Brewing is alchemy. An oft-tinkered with recipe of temperature, timing and ingredients that together make the many varieties of golden, amber and deep brown nectar we know and love.
Hops are a relative newcomer to the process which traditionally used water, malted barley and yeast together with some form of plant to balance out the sweetness of the basic brew.
To find the first use of hops in beer brewing we need to rewind to Colonial Britain in the 1790’s and visit the docks of East London where brewer George Hodson had a problem: all the beer he was transporting out to quench the thirst of Brits in India was going bad on the three to five month journey and arriving musty flat and sour. Having tried all sorts of preserving methods, including keeping the beer on the lower, cooler decks of the ships. George finally hit on the idea of adding a natural preservative to his barrels before they were loaded onto the boats: hops. Hops contains isohumulone — it’s what gives them their bitterness — and it’s also a natural enemy of lactobacillus, one of the bacteria that was causing the beer to go bad.
Turned out the folks in India were rather partial to the bitter taste of the beer once it arrived on foreign shores. And so Indian Pale Ale (IPA) was born – the grandaddy of all hop-forward beers.
What are hops?
Hops are the flowers of the hop plant. They’re what gives our beers their characteristic bitter flavour, balancing out the sweetness of the malted barley. And they’re crucial in bringing the finest flavours and aromas to ales (and they smell fantastic – if you get chance to visit the Skinner’s brewery be sure to ask for a sniff!)
How do you change the flavour of beer?
In relation to hops, we adjust the flavour of our beer by:
- using different types of brew hops and mixes of those types
- changing when they’re added to the wort
- boiling the hops for different lengths of time
Some hops are used for flavour, some for aroma and some dual-purpose hops can do both.
What hops do we use?
It’s too windy to grow hops here in Cornwall, so we select only the very best beer hops from the UK, Europe and the US. Fresh hops don’t travel well, so we use vacuum-packed whole flower hops to make sure they’re in optimum condition for the brew. Whole flower hops look a lot nicer than the pellets used by some brewers and we believe they lend a better aroma to our beers.
Here’s an A-Z of the different types of hops we use at Skinners:
Admiral — Assertive bittering characteristics and high herbal flavour notes combine with a distinctive woodiness in this resinous, dual-purpose hop. Mellower than Target, this hop brings a balanced bitterness and citrus flavours to the brew.
Used in: River Cottage EPA
Aurora — An earthy, herbal and acidic Slovenian hop with a spicy aroma that comes from it’s natural balance of essential oils. Big on citrus punch and floral notes. A smooth and balanced hop.
Belma — A fruity bittering and aroma hop with strawberry, orange, melon and pineapple tones. Brings a full, clean flavour.
Used in: Lushingtons
Cascade — A level, fragrant aroma hops with moderate bitterness and shades of grapefruit. Cascade is the lovechild of English Fuggle and Russian Sebrebrianka hops and often used in US West Coast ales with a citrus/ floral character.
Used in: River Cottage EPA
Celeia — This hybrid of Stryrian Golding, Aurora and a Slovenian wild hop brings an earthy, herbal aroma and flavour to our beers alongside citrusy aromas, including grapefruit. Cousin of Aurora but slightly more aggressive and less complex.
Citra — A dual-purpose hop with an intense, punchy flavour profile. Brings musky tropical fruit and strong citrus in a sweet aroma and bitter taste. This hop is great for IPAs as it has a pleasant flavour but brings a punchy hop kick.
Mount Hood — A low acid US aroma hop that’s named after the Oregon volcano near which it’s grown. Mount Hood’s German parentage yields a refined and spicy aroma.
Northdown — A clean and mellow, British high alpha-acid hop that’s great for a variety of ales and porters.
Target — A robust and spicy British hop with intense sage, green gage and citrus flavour and marmalade aroma.
Used in: Cornish Trawler
Willamette — A popular US hop variety that’s reckoned to account for over 20% of the hops grown in the US. This aroma hop brings fruity and floral alongside a peppery spice that adapts to many beer styles and adds great character. It’s named after the Oregon river that runs through the growing region.
Used in: Lushingtons
What is your favourite variety of hops?
Do you have a particular variety of hops you absolutely love the aroma and taste of? Or perhaps you can taste the hop flavours we’ve described above in your favourite Skinner’s brew? Let us know which hops tickle your tastebuds the most by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and adding the tag #HoppinessIsHappiness – we’ll be watching!