Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hops 2011

Hops, what are they? Hops are the bittering herb used in beer that imparts a bitter flavor to the beer. The history of hops is quite ancient, dating back to Babylon and Rome. It was the Romans who brought the hop to Britain as a vegetable. The earliest mention of hops in Europe is in the Hallertau district in 736 AD. However, it would be hundreds of years before Europe came to except the hop in beer.

What did they do before they had hops to add to beer? They would impart the beer with many different herbs, which were all being used for what the hop would replace, to add bittering flavor to the brew, balancing out the high alcohol and sweetness of the ales they brewed. They used herbs like coriander, yarrow, St. John's wort, rosemary and wormwood to add flavor to the beer.

However, due to the lower alcohol (lower than wines) the beer still spoiled quickly. Meaning, you brewed your own beer, and it was drunk very quickly. No time to ship it around the country, or start a large brewery, beer just wouldn't keep that long.

It was Germany who took to using the hops in the first place, and soon after the Dutch started importing the beer made with hops, and hops themselves to grow.

Why could they ship the beer from Germany? Because the hops are what make a beer keep. This was a new revolution to the world of brewing. You could get twice as much beer out of the same amount of malt, because you could make lower alcohol, impart hops, and it would keep even longer than traditional ales. This was when the herb growers who supplied the 'gruit' for the beer started getting upset. Because the introduction of hops would mean they would be out of business. No longer would people buy those herbs, that would not keep an ale, but would buy hops which will keep the beer for long periods of time. So, it was banned and put down in many countries because this.

Once Holland was won over to hops, England went next. They soon developed a taste for the hopped beer. In the 1400s they imported the hopped brew, and in 1428 they were growing hops. However, the controversy kept up througout the ages, and even as late as 1651 hopped beer was described in John Taylor's Ale Ale-vated into the Ale-titude as "A Dutch boorish liquor...a saucy intruder."

The advantages of the hopped beverage was so much better than unhopped that it triumped over the the traditional ales, brewed without hops.

However, the change to hops and hop growing did not come without cost. The hop was assailed by many pests and diseases, and you had to learn with it's whimsical nature. Some years the harvest would be good, and others bad. The cost would sometimes be 10 times higher in a bad year than the year before. Meaning you either made a fortune in a bad year, or a little in a good year. Neighbors often hoped for the others field to fail in order for the price to rise and make greater profit.

The hops move Westward, the Americas.

In 1629 the Massachusetts Bay Co. ordered seeds from England. In 1640s it was noted that hops grew "fair and large" in the colonies. Although Massachusetts in 1791 produced the first harvest, it was New York state that would take the country's leading and first producer. They were first planted in 1808. First harvest sold for 12 cents a pound. A series of English crop failures increase the demand that in 1822 trade routes were designated.

Gradually it moved to the West Coast, where California and Oregon gained production. In the early 1900s New York was still the leading producer. And in 1914 when the prohibition hit the production went down, and continued to decline, even after the prohibition in 1933.

The most recent development in hop history (1990) is the increasing availability of hops to to the homebrewer.

So there you have it. The history of hops. Did you know? Hops themselves are not bitter, it is only when added to the boiling wort (beer before fermenting) that it brings out the oils that impart the bitterness. Hops are added to beer to add aroma and flavor, along with the bitterness which helps keep a beer so long.

So, why talk about hops? Well, for one thing, I brew, so I use them. For another, I grow them! I started growing hops last year, and I blogged about it. My hop grew 15-20 feet last year, pretty impressive, and I got a small harvest. This year, with added SEA-CROP and compost tea my hop is doing even better! It is 6ft long already! It is growing more than 4 inches a day! I am looking forward to a vine that will be more than 40ft long! I hope to take some pictures of it in a week or two, but didn't have my camera with me today.

English Vintner

Here is the main source for where I took my history for hops. I looked at a few other websites as well.