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Hops: Beer’s Bitter Half
Virtually all beers—craft brews in particular—rely on the complex flavors and aromas of hops. Read on for Groupon’s exploration of one of beer’s most vital ingredients.
Different wheat varieties account for beer’s varying colors, from the amber hue of lager to the deep-chocolate dusk of a heavy stout. But not all beer’s key ingredients make their presence visible. In the glass, hops are undetectable to the eye but often inescapable to the palate. One of four principal ingredients in the brewing process—along with grain, yeast, and water—hops produce beer’s distinctive bitterness, balancing the natural sweetness of the grain’s malt sugar while imbuing it with other flavors and aromas. Harvested from the female flowers of a perennial vine called Humulus lupulus, the pellets come in two complementary types—alpha and aroma. The former contributes to beer’s bitterness with its higher acidity levels, whereas the latter results in floral qualities due to its higher percentage of essential oils.
One of the beers most commonly described as “hoppy,” india pale ale, came about thanks to another unique property of hops. An antimicrobial agent, the plant has been rumored to act as a natural preservative, keeping beer from spoiling too quickly. With this in mind, 18th- and 19th-century British brewers began adding extra hops to batches of beer destined for the Indian colonies, resulting in the brew’s characteristically strong bitterness.