Hops A-Z; T is for Tsingdao Flower

It's a variety that's produced in a greater quantity than all the hops in the Czech Republic. It's found in many of the beers brewed by the country that produces more beer than any other in the world. You may not have heard of it until now. And I may be spelling it wrongly.

There's precious little information available about China's number one hop variety. That may be down to the fact that the multiple spellings I've encountered which have hampered my research. It could be Qindao, Qintao or Tsingtao but I'll plump for Tsingdao - what's good enough for the Barth-Hass group is good enough for me. An aromatic and bitter hop - essentially dual purpose - Tsingdao Flower has been grown in China since the mid-1960s. Cultivated in the key hop producing North West provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang, it dominates the Chinese hop industry with over two-thirds of total acreage and production.

The Chinese are making a lot of beer, too. In 2008 they were the largest producer in the world and, at the same time, recorded the highest output increase year-on-year. 22 percent of the world's beer was brewed in China - more than the USA and Germany combined. So with a booming market, Tsingdao Flower ought to be running rampant to meet demand. Right?

Wrong. For starters, Chinese beers aren't hugely hopped. Secondly, beer output may have risen but not by the incredible estimates suggested. Brewers were therefore able to brew less beer with even fewer hops than usual. At the end of 2008, hop traders had agreed a buying price for Tsingdao Flower from the growers - but hadn't secured a selling price to the breweries. When demand fell, so did the market price and the traders only recouped around 75% of their outlay. As the Barth-Hass Hop Report 2008 states, "the resulting losses on the part of the hop traders must have been stunningly high".

Some farms have ripped out Tsingdao Flower in response to the retreating hop market and planted other non-hop crops instead. The Xinjiang region has already reduced acreage by 20%. As the original root crop ages, becoming further prone to infection and reducing yields, China is faced with revitalising the variety in the face of declining market demand.

The answer may be to shift the balance of the Chinese hop portfolio and stimulate an export market of quality aroma hops. Tsingdao Flower may not disappear completely, but it may have to be out-blossomed by new varieties if the industry is to be sustained.


Hops A-Z; S is for Saaz

The region is the fourth largest producer in the world. The hop defines a classic beer style. Since the mid-thirteenth century, Saaz has sat at the top table of European hop nobility. But for how much longer?

Some things change; what was the city of Saaz, Austria is now Zatec in the Czech Republic. Some things stay the same; the aromatic hop that became synonymous with the city still thrives. Exploiting the climatic conditions, sheltered from heavy rainfall my the mountains to the north, the Saaz region and hop have a true sense of terroir. Indeed, the European Union granted Protected Designation of Origin to hops grown in the region, under the mark Zatecky Chmel. So what’s so special about Saaz?

For starters, it has more beta-acid than alpha-acid with a low cohumulone count, so imparting a gentle bitterness. A higher than average proportion of the hop oils farnesene to myrcene results in its characteristic earthy-spicy aroma. It’s also been suggested that a higher than average level of polyphenols improve stability and enhance the body of the finished beer.

And it’s those characteristics that result in Saaz defining a style of beer – Bohemian Pilsner. Often described as having a ‘clean’ taste, examples such as Pilsner Urquell are often copied around the world but never really equalled. No wonder, then, that two-thirds of Czech hop production is devoted to Saaz, making the region the fourth largest hop producer in the world after the output of Germany, USA and China.

But it’s not all rosy in the Czech hop gardens. Saaz isn’t a high yield crop and is prone to mildew. In recent years, its acreage has started to decline as higher-yield, higher-alpha varieties such as Sladek and Premiant take its place. These hops have nowhere near the same levels of farnesene, though – Sladek contains almost none – so are we witnessing the beginning of the end for this particular family of hop royalty?

I’d like to think not. New varieties have been developed around the world in an attempt to marry the characteristic high-farnesene aroma with higher alpha yield (such as Sterling in the USA) but…. it’s still not Saaz. There’s a certain something about a proper pilsner; delicate, light, a glissando across the tastebuds. I hope there’s a market for the ‘real thing’ for generations to come. And this really ought to be the year that I haul my reluctant bones over to Zatec and try the beer on its home turf. It’s the least that a hop with such an immutable sense of history and place deserves.


