that, and yet, one cannot deny that without hops the beer would not be the beer as we know.

It would be something very different.

What are Hops ?

Hops are female cone flowers of the hop plant, Humulus Lupulus. They are an essential ingredient for making beer for more than one reason. They are bitter and this bitterness counters the sweet sour taste of sugars and its ferment derived from malt. Without the bitterness of hops the beer will be a sweet drink very different from what it tastes today. However, bitterness is not the only reason for adding hops. In fact their primary purpose was to prevent the spoiling of beer from bacteria during the brewing process. This was especially important when the brewing depended on spontaneous fermentation that took years, and it was a big challenge to protect the fermenting liquid from the bacteria and other micro-organisms that could spoil it.

History of Hops

The first mention of hops is found in Naturalis Historia authored by Pliny the elder in first century A.D. The oldest references to cultivation of hops pertain to Germany in 736 A.D., but the first instance of use of hops in brewing is observed as late as eleventh century. Even at that time, use of hops in brewing was not very common. Gradually, however, all brewing processes across the world started using hops.

Hopping : The Process of Adding Hops in Brewing

In the process of brewing, hops are added after crushing them, to the mash (mixture of malted barley and other cereals with water), and boiled at a temperature between 45 to 70 degrees Celsius. This temperature, which helps enzymes break the starch and proteins also isomerizes the alpha acids thereby converting them into a more soluble and stable form that can get dissolved in the wort and retain its bitter taste and anti-bacterial activity till the point of consumption. Alpha and beta acids prevent the growth of bacteria and facilitate the smooth fermentation of sugar to alcohol without any spoiling effect of bacterial contamination.

The Active Ingredients

in Hops : The Acids & the Oils

The two main ingredients of hops are responsible for its characteristics. The bitterness and the anti-bacterial properties of hops are due to its resins which contain alpha-acids and beta-acids. The distinct flavor that hops give to beer is due to the essential oils contained in it.

Alpha Acids

These are the main active ingredient of hops, and responsible for most of its effect. Five different alpha acids - humulone, cohumulone, adhumulone, prehumulone, posthumulone - are found in hops. Left alone, these get oxidized into compounds which do not have the bitterness or anti bacterial effect, rendering hops ineffective. Alpha acids are insoluble, but get converted into soluble isomeric alpha acids, when hops are boiled with mash in the boiling process.

Unlike alpha acids, isomeric acids are far more stable and retain the bitterness and anti-bacterial effect.

Beta Acids

Beta acids are more stable than alpha acids, and hence are the main ingredient in old hops used for Lambic beer. Unlike alpha acids, oxydized products of Beta acids are active.

Essential Oils

These are oils present in small quantities are responsible for the flavor and aroma of hops. These compounds include caryolanol, caryophyllene oxide, humulene diepoxides, humulol, geraniol and cadinenes among others. These are destroyed by boiling so they are added by way of 'DRY HOPPING', the process of adding hops at the last stages of brewing process, to the fermented wort - the mixture that will eventually become beer, so that the aroma of the hops is retained.

Use of Hops Today

Use of hops was probably introduced in the process of brewing primarily because of their anti-bacterial stabilizing effect on the brew. Those days it was essential to prevent the fermenting process from bacterial contamination. However, the bitter taste that hops add to beer has now come to become a part of it. Today, even though we may be able to find other ways of preventing bacterial contamination, hops continue to be used for the effect they bring to the taste and aroma of the drink.
 



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