Brewing SolutionsUnderstanding the Role of Hops in Brewing: Guide for Aspiring Craft Brewers

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Beer making is simple. It requires only four essential ingredients. Of these four, only three are mandatory – yep, you can brew beer with just water, yeast, and malted barley. But, beer made only with these three ingredients will be dull and overpoweringly sweet. This is why for centuries, brewers have added something extra – to add the deep flavours and depth to your beer.

Usually, they added a plant part – some flowers or tips while brewing. In the middle ages, brewers added gruit, a mixture of spices and herbs. By the 15th century, most brewers started adding a fast-growing weed as the fourth ingredient in brewing. This weed is none other than hops. Hops are a type of vine (scientifically, they are bines, a type of vines without the tendrils).

The part of the vine that is used in brewing is the flower part of the hops plant. It’s a delicate, pale green flower and shaped like a cone. It’s chockfull of resins. Hops give a signature bitterness to the brew when added during the brewing process. It also provides a rich aroma at the end. Another huge benefit of adding hops to the brew is that it’s a natural preservative – it extends the life of beer.

Usage of Hops in Beer

Different beer styles use hops to varying degrees. In IPAs, hops take centre stage, while in other types like stouts, hops’ role is subtler. They add depth to the brew, but the typical flavour and aroma of stouts come from grains.

When to add hops during brewing?

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Hops can be added to the wort in three different stages depending on their role in the beer – flavour, aroma, or bittering. The same hop variety can be used for these three other purposes, or you can use different hops. Generally, all beers have at least one type of hops added to the wort to add bitterness and balance the malt’s sweetness. Without bittering hops, the brew would taste overpoweringly sweet.

Adding hops at different times during the brewing process gives varying complexity to the beer profile. For example, if you add only bittering hops, the brew would taste fine. But, it would lack the extra dimension. When you add only aroma hops to the beer, it wouldn’t be bitter enough.

Most beer recipes give you exact times when you should add the hops. For instance, if a beer is supposed to boil for 60 minutes, the recipe might ask you to add the bittering hops when 30 minutes are left of the boil.

Generally, bittering hops are added when the wort has been collected in the kettle, and it has started to boil. Flavouring hops are added in the last 15 to 30 minutes of the boil. It lends the crispy and hoppy flavour to the brew, without the accompanying bitterness. Aroma hops are generally added in the last five minutes of the boil. This is because these hops are volatile, and boiling them for a long time will drive away the aroma.

Exploring Different Varieties of Hops

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Hops are highly sensitive to the terrain in which they grow. This means they cannot be easily farmed anywhere. They require the right climate and temperature. Generally, most hop producing countries lie to the North of the equator. The biggest hop producing countries in the world are the United States, followed by Germany (especially the Hallertau region). The Hallertau zones in Germany are recorded as the very first places to grow hops in the world thousands of years ago. Other countries that produce and export hops in large scales are the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Australia, and Britain.

Hops cultivation in India hasn’t picked on a large scale yet due to several factors – the number one being temperature. However, the craft brewing industry in India has picked up speed in the last decade. So, we can hope that in a couple of years, we would be able to get locally grown hops with their own wonderful characteristics.

As a beginner brewer, you can purchase hops online from stores like brewof.com, brewmart.in, or even Amazon at nominal prices. If you’re looking for specialty hops, you can connect with other beer fermenters in India.

As a leading microbrewery consultant, we can help you with sourcing all your brewing ingredients and equipment from the best manufacturers in India and internationally. If you’re an aspiring microbrewer, get in touch with our friendly team. We’re always happy to share our experiences with potential craft brewers and anyone interested in brewing. Cheers, and looking to connect with you!