Monthly Archives: February 2016

Hops, hops, and more hops!

Hops are the flowers most commonly used as flavoring agent in beer. Renown for the bitter, citrus, herbal, and zesty flavors they display in beer; hops have become inseparable from beer for many consumers and critics alike. The technical name of the hop plant is Humulus Iupulus, and many different varieties of hops are grown around the world. Historically many different combinations of herbs and spices were used for brewing beer before the widespread use of hops emerged. Hops are well known to have anti-bacterial properties and in high concentrations such as an IPA(India Pale Ale), they can even prevent beer from spoiling in warm conditions such as on a sea voyage. The benefits of hops were quickly realized in old times, likely leading to their dominance.

Historically many different combinations of herbs and spices were used for brewing beer before the widespread use of hops emerged. Hops are well known to have anti-bacterial properties and in high concentrations such as an IPA(India Pale Ale), they can even prevent beer from spoiling in warm conditions such as on a sea voyage. The benefits of hops were quickly realized in old times, likely leading to their dominance. Although there are many technical variations of hops, there are two main types we can simplify to; bittering and aroma hops. Bittering hops generally have a higher concentration of alpha acids which infuse a bitter flavor when boiled into the beverage.

Bittering hops generally have a higher concentration of alpha acids which infuse a bitter flavor when boiled into the beverage. Bittering hops are generally boiled at least 15 minutes, but more likely the full 60 minutes of boiling time allotted to the wort to maximize utilization of alpha acids in the hops.

Aroma hops generally have lower alpha acid levels and are chosen because of their high concentration of fragile essential oils instead. These hops are generally added in the last 30 minutes and again in the last 5 minutes to give the beer hop flavor without as much bittering and the hop aroma sought out my many beer drinkers.

Lastly, almost entirely for aroma hops can be added after the boiling process when the “wort” is cool and generally has mostly finished fermentation. This process is called a “dry hop” and is used to transfer the smelly essential oils into the beer without any heat to destroy them.

The next pale ale or IPA you enjoy, take a second to think about when they might have added the hops.

Tradition or Variety first… Reinheitsgebot?

What makes a beer a beer? Is it defined by strict rules and codes set in place when beer was a new trend, or can the definition of beer change with the times to allow for creativity and variety?

Beer has been around for literally thousands of years. Some cultures that still exist today such as Germany and Ireland have beer roots that go back over 5000 years! Stories of Germanic and Irish tribes spreading beer as they traveled throughout Europe have long persisted. Along with this great beer heritage comes the burden of carrying on the traditions set for a culture by its ancestors.

Germany has even gone so far as to implement the Reinheitsgebot around the 16th century! The Reinheitsgebot is referred to in Eglish as the “German beer purity law”. Everyone in the brewing industry will instantly know what you are talking about when you mention the Reinheitsgebot. According to the Bavarian founded law, the only ingredients allowed for the finished product to still be called beer are; water, barley, hops.

On contrast in countries like The United States America where the brewing history is extremely small, complacency with traditional beer styles is nearly impossible to find in a micro brewery. Alternative grains such as Rye and millet, as well as techniques for producing gluten-free beer are being experimented with across the nation. For Americans there is no traditon to break, beer brewing is increasingly being seen as an art. As with any form of art the styles are expected to evolve over time and push boundaries.

A large portion of American craft beer could not legally be sold as beer under the Reinheitsgebot.

I challenge you to go enjoy a beer that contains ingredients other than water, barely, and hops. While you do that, decide if you think it should be considered beer or something else and let me know what you think.

The Differences Between Pale Ales and IPA’s

Firstly, a “Pale Ale” is generally a beer brewed with mostly pale malts*, and a balanced hop to malt ratio. Due to the malt used the beer should be lighter in color and light to medium in flavor. Worldwide there is variation in the Pale Ale from country to country.

American Pale Ales and British Pale Ales are generally the most popular variations of the style. British variations are often maltier, smooth, and have a buttery mouth feel due to Nitrogen being used to produce the bubbles in the beer as opposed to the standard method of carbonation. American Pale Ales are known for haveing very well defined tastes, higher bitterness levels, and a more aggressive bubbling drink due to the carbonation. Historically the two variations differed further in that some hops were unavailable in one region or the other, however, modern systems of trade and transport have reduced this difference.

An India Pale Ale falls under the same blanket category of “Pale Ale”, but almost any discerning beer drinker and critic alike will tell you that they are not the same beer. India Pale ales were advertised as early as the early 1800’s, and gained in popularity amongst sailors first due to its staying ability over the high seas. This original staying power was due to the high alcohol content of the IPA’s of the time. In modern times we would call those particular strength IPA’s “Barley Wines”

The Primary defining characteristic that separates IPA’s from the traditional Pale Ale is the increased bitterness from hops. Essentially the IPA has a taste based around the bitterness of hops instead of a balanced profile that combines malt and hop bitterness tastes. IPA’s will be dominated by the hop bitterness and the malt will fall to a secondary flavor.

Any thoughts on the differences between the two? What is your favorite, Pale Ale, or IPA?

*Malt: a partially germinated grain that was intentionally halted from germinating