Written By: Vic Cammarota
Today's beer selections can seem a bit overwhelming. Aside from the dozens of breweries that
are popping up in every state, there seem to be even more styles of beer— from saisons and
stouts to pale ales and IPAs. Despite their differences in color, texture, and flavor, the one
commonality these styles share is hops. Although we see hops written on the label of our cans,
what exactly are they? Where did they come from? And how did they get into our beer?
Hops are the flower of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. They are thought to date back to the first
century and likely originated in Egypt. We know them today for adding the bitterness to our IPAs
and various distinct flavors that are specific to each hop varietal.
But that wasn't always the intent of hops. Originally, they were added to beer for their ability to
preserve freshness. The bitterness that came with them was just really a hump to get over and
considered more of an “off flavor.” Believe it or not, the traditional ale of England didn’t contain
hops at all, as they used different herbs and spices for flavoring. It wasn't until a version of
English ale was made with hops that they adopted the term “beer” — a way of differentiating the
Eventually, the method of using hops in beer evolved and expanded to other regions of the
globe. Being that it was too hot to brew their own beers in India, Britain became the country’s
official supplier and would ship over different varieties. Because beer had to last around six
months at sea, brewers learned to up the alcohol percentage and add a generous amount of
hops for preservation. Not only did this create beers that were built to last. But it also created
the prototype of the original India Pale Ale we drink today.
There are many different types of hops being bred each day. From the tropical hops of New
Zealand and Australia to the Noble hops of Germany, we have come a very long way from
simply using hops to preserve our beer. In today’s modern era, the main purpose of hops is for
flavor and balance. They are typically sipped fresh rather than aged and we have found ways to
predict and scale the bitterness from their oils and acids.
To this day, we are constantly developing new techniques for achieving different flavors within
the same hop, such as dry hopping, boil additions, hop back devices, whirlpool hops, and late
If one thing is clear, it’s that hops couldn't possibly hold more importance in the beer world —
and still have yet to realize their infinite potential! Cheers to hops!