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Hops are crucial to the character of beer, whether it be in ales or lagers. The flower or cone (called the strobile) of the female plant is the source for the resin used to develop the nose, flavor and finish of the beer. It also serves as a natural preservative for your favorite beverage from your favorite Beer of the Month Club!

The hop plant is a climbing herbaceous plant that grows wild in many parts of the world, including Asia, Europe and North America. In some areas, it is actually used as an interesting landscape element. Its cultivation dates back to the Roman era, when the shoots were mostly used as a food source.

Hops are usually added to the wort in the brew kettle before the wort is boiled during the brewing process. This introduces both bitterness and dryness before fermentation. When the brewmaster introduces additional hops further into the process, the hop aroma becomes more pronounced. Those are the gifts of hopping: bitterness, dryness and aroma. If any of the three is lacking, chances are good the beer won’t measure up. Skilled brewmasters mix and match and manipulate different hops to achieve the personality they are shooting for. A large percentage of the hops used in U.S. breweries comes from Europe and the British Isles, but the Pacific Northwest (chiefly Washington state) is known for crossing the English varieties with native North American strains. The result is a distinctive floral character used successfully in legions of brew recipes.

Mother Nature encourages evolution. In 2008 a poor hop crop with low yields overseas, coupled with the weak U.S. dollar against the euro, meant foreign hops were extraordinarily expensive. This hop crisis forced American brewers to experiment. Outstanding “new brews” were born, using alternative flavors like chocolate and coffee, beginning an experimental era that continues to evolve.

ASK MR. BEERHEAD: JAY PFISTER of ROANOKE, VIRGINIA, ASKS:  “HAVE THE BASICS OF BREWING EVOLVED, OR IS IT ALL PRETTY MUCH THE SAME AS DECADES AGO?”

If a brewmaster from the late nineteenth century were brought back to life, he would find today’s recipes to be quite familiar. (He’d have no trouble finding a job!)

The basic ale and lager recipes have remained remarkably unchanged, though there are more flavor options and combinations used today, especially in the craft brew arena.

The most radical changes seem to center around the marketing, packaging, volume and distribution of beer.

THIS MONTH’S FEATURED BREWERIESSMUTTYNOSE BREWERY & ALPHABET CITY BREWERY

 

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Tracie Burket
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