We’ve heard of them. We know they’re important. But what on earth are hops, exactly?
Hops are cone-shaped flowers of the hop plant Hummulus Lupulus. But really, they’re so much more. In beer, hops provide a bitterness to balance and cut through the sweetness brought to the brew by malt sugars. In addition to this bitterness, hops are used for their antiseptic qualities – they keep beer from spoiling and ward off bacteria.
Believe it or not, hops are actually a relatively new addition to the brewer’s toolkit. Well, they’re new by beer’s standards. And beer is very, very old. It is believed that people were drinking beer 8000 years before hops were first used in beer. The first recorded history of their use is approximately 822 AD in Northern France. Before their use in beer, hops were used as herbs and for medicinal purposes.
Hops are available to brewers mainly in whole-leaf, extract or pellet form. Occasionally brewers will use unprocessed hops to create "fresh hop" or "green hop" ales for limited or seasonal release. There are huge numbers of different hops available all over the world, and each variety of hop brings a distinct flavour profile. "Noble hops" are a common group of hops from Europe that have a strong aroma and reasonably low bitterness and are found in European lagers. Here in New Zealand, our hops are renowned for having deep flavours of lime, passion fruit and mandarin – a contrast to American hops which are more fresh and citrusy.
With their ability to transform beer flavour profiles, their global diversity and their antibacterial properties, we think hops in beers are a very good thing. And if all this talk of hops might have you a bit thirsty, take a look at our Toast picks below for some of our favourite New Zealand hoppy beers.