Hops A-Z: R is for Resin

Word association time. If I say 'the defining taste of beer is...' you would say...?

'Hoppy'? (if so, are you Gazza in disguise?)
'Bleurgh'! (if so, why are you still reading?)
'Malty'? (if so, please leave now and don't forget to take your whippet with you)

Beer is bitter. Well, perhaps not all beer, but bitterness is usually there at some level whether it's a gentle tingle or an excoriating pucker. That bitterness is put there by the bittering fairy with a swoosh of her magic dipstick - sorry, I meant to say it's put there by a dash of biochemistry. Acids, to be exact. Which are found in the soft resins.

The beta-acids are often ignored in discussions of hop chemistry, so let's pay them their dues. Lupulone, colupulone and adlupulone all contribute to the bitterness of beer, but towards the end of the process. They oxidise during fermentation and/or storage, so adding bitterness into the beer as it ages. They also run the risk of adding a vegetal tinge.

Most of the bitterness results from the presence of alpha acids. Humulone offers a soft - for many drinkers, desirable - bitterness. Cohumulone adds a harsher bitter taste; US hops such as Cascade and Centennial have proportionally high levels. Adhumulone does... something. But it's rather under-understood.

But those alpha-acids are poorly soluble in water. To get them into the wort, their chemistry needs altering. That's what boiling does; changing the acid's structure to allow water molecules to attach in a process known as isomerisation. Thus, some of the acids dissolve in the water.

Getting that bitterness into beer takes some doing. Hops lose alpha-acids in storage; only a percentage are taken up by the wort (the utilisation rate). More resin, more alpha-acid, isn't the easy answer. Optimisation of the resin's qualities, developed through research in both biochemistry and agriculture, seems to be the way to ensure that beer has a pleasantly bitter future.


Hops A-Z: Q is for Quality and Quantity

As with any crop, agri-economics demands a reasonable rate of return for every hop hectare farmed. Anticipating the level of demand, managing climate and disease factors, optimising production and researching improvements allows hop farmers to maximise yield. Two key questions are; what quantity to produce? And how can quality be optimised?

Let's skip back through recent history. The acreage under hop crop worldwide fell by almost half between 1992 and 2006. Yields declined in the last five years of that period. Hop prices increased and acreage expanded. But then demand fell, leaving a hop surplus in a market whose expected growth has been called 'over-optimisitic' by the hop product and service supplier Barth-Hass. What led to the quantity of hops produced becoming out of sync with market demand?

Germany offers a salutary tale in understanding the hop market's capricious nature. in 2008 the country recorded a record hop harvest, up almost a fifth on the previous year. It made it the largest producer in the world; a third of world hop acreage and almost 40% of alpha-acid production. Over 80% of German hop production is found in the Hallertau region, making it the hop powerhouse of the world - responsible for a quarter of all hops harvested worldwide.

But the demand for such quantity didn't materialise, despite market predictions that hops were 'green gold'. Beer production worldwide has slowed, growing only 1.6% between 2007 and 2008, whilst acreage increased by 13% and crop production by 21%. The trend towards consumers demanding milder beers continued; milder beers need fewer hops. Increased use of isomerised hop products (pellets or extract), which reduce brewer's production costs, reduced the need for whole hops even further.

There's an element of 'more for less' too; if you can increase the quality of a hop variety - more alpha-acid or a consistent quality of aroma - from a crop less susceptible to disease and pests then you need fewer of them.

As the 2008-9 Barth-Hass report says, "there is no point in producing hops for a market that no longer requires them in the quantities anticipated". World hop acreage has started to decline. But whilst growers have one eye on the market, they need to keep an eye on the sky too. In 2009, severe hailstorms tore into the Hallertau region, affecting around 25% of the hop acreage and destroying 5% of it. Given the reduced availability, spot market price rises were seen as inevitable. It's a stark reminder that you can plan and model the market and still be surprised by its actions, but Mother Nature sometimes delivers the greatest shock of all.


