Here’s some interesting hop facts and history of brewing with hops! Hops are flowers. Also referred to as cones, the hop flowers grow from the Humulus Lupulus, or “hop plant.” Humulus is a member of the Cannabaceae family, which also includes Celtis (hackberry) and Cannabis (hemp and marijuana). Other than shared genetic origins, members of the Cannabaceae family have few characteristics in common.
Hop farmers plant the vines in rows and train them to climb trellises as high as 25 feet. The hop is a perennial, meaning it comes back every year. The plants can live 20-25 years but cultivation typically lasts 12-14 years before replanting. This roation assures healthy, productive plants, and to allow growers to respond to changing market demands.
The world produces approximately 200 million tons of hops per year! In 2016 the US overtook Germany to become the world’s leading hop producer. The US came to account for about half of worldwide production. 98% of all hops in the US come from the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Idaho and Oregon. What’s more over 70% of US production is grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley alone, home of Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc.
Next we can explore the history of brewing with hops. Did you know the first documented use of hops in beer dates back to the ninth century? Before the use of hops, brewers used “gruit,” made from a selection of bitter herbs, including burdock root, juniper berries, dandelion, horehound, ivy and heather.
Hops add flavor and aroma to beer, infusing bitter, zesty, citric or floral tones that balance the sweetness of the barley or wheat malt. Hops also add stability and help preserve the beer.
The “business end” of the hop is the female hop flower, or cone (the females are the pretty ones, ha ha). Don’t get uncomfortable, but inside the cone petals lie the bracteoles and lupulin glands. These contain a host of powerful organic compounds, resins, alphas which add the bitter flavors, along with betas and essential oils. Rubbing the cone releases aromas that can tell an experienced brewer, everything the hop has to offer. “Dry hopping” is a special process that allows a skilled craft brewer to capture the fresh notes from the hop—citrus, floral, perhaps a hint of sage—to create a marvelous beverage that refreshes, relaxes and amazes. No wonder we have entered “the golden age” of hop brewing!