Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Beginners Guide To Hops - with Best of British Beer

Photo: Danielle Simone (CCL)

I've spent quite a long time recently talking about different styles of beer. Admittedly, there has been a lot of IPA but in my defence, it's massive at the minute! It got me thinking, I've never gone into much detail about what actually gives a beer it's characteristics.

We know the key ingredients for beer are water, malt, yeast and hops, but how do they influence it? While each and every component adds to the final product, it's the hops that offer most in the way of flavour and more importantly, bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt.

Much like the grapes used in the production of wine, the ingredients used in the production of beer come in various varieties, all of which affect the final taste.

So what's a hop?
A hop is the small conical flower of the hop plant. Now, without getting too science-y, inside the hop are glands containing resins and essential oils which are extracted in the boil. The resin is made up of Alpha and Beta acids which contribute to aroma, bitterness and flavour.

Each different hop variety will have different levels of these acids and therefore impart different flavours. Regional hops will have a broad 'style' to them. American hops for instance will generally have higher levels of Alpha acids resulting in higher bitterness and aroma levels.

OK! That's the educational bit out the way, let's drink some beer!

Thanks again go to Best of British Beer for providing me with their 'Top of the Hops' case (£33.15 for 12 brilliant hoppy bottles) to illustrate my point about the different characteristics you get from different types of hops:

Wiper and True, Winter Oats Amber Ale
Hops - Simcoe, Admiral, Bramling Cross
From one of my favourite brewers, using two English hops and one American. The American Simcoe brings a wealth of bitterness with strong citrus flavour and fresh, almost woody finish. The Bramling Cross rounds it off with smooth tropical notes.

Signature Brew, Backstage IPA
Hops - Centennial Summit, Chinook
This uses exclusively American hops and has an almost mouthwatering bitterness. The Centennial hop is often referred to as 'Super Cascade' due to the high levels of citrus flavour it imparts. Couple this with Summit and Chinook and you're left with a refreshing beer with lots of citrus, notes of pine and a bitter lemon finish.

Oakham Ales, Green Devil IPA
Hops - Citra
Single hop varietal are increasingly popular, with most breweries boasting the fact. Citra, as you might imagine from the name,  gives a very citrus led brew with notes of pine but not so heavy on the bitter. It's worth mentioning that this beer has won several awards and it's easy to see why! Very refreshing but still letting some of that malt sweetness shine through.

Thwaites Crafty Dan, Triple C
Hops - Citra, Centennial, Chinook
All varieties that have been mentioned before. The Citra offers bold citrus while the Chinook gives a bitter edge with fresh tropical notes. The Centennial really beefs it up with lashings of citrus fruit such as orange and grapefruit. Still with a hint of sweetness, this is a well balanced summer time brew.

Eden Brewery, Here, Hare, Beer. IPA
Hops - English Golding, Admiral
Brewed to a 'Secret Military Spec', this beer is a classic example of the kick that hops can give to a brew when added later in the brewing stage. The nose focuses on the malt with sweetness and toasty notes. These follow on the palate with the hops giving it a kick of bitterness with red berry and orange flavours.

Off Beat Brewery, Dysfunctional Functional IPA
Hops - 'Everything in the cupboard'
No that's not a single varietal! This gorgeous brew uses Cascade, Summit, Columbus, Chinook and Nelson Sauvin. Bursting with character and an abundance of tropical and citrus flavours. There's subtle grassy hints (from the sauvignon blanc-esque Nelson Sauvin hops), a slight caramel note all finished with a well-balanced beast of a bitter finish. A truly massive IPA in all but alcohol at only 4.8%. Simply stunning!

Backyard Brewhouse, IPA
Hops - Chinook, 1st Gold
Very heavy on the woody notes of cut pine and a slightly cedar-y. The nose has a sherbet sweetness followed by notes of sour citrus. These themes continue on the palate but with a slight hit of stone fruit. The Chinook adds a subtly sweet spicy note to it which leads to a long lasting finish.

Stonehouse Brewery, KPA
Hops - Green Bullet
I've come across Stonehouse before and I was not disappointed! This KPA is made using the Green Bullet hop from New Zealand. It gives off a very distinctive nose of nettle and a slightly medicinal note. The palate is surprisingly biscuit-y but is lifted by a clean bitterness and classic citrus.

Just a heads up, I would love to tell you what hops are in these last four beers, but unfortunately I don't have that information. I mean, I am good, but I'm not that good...yet! Here's what's in the rest of the Top of the Hops case:

Geeves Brewery, Clear Cut Extra Pale Ale
As the name suggests, this is very pale in colour. Fresh on the nose with notes of pine resin and citrus. On the palate the malt is slightly more prominent giving nutty flavours all followed with an uplifting bitter finish of grapefruit and pepper.

Thornbridge Brewery, Wild Swan White Gold Pale Ale
With a colour more akin to young Chardonnay, this beer is superbly fresh with lots of green fruit. Apple, lime and cucumber are all present with a wonderfully herbaceous finish. A bit of a strange one, but still a very good brew.

Panther Brewery, Beast From The East Amber IPA
I did a thing a long time ago about beers from Norfolk, which was pretty much at the start of my beer discovery journey. Well today I've come full circle back to Panther. This has a beautiful caramel nose with notes of red berry and stone fruit. The finish is long and dry with citrus a plenty.

Bragdy Conwy Brewery, Riptide Black IPA
Being a black IPA, this is a little different from the rest. Rich, roasted malt is backed up my notes of banana and toffee on the nose. Delve into the palate and you'll find an intriguing blend of coffee, waxy citrus and spice.

Well, I hope you've learnt something through all of this. The most important thing now is to get exploring! There's a whole world of different hop varieties to discover so see what you can find!

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