Hops A-Z: P is for Pliny The Elder

I know five things about Pliny the Elder.

1) Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder to his mates, wrote a twenty volume History of the German Wars which by all accounts wasn't exactly a barnstorming page turner. But he did write Naturalis Historia, an encyclopaedic work encompassing topics such as mathematics, geography and botany.

2) He didn't create a botanical name for hops. In the book, he refers to "Lupus salictarius" (meaning 'wolf of the willow', I think) which has been translated as hop, but the name Humulus Lupulus is (I believe) one conjured up by the 'father of modern taxonomy', Carl Linnaeus.

3) And it wasn't the first mention of hop usage in beer. In fact, unless I've missed something stunningly obvious, Pliny doesn't mention hops in relation to beer at all. Abbess Hildegarde of St. Ruprechtsberg, Germany, wrote about them in 1079. Or in 1067, depending on which source you consult. Which is pretty remarkable, given that she's said to have been born in 1098. But her work 'Physica, sive Subtilitatum' from 1151-1158(ish) makes reference to making beer without using hops and that spoilage in a drink can be inhibited by hop bitterness. But that's still drinks, not beer. And brewing without hops, not with them.

So perhaps the honour goes to Abbot Adalhardus of the Corvey/Corbie monastery, Germany, in 822. Ian Spencer Horney in A history of beer and brewing says that Adalhardus refers to a tithe given to the monastery on the collection of wild hops gathered for the brewing of beer. Still seems slim evidence, mind.

Then there's always Pepin II, whose charter in 768 mentioned the cultivation of hop gardens at the abbey of St Denis, Paris. Crop cultivation, for a purpose, but... not specifically for brewing.

4) It's a damn fine hoppy beer. Beer polymath Phil Lowry shared a bottle of Russian River Pliny The Elder with me last year and I can honestly say that it lived up to expectations.

5) Pliny rhymes with 'tiny' because Vinnie Cilurzo from the brewery says so. End of.

(and now I've noticed that Zythophile, the beer-blog equivalent of Protafloc, cleans up some of the clagging balderdash about Pliny and hops in this post. And in this one too)


Hops A-Z: O is for Oils

As an exercise in starting with little, losing most of what's left yet still making a huge impact, hop oil utilisation is an A+ example.

There's precious little to start with - the oil fraction makes up perhaps three to five percent of a cone's weight and sometimes substantially less. Then the brewing process reduces the oil content even further as much of the oil is vaporised in the boil and exits swiftly up the chimney.

Great background aroma for the brewhouse, not so promising though for the nascent beer. So, late additions (so less boil time) and/or dry hopping (mid or post-fermentation) are the solution to oil retention and takeup, delivering the specific aromas that certain hops are renowned for.

The majority of the oil's content (80-90%) is the hydrocarbon fraction; that is, consisting of hydrogen and carbon. It's made up mostly of terpenes (such as myrcene) and sesquiterpenes (alpha-humulene and beta-caryophyllene). Yes, there's a difference between the two. No, I'm not going to try and explain it. This is an irreverent guide to hops, not Biochemistry 101.

High levels of myrcene, as found in varieties such as Cascade and Amarillo, give pungent citrics. Not surprising, perhaps, given that citric fruit has myrcene in there as well. High levels of humulene, present in the 'noble' hops such as Hallertau, provide a characteristic spicy note. As the ratio of humulene to beta-caryophyllene increases, so does the spiciness (compare the fuller spice flavour of Hallertau Tradition with a 6:1 ratio with the slighter effect offered by Willamette at 2:1).

The oxygenated fraction (hydrogen, carbon and oxygen) is where perhaps most of the standout aromas reside. Geraniol has an obvious floral scent. Eugeneol offers spicy, clove-like notes. Beta-ionone carries a complex woody touch. The delightfully named linalool is reminiscent of mint, cinnamon and rosewood. And then there's limonene with - yep, you guessed it - the great smell of oranges.

