As any IPA fan will tell you, hops are an essential ingredient in modern-day beer. Hops – the female flowers of the female flower of the humulus lupulus plant – give beer distinctive aromas and hints of bitterness, and they also act as a natural preservative. It’s hard to imagine your favorite brew without hops. But did you know that hops are a relatively recent addition to the beer-making process?
Beer is thousands of years old – maybe up to 9,000 years – but the first known instance of brewing with hops didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. In 822 AD, the abbot of a Benedictine monastery in Picardy, France wrote down a list of rules for running the abbey – and it included collecting wild hops for making beer.
Beer Before Hops
So how was beer made before hops were added to the recipe?
Ancient brewers used a mixture of herbs (such as sweet gale, yarrow or mugwort) called gruit to give beer flavor and bitterness. Some herbs included in gruit also had preservative qualities to keep beer fresh.
The Rise & Rise of Hops
From the 11th century to the 16th century, gruit was slowly phased out as brewers started using hops more commonly to make beer. And by 1516, hops were literally the law in Bavaria: that’s when Duke Wilhelm IV wrote the Bavarian Beer Purity Law, stating that brewers in his realm only use three ingredients in beer: barley, water and hops.
In the United States, hop production was booming in New York in the 1800s, then it gradually started moving west. Today, Washington, Oregon and Idaho are major hop producers.
The Value of Hops
Hops are an important ingredient for modern-day beer because they:
• Clarify the wort during the beer-making process
• Help the beer retain a good head
• Add aroma and flavor, balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness
• Act as a preservative, preventing beer from spoiling during shipping and storage
Let’s raise a glass to the mighty hop!