Showcasing the unsung heroes and hidden ingredients of your favourite drinks
Humulus Lupulus might sound like a crippling ailment or a misread line from the Gladiator script, but it’s actually the latin term for a brewer’s best friend: The humble hop plant.
Back in the good old days when beer was somehow safer to drink than water, hops were used as a preservative to prevent spoiling. Back then, the characteristic bitterness of hops (which is a product of their varying iso-alpha acid productions, if you’re fixing to look smart at your next trip to the tap house) was an unwanted side-effect. But considering the fact that there are now over 80 varieties of hops and counting, each with its own unique levels of bitterness and citrus intensity, it’s safe to say that tastes have changed.
From the spicy florality of old-school, European Noble hops like Saaz, Tettnang and Hallertau, to the younger, trendier and generally more citrus-forward American hops like Centennial, Cascade and Columbus, hops not only aid in a beer’s preservation and head retention (this is a real term, I promise), but also form the backbone of many a craft brew’s flavour profile. Playing around with particular hop combinations yields new and interesting brews, with some particularly generous commercial brewers sharing recipes to allow for avid homebrewers to ‘clone’ their favourite beers.
When it comes to the flora of our own little island, English hops are true unsung heroes. With funny little names like Fuggles and Goldings, British hops are every bit as mild-mannered as they sound. That said, they’re a dab hand at mellowing out their boisterous American counterparts to make for some surprisingly approachable porters and stouts. EJ
Top of the Hops with Tiny Rebel Brewers
With around 80 hop varieties vying for our affection, we sat down with Niall Thomas at Newport’s very own Tiny Rebel Brewery for some top hop nominations.
The A-Team – An all-star lineup of unstoppable hops
Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo – Big tropical and citrus fruit, then a bitter, grapefruity note, and a floral, herby one. These three give you a wide range of aroma and flavour possibilities. And they’re all pretty dual purpose – suitable for both bittering and imparting flavour.
The Lone Ranger – A single hop that can stick up for itself
Mosaic – It’s got everything. Citrus, pine, berries. Really, really versatile.
The Roadie – A behind the scenes hop that works better in the background
Cascade – Similar to Centennial (which is sometimes referred to as a Super Cascade) – works great as a bittering hop but does have quite an intense spicy floral aroma. Works great as a foundation to build other flavours on.
The Golden Boy – The so-hot-right-now hop that everyone wants a piece of
Vic Secret – An incredible herby fruitiness when used as a dry hop (i.e. not boiled – just added to fermenting beer) with notes of pineapple and passionfruit. A great example of an Australian hop really competing with the American varieties.
The Tragic Villain – Not evil, just misunderstood
Sorachi Ace – A bit of a Marmite split to this one. You either love it or you hate it. Sometimes a bit of an acquired taste maybe – with herby aromas like dill being quite unique and unexpected. This can also fall into spearmint. Sometimes those flavours can strike you really well, other times they can be off putting.
The Rising Star – A newer hop showing promise
Hallertau Blanc – Not one we’ve worked with a lot but one we are hearing people talk about a lot. It’s got wine-like notes to it, like a really clean sauvignon blanc. Gooseberry and grassy undertones. Passionfruit is also mentioned quite a bit when testing this, as are lemongrass and elderflower. here’s a lot going on and a lot to play with!
Words by Will Halbert