March 29, 2013

Hops, The Other Cannabaceae

America must produce the greatest variety of hops. I haven’t checked that, but it looks that way walking down the beer aisle. Effervescent, citrusy, dank, grassy, piney, and always enchanting, the US of A grows it all. It must be why Americans love bitter, hoppy, beer. I’m pretty sure that to Americanize a beer means to up the alcohol and the hops. Which is something I still struggle with, because it’s everywhere in every style. And it gives me heartburn like a motherfucker.

Hoppiness is an acquired taste, and like spicy food where you crave more and more idiotically painful heat, so too with hoppy beer. Some beer drinkers however, myself included, develop a taste for the hops, but not the bitter. I’m not sure why, it must be the body’s way of saying, “This? This is poison.”

A hop. Has anyone tried smoking one?

Pretty much all beer has hops in it. The aroma and flavor it lends to beer is so perfect. Like tomatoes and basil, goat cheese and honey, donuts and coffee, hops and beer seemed to have been made for each other. The bitterness comes from the acids in the hops, which when boiled, become bitter. Or something. These acids will also act as a preservative, keeping other microbes away but not interfering with the yeast. That counts as symbiosis right? Or at least some form of love or devotion? It’s beautiful.

Bitterness in beer is measured with International Bittering Units, IBUs, on a 100 point scale. It’s not the best tool around, but it’s kind of the only thing around at the moment. With my homebrew I like to stay in the 30 range. Some beers claim to go above 100, which tastes like straight acid and isn’t really a flavor, so much as the perception of flavor as the tongue burns. Every beer should at least have that number listed to help people like me out, and I predict one day that’ll be the norm.

102 IBUs. Mmm lye, pine, and turpentine!

If the hops are not boiled, if they’re left to soak in beer (dry hopping), they’ll lend their aroma without much bitterness. That’s what I’m after, so most of my brews get ounces upon ounces of dry hopping for extended periods. Which is why I’m happy to announce that FermeLab will soon have a hop yard. We’ve dubbed it HopYard, and it’ll feature 3 varieties, Cascade, Willamette, and Sterling, vying for survival in the Georgia winter-spring and scorching summer. I hope to spend those humid August nights lying amongst the vines, huffing their dankness.

Some of my favorite hoppy beers you should be drinking right now:

SweetWater Happy Ending -t 51 IBUs (Having one right now)

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye - 55 IBUs

La Chouffe Houblon - 65 IBUs

SweetWater IPA - 65 IBUs