I'll dwell on that last paragraph a little longer. Because beer writers, reviewers, brewers and fat-mouthed topers often have the piss ripped out of them for suggesting that beers taste of certain herbs, spices and fruits. That it's just florid hyperbole. It's not. Because it's not just a happy coincidence that certain flavours and aromas land in beer. They weren't put there by the beer fairy. Hops share basic biochemisty blocks,including those oxygenated terpenes, with other plants. So nobody should be surprised that a hop imparts a particular fruit or spice flavour. It's the same chemical. It *is* the same flavour.

Here endeth the lesson ;-)



We’re halfway through the Hops A-Z, so let’s take some time out for reflection. Not on hops as such, but on the nature of brewing:

The macro brewer was horrified to find the craft brewer sitting beside his mash tun, drinking a pint.

“Why aren’t you brewing?” said the macro brewer.

“Because I have brewed enough beer for the day.”

“Why don’t you brew more?”

“What would I do with it?”

“Earn more money. Then you could have a larger tun and copper, and more fermenters, and brew more beer. That would bring you money to buy a bottling line, so more beer, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two breweries, even a group of them . Then you could be rich like me.”

“What would I do then?”

“Then you could really enjoy life.”

“What do you think I am doing now?”

Which would you rather have: a fortune or a capacity for enjoyment?

Adapted from The Contented Fisherman, Anthony De Mello


A-Z of Hops: N is for New Zealand

It only produces 0.7 per cent of the world's hops. Two varieties that have been barnstorming the British beer scene make up less than ten per cent of that crop. So how the hell did New Zealand begin to punch way above its weight in the hop world?

Hops have been in-country since arriving with European settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Nelson province on the South Island became the industry's cradle, benefiting from a temperate climate, high number of sunshine hours, regular rainfall and relatively wind free conditions. The imported varieties were moderately successful, but the industry was transformed by the introduction of an West Coast American hop in the 1920's.

'Late Cluster', known in NZ as 'Cali', offered better growth and greater yields and became the hop crop of choice. But twenty years later, Cali was crippled by a soilborne root rotting disease, phytophthora, and the country's hop industry was in dire straits.

The response was the establishment of the Hop Research Station at Riwaka in 1949. Tasked with breeding new high-yield varieties resistant to phytophthora, three cultivars were developed (Smoothcone, First Choice and Calicross). By the mid-sixties when these hops were well established, the industry faced a new challenge.

Lager's growing popularity boosted the worldwide requirement for seedless aromatic hops. Whilst Europe was busy eliminating the seeded male hop plant, New Zealand took a different tack. They developed a virtually sterile seedless plant that still retained the aroma and bitterness characteristics of its lineage. The varieties produced (Green Bullet, Harley's Fullbright, Sticklebract and Super Alpha) became the world's first commercially produced triploid hops (ones having three chromosomes).

Further developments saw New Zealand carry out extensive research into aroma cultivars that were adapted to the country's growing conditions. Out of that program came New Zealand Hallertau, currently the most-produced hop in the country at 42% of the total acreage.

Hop production trebled through the eighties and nineties, and today over 80 percent of the crop is exported. But it's still responsible for less than one percent of the world hop trade. Perhaps the true value of its contribution can be found in two unique offerings.

Less than four percent of New Zealand hop production is of the varietal Nelson Sauvin. But, what a hop it is. Released in 2000, it offers an unmistakable aroma of gooseberries that's almost identical to that of the Sauvignon Blanc grape (hence the varietal's name). It's used by British brewers such as Brewdog to enhance the complexity of pale hoppy beers such as Punk IPA. Thornbridge showcase the hop to incredible effect in their South Pacific Pale Ale, Kipling. It's a hop whose impact can only widen as more drinkers experience it and fall in love with it.

There's also major potential for the production of organic hops. With typical viral and fungal hop diseases not an issue and the only significant pest (the two-spotted mite) controlled by a predator, no pesticide use is needed. Nor are herbicides - instead there's a well-engineered solution that both clears foliage around the hop bines whilst depositing natural organic fertiliser at the same time. It's called sheep grazing.

Unique varieties and organic credentials ought to make New Zealand an expanding player in the world hop market. The cost of freighting the end product out internationally may be the major obstacle to rapid returns on export. But when it results in beer that offers a real 'wow!' factor, perhaps it's a price well worth paying.


A-Z of Hops: M is for Mildew

It could have been Mittlefrau, could have been Magnum. But hops ain't all about aroma and bitterness. Sometimes it's about death.

Like any agricultural crop, hops suffer from disease. Mildew has had a devastating effect on hop production worldwide; crop management and breeding plays a key role in mitigating mildew's adverse effects.

So, what are we dealing with? Powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca macularis) can infest the bud over the winter season and spread into early shoots. Infecting the leaves (and the cone directly in susceptible varieties) the dusty-grey fungus deforms the cone's formation or even prevents it from forming. If not spotted in the early stages, powdery mildew can reduce yields by around 80% even when pesticidal treatment is given.

Downy mildew (pseudoperonspora humuli) thrives in damp, humid environments. Spreading out from infected shoots, it infects the leaves with a blanket-like fungus leading to root rot, stunted leaves, blighted cones and ultimately the death of the bine.

Both kinds of mildew have wrought havoc with hop production. Downy mildew almost destroyed German hop production in the 1920's. An outbreak of powdery mildew in the USA's Yakima Valley in 1997 cost the native hop business around 15% of total crop revenue for several years after. Both kinds contributed to the US hop industry shifting westwards as New York-based production failed comprehensively after mildew took hold in the early 1900's.

The industry's response has been to develop hop varieties that are more resistant to disease and infestation. Cultivars such as Willamette, Cascade and Perle have been developed with resistance to mildew in mind. Given that low levels of leaf disease can still lead to unacceptable reductions in cone quality, plant development and management remain high priorities for growers to secure a disease-free, high-yield, high-quality crop.


Hops A-Z: L is for Lupulin

Take a hop cone and cut in in half. If you don't have one handy, borrow this picture.

Inside the bracts - the divisions of the cone - there's a bunch of yellowy-gold glands. They're full of resins, some of which have been secreted and formed a yellowy 'dust' on the hop. Those soft resins carry the chemistry that make beer aromatic and bitter. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the hop's treasure - lupulin.

It was named as such by Doctor Ansel W Ives of New York in 1820; noticing a yellow powder that had collected in a bag of three-year-old hops, he declared: " I have not been able to find any notice of this powder in books and know not that it has been designated by any appropriate term. In the following inquiry therefore it will be called Lupulin".

Those glands remain swollen with lupulin until they're ruptured. Hot wort will break the membrane; so do your fingers when you rub a hop cone between them. And so does a pellet mill; once crushed the glands oxidise up to five times quicker than whole hops so pellets need to be foil packed as soon as possible and stored in cartons robust enough to be stacked.

Once they're ruptured, what does a lupulin gland give you? Soft resins. Essential oils. The resins contain alpha-acids (contributing bitterness when boiled); the quantity and quality of lupulin in a cone determines the alpha acid content. The oils contain hundreds of volatile companants, including the hydrocarbon terpene that adds aroma, humulene.

That's a lot of chemistry going on in that gland. For which, beer lovers are eternally thankful.


Hops A-Z: K is for Kent

Kent may be seen by some as the 'Garden of England', by others as where the traffic jams for France start, but for English beer lovers it's the cradle of our hop industry.

Dating back to the sixteenth century - exactly where and when is, like much of hop history, open to conjecture - English hop production began with Kentish farmers. The first recognised printed work in English devoted to hop farming, "A Perfite Platform of a Hoppe Garden", was authored by a Kent farmer, Reginald Scot in 1574. By the mid-seventeenth century, the county was responsible for a third of UK hop production and fuelled the burgeoning brewing industry in London as the 'porter' style became increasingly popular there.

Why Kent? The climate was certainly suited to crop production. Kentish resourcefulness had optimised yields in the ideal locations and also maximised production on the less-suited areas of stodgy clay. Rich farmers were able to invest in the labour-intensive production methods that hop farming required. And the likes of Scot were able to pop over the water and learn a trick or two from his Flemish counterparts.

Through the nineteenth century, the county continued to be pioneers of the UK hop industry. Training hops to grow onto strings from poles started here with Henry Butcher. The varieties Fuggles and Goldings were Kentish born. At its peak in 1878, 77000 acres of the country were under hops with Kent the majority producer. Each September saw an influx of workers from London and other urban areas who came to join the locals and see what they could earn as hop pickers.

But the start of the twentieth century saw the beginning of the end for Kent's hop dominance. Changes in drinkers' taste, cheap imports, higher utilisation, crop disease and the First World War all took their toll on the industry, as this map shows.

Today, UK hop production is a shadow of its former self and Kent seems to have more places selling dried hops than cultivating live ones. But never forget that English beer was built on Kentish hops.


Hops A-Z: J is for Jaipur

Let's get the disclaimer out of the way. I *love* this beer. I've helped brew it a couple of times. I've had free samples given to me. This is not a bias-free A-Z entry. Thornbridge Jaipur is the model of a modern English IPA. And one of the finest hoppy beers in the world. And I'll give you over sixty damn good reasons why.

Jaipur is 'mmmmm' hoppy. Not blow-your-socks-off hoppy, not resin-rotted-my-taste-buds hoppy. It just... is. It was borne of a desire to showcase American hops whilst maintaining an English lineage. Two young-buck brewers, Stefano Cossi and Martin Dickie, took heaps of Chinook and Ahtanum to add a citric, floral splash over a distinctly traditional malt profile.

Yet it evolves still. Centennial crept into the equation early on. Nelson Sauvin has been in there on occasion. Nowadays, Warrior puts in a regular appearance. An English-hopped version used Target and Pioneer to great effect.

And it's been continually recognised as being a great beer. One of Thornbridge's earliest beers, it won beer of the Sheffield CAMRA festival in 2005 just two months after it was first brewed. Since then, Jaipur has won over sixty awards; testament to its deft hoppiness.

I'll tell you what Jaipur is. It's the very definition of how English breweries can use hops to optimal effect. It's proof positive that both hardcore and casual drinkers like a pint with a bit of zing and bite to it.

Thornbridge have called Jaipur 'a contemporary take on traditional thinking'. I'd like to think that Jaipur - with its assured hop touch - is at the vanguard of a new tradition in English brewing.


Hops A-Z: I is for India Pale Ale

Ask a beer drinker to name a hoppy style and I bet the majority will say 'IPA'.

For some, it's a beer redolent of British history as much as any citric sniff. Beer of the Empire, once our Nation's Greatest Export, a hopped expression of our colonial rise and fall. Characterised by strength, perseverance, robustness, character.

For others, it's the new frontier - a style to be mastered and then pushed beyond the established envelope, a chance to express brewing prowess through ever-more assertive (possibly aggressive) hopping.

For many in England, it's this.

India Pale Ale may not always have alcoholic strength and stacks of juicy hops but it does have a long, sometimes tortuous history. After much random Google searching, ahem, I mean studious research, I can say for certain is that pale ale was brewed in England in the eighteenth century (and indeed before), exported to India in the nineteenth century (and probably the latter part of the eighteenth too), popularised in England through the twentieth century and transmogrified by the Americans in the twenty-first century.

Another thing I'll say with a great degree of certainty is when the name 'India Pale Ale' was first used in print. Martyn Cornell suggests it to have been in 1837; Pete Brown, in his entertaining tale Hops And Glory mentions a Liverpool Mercury advert in 1835. I'll go with the latter - indeed I'm happy to say it was the 27th of February 1835, where Hodgson and Company advertised;

"East India Pale Ale…being brewed from the finest East Kent hop, it contains a particularly fine tonic quality, and is consequently much recommended by the faculty even to invalids."

See this Open University paper for more details.

If you want to discover the twists and turns of the IPA tale - and it's a tale that's enlightening, frustrating and surprising at every turn - then go buy Pete's book and do read Martyn's articles on IPA over at Zythophile; start here to get a flavour of his approach and enjoy from thereon in.


Hops A-Z: H is for Humulus Lupulus

The Common Hop: species of the genus Humulus, the family Cannabaceae and the order Rosales. A native plant to Britain, Humulus lupulus var. lupulus is a perennial herbaceous plant with fast growing shoots, course-toothed leaves and flower clusters known as strobiles or cones. Inside those cones are bracts; in those bracts are glands covered in a powdery substance that are resinous and bitter and just what the brewer needs - lupulin.

Growing anywhere up to fifty feet, the hop bine is a stiff stem with hooked hairs enabling it to clutch and grow. It places roots up to four feet deep to allow for rapid vertical growth, often trained around poles to guide its growth. The flowers on each plant are either male or female (making it a dioecious species); it's the female plant that carries the sought-after cone.

As for that name - some say it derives from 'humus' as in rich, moist ground (not the dip that tastes like wallpaper paste). Lupulus is said to derive from the Latin for would (lupus); Pliny the Elder may or may not have said that it was named such because the plant 'strangled osiers like a wolf does to a sheep'. The word 'hop' itself seems to have a tortured etymology; perhaps Old English/Middle Dutch hoppe (or not), perhaps Anglo-Saxon hoppon (given as meaning 'to climb', so I'd like to believe it. Sounds too twee to me, though).

However it got its name, humulus lupulus is a plant that has been put to many uses, such as eating the shoots as if it were asparagus, dyeing cloth or as a herbalist remedy. I'm just glad that some bright spark had the idea of chucking a few into beer just so see what happens. As for who that was - that's another story.


Hops A-Z; G is for Goldings

Think bacon and eggs. Punch and Judy. John Robertson and Trevor Francis. Some things work so well together.

Once upon a time there was a kindly gentleman by the name of Mr Golding... what do you mean I've done this before? Anyoldhow, sometime in the late 1700's a Mr Golding (who may or may not have been resident in the Malling area of Kent) noticed in his grounds a sub-variety of the Canterbury hop of "extraordinary quality and productiveness". With a smooth, spicy, aroma and soft sweet citrics on the palate, it later proved to be a perfect partner for the earthier, grassy notes of Fuggles. A genre-defining hop pairing was born and, to this day, English bitter is synonymous with the Goldings and Fuggles combo.

And what's in a name? The hop is East Kent Goldings if grown in East Kent. If it's grown in Mid Kent, it's Kent Goldings. If it's grown anywhere else, it's just called Goldings. Or, possibly, 'misguided'.

I'm yet to be convinced by Goldings-only hopped beers. Then again, I haven't tried too many and will and try to seek out one from Shepherd Neame this year. For me, it's the balance between Goldings and Fuggles that is one of England's greatest gifts to brewing. The sweet in-swinger from Fuggles; the back-of-the-net dink from Goldings. I still think there's an even more full-on earthy-citric Fuggles-Golding beer waiting to escape from an English brewhouse and show those new whippersnapper showboating hops how it ought to be done.


Hops A-Z: F is for Fuggles

Once upon a time there was a kindly gentleman by the name of George Stace, who resided in the village of Horsmonden, Kent. One day, in the year of 1861, he noticed a seedling that had grown in his garden that had set from the basket crumbs of a hop-picking dinner. This plucky hop bine was introduced commercially some fourteen years later by another kindly gentleman, Richard Fuggle. And so the Fuggles hop did become the greatest hop in all the known beer world and there was much rejoycing in the streets of Kent.

Or that maybe just a bunch of bullshit.

What we do know is that, even if the widely received tale of the Fuggle hop genesis is disputed, some bald facts cannot. It's a hop that's had a defining influence on English bitter. Renowned as a heavy cropper, suited to the stiff, damp soil of the Kentish/Sussex Weald, it came to dominate crop production in the early twentieth century. By 1949, 78 percent of the English crop acreage was given over to Fuggles. It offered up the aroma and taste of the earth and of the grass and of the wood. It was quintessentially English, a way of imparting our rural idyll in a glass. And then it all went drastically wrong.

