What are Hops and why are they so delicious?

Hops are the female flower clusters of a hop species, and are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor.  Hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine.  Hops were cultivated on a continuing basis around the 8th or 9th century AD in Bohemian gardens in the Hallertau district of Bavaria and other parts of Europe.  However, the first documented use of hops in beer as a bittering agent is from the eleventh century.

There are a lot of ‘hop-heads’ out there and I am certainly one of them. I am not quite sure what it is that makes hops so appealing, but there is little doubt that hops captivate many beer consumers.  Maybe it is the intensity of the flavor.  Of course, the complexity of flavors offered by hops is enjoyable.  The aroma is so pleasant and often familiar to other things we enjoy like pine and citrusy fruits and other hops.  Hops and hoppy beers are just a great thing.  I do not wish to get too far ahead of myself here and begin sending the impression that hop driven beers are the pinnacle of the beer world.  Indeed so many great beers and beer styles exist that one would be hard pressed to choose the best.  I am, however, partial to hop driven beers and find my palate ever delighted by the variety of hoppy flavors being produced in America and elsewhere.  Hops are one of several ingredients in beer that contribute to a level of complexity that easily rivals the complexity found in wine.  Wine, being made from grapes and yeast, is an incredible beverage.  Wine offers astounding differences and depth and complexity and an extreme variations in flavors – all from grapes.  Beer has hops, malts and dozens of other ingredients that brewers experiment with to exponentially increase the potential for complexity.  Hops are my current focus though and to get a sense of what they can contribute to a beer pay close attention to the aromas and flavors that vary so greatly between your favorite IPAs.  Mikkeller, a labeler/recipe producer has a line of beers that is particularly intriguing and quite exciting – the single hop beers.  Each Beer is made with only water, malts, a single hop variety and yeast to show off what each hop variety brings to the kettle.  I have thoroughly enjoyed sampling these beers and pitting hop varietal against hop varietal.  I may even have to start mixing some of them together.  There are hundreds of IPAs to enjoy, most of which show the brewer’s preferred combination of hops.  Check out the single hop brews for some field research on what hops hit your palate just right and soon you’ll be able to tell who’s brewing with what and why you like their stuff so well.

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