For those interested in a more in depth view or for those who are just starting out in the homebrew world, we wanted to share some background and information on those wonderful, sticky little cones called hops.

Hops are the delicate female flower of the Humulus Lupulus plant, or hop vine. Considered the spice of beer, hops contribute flavor, aroma and bitterness. The bitterness is there to balance beer’s malty sweetness. Without the bitterness you would have a cloying, overly-sweet drink.

The first solid evidence of hops being used was in northern Italy. They also showed up in medieval records (around 800 C.E.) as being used in beer. They seemed to really become popular in Germany and quickly spread to cities around the country. Only a few places in the world have just the right conditions to produce truly delicious hops.

Once dried, hop cones are wither packed “whole” without further processing or formed into pellets. Dried hops are finely ground into smaller pellets and held together by resins. Some people think using whole hops gives a richer flavor over using smaller pellets but that can be a trial and error exercise or just based on your taste. The “whole” hops aren’t very compact and they don’t store as well and only a few varieties are available to homebrewers. The pellets also dissolve into the boil faster, making them the preferred choice for additions at the end of the boil. Whichever type you select, we strongly recommend using fine mesh, nylon Hop Bags to minimize the amount of the leftover hops that enter your fermenter.

Hops are vital to beer and contribute many things. They provide pleasant aromas and bitterness as stated above, but also provide some antibiotic affect against bacteria that can spoil beer. They also contain tannins that are attracted to proteins in the boil, helping clear the wort of unwanted, long-chain proteins. The result of this process is a clearer beer in the end.

Alpha acid is the chemical component in hops that creates bitterness. The higher the alpha percentage the more bitter the hops. But don’t be afraid to use hops with higher AA ratings; simply use less per batch. For example, when added at the beginning of the boil, 2 oz of, say, Northern Brewer hops with a 7.5% AA will yield the same bitterness as 1 oz of Magnum hops with a rating of 15%AA.
Brewers divide hops into three categories:
1. Those used for bittering and bought on the basis of the quantity of alpha acid
2. Premium low-alpha hops used exclusively for aroma
3. Hope that are considered dual-use meaning used for aroma and have moderate alpha levels

For a more advanced look at the types of hops, you can visit here: