History of Hops in Beer
The hop is the rock star of the drinking world. It’s the key to craft beer and those bold IPAs you either love or hate, and it’s finding its way into wines and ciders—while new breeds of the plant are sprouting every day. Here’s what you need to know about the little bud that holds big sway over what you sip. —Joshua M. Bernstein
What It Is
A hop is the female flower of the Humulus lupulus bine. (Yes, bine—not vine. Bines wrap around something to climb.) In beer, the hop has the power to influence a whole host of qualities. Its bitterness balances sweetness and helps dial in the degree of dryness on the finish. Its oils create a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors and can affect how long the foam lasts after it’s poured into your pint glass. It’s also a natural preservative: In the 18th century, British ships bound for India carried barrels of ale steeped with hops, giving birth to India Pale Ale, or IPA. The hop is a member of the Cannabaceae family, making it a cousin of cannabis. While it boasts similar aromas to pot (allegedly), it doesn’t share the same buzz-inducing powers.
How It’s Used
With scores of varieties and a slew of variables at play, choosing the right blend of hops to brew is not an easy task and is truly an art. Some are boldly bitter, while others may have a more subtle bite; some varieties boast lush tropical and melon aromas, while others are sharp, like whiffing an unripe grapefruit. When they’re harvested, how long they sit and whether they’re raw, cured or dried—along with when they’re brewed—all impact how the beer will smell and taste.
Where It’s Grown
Perennial hops are picky plants, preferring moderate climates with plenty of sunshine and water. In the United States, production is centered in the Pacific Northwest, where some of the best aroma hops (Citra, Mosaic) are grown. Australia and New Zealand are hop-growing powerhouses. With no natural pests or diseases, many Kiwi hops, like the aromatic Nelson Sauvin, are grown without pesticides. The United Kingdom is lauded for its fruity, earthy hops, while the Czech Republic and Germany are renowned for their “noble hops,” the delicate European varieties that marry heady aromas with pleasing bitterness.
The best beers made with the latest and greatest hops, pictured from left to right.
The Hop: Mosaic
Big tropical-fruit notes, with an earthy pungency.
The Beer: Blue Point Mosaic Session IPA
With notes of pineapple, grapefruit and apricot, this feather-light Long Island brew finishes as dry as an afternoon in the desert.
The Hop: El Dorado
Notes of Jolly Rancher and candied orange peel.
The Beer: Maine Beer A Tiny Beautiful Something
This juicy, El Dorado–driven pale ale is fabulously fruity and smooth, with a light, lip-smacking sweetness on the finish.
The Hop: Equinox
Tropical fruit aromas, with an undertone of unripe green pepper.
The Beer: Southern Tier 2xOne Single Varietal Double IPA
This pleasantly nutty New York IPA sports flavors of papayas, apples and a lemon-lime squeeze.
The Hop: Bavarian Mandarina
Zesty tangerine with sweet honey aromas.
The Beer: Firestone Walker Easy Jack
This thirst-quencher boasts lemon and lime notes, with whispers of peach, banana and wet oats. Silky smooth and downright chuggable.
The Hop: Citra
An all-out assault of lychee, mango, papaya and pineapple.
The Beer: Victory Headwaters Pale Ale
This cracker-crisp ale is a swirl of freshly mown lawn aromas, with flavors of pine needles, pineapples and lemons.