Verticillium wilt marked the beginning of the end of Fuggles dominance in England. The disease ruined the Kent crop; when replacement hop varieties offered higher alpha acid for better bittering, demand for Fuggles shelved. Now less than ten percent of English hop acreage is given over to Fuggles, mainly in the West Midlands which was historically resistant to the wilt outbreak.

It's still a madly popular hop, though. Still soldiering on, perhaps because nothing *quite* matches that 'rural' profile, not even those Fuggles variants grown overseas. If you fancy England in a beer glass, this takes you half way there. The rest, you may find tomorrow...


Hops A-Z: E is for Equivalence

One often-overlooked brewer's skill is that of judging hop equivalence. Having crafted a recipe that delivers a particular aroma and bitterness profile, what's a brewer to do if they can't get hold of those exact hops?

If you answered "don't bother brewing it" then you need to go back to bed, wake up on the right side of it and don't forget to screw your commercial head on this time. Sometimes, the required hops just aren't available - demand outstrips supply, harvest are poor, prices are as volatile as hop oil itself, the shipment is stuck on on a freighter/warehouse dock/M62, the hops have gone bad/ran low/never been ordered in the first place. Meanwhile, a copper is waiting patiently and customers have orders to be fulfilled.

It shouldn't come as any great surprise that there's such a thing as equivalence or substitution. In some cases it's scientific, with alpha acid content and utilisation rates taken into account. It can be more subjective, comparing varietal characteristics for broad similarities.

True, some hops are so distinctive that it'd be near impossible to concoct an equivalence; nothing comes close to the funky mouldy orange of Sorachi Ace or the Sauvignon Blanc gooseberry edge of Nelson Sauvin. But to me the challenge of maintaining the hop profile of a beer is akin to the art and science of the whisky blender. Hops have a vintage all of their own, growth and maturity rates differ and so does the resultant aroma, flavour and bitterness. Managing those fluctuations, blending different hops to maintain a beer's consistency is the mark of a skilled brewer.


Hops A-Z: D is for Dwarf

Perhaps the future of hop production is dwarfish. The last ten years has seen a great deal of research both in the US and the UK into the cultivation of dwarf hops. With cones growing down to ground level on a low trellis, these varieties can be mechanically harvested direct from the field. They are proving to be hardier and more resistant to pests. And, in the UK, they can offer greater bittering potential compared to our traditional hop crops.

One of the first UK commerical varieties, First Gold, has acheived some success, notably through single hopped beers by the likes of Badger and Acorn. Like a spicier version of Goldings, it's able to offer orange and peach flavours alongside robust bitterness.

Although the UK Government pulled funding into commissioned research concerning sustainable dwarf hop production, the National Hop Association (NHA) has maintained the momentum. With funding from the Society of Independent Brewers, the NHA have developed a new dwarf hop aimed at offering UK brewers a domestic alternative to foreign bittering hops.

The United States have been at the forefront of dwarf hop development. Summit, the first commercial dwarf produced by the American Dwarf Hop Association, is a high-alpha dwarf with flavouring and bittering that suits the popular double/imperial IPA styles. Although the US doesn't struggle in terms of hop production, development of varieties such as Summit can be seen as their way of maintaining market presence, especially with China becoming the third largest hop grower in the world.

There's potential with dwarf varieties for a radical shake-up of hop agriculture. If it offers more home-grown varities with greater yield potential - and potentially a crop that even a homebrewer could attempt to cultivate in their garden - the gardens of England could take on a new hue in the near future.


Hops A-Z: C is for Cascade, Chinook and Centennial

The 3 C's have been billed at the US 'holy trinity' of hops. They're assertive beasts used by assertive brewers, albeit sometimes in eye-watering amounts. So what's the attraction?

Cascade is the grand-daddy of the trio. Released for cultivation in 1972 but first bred in 1956, it started as a cross between a female Fuggles hop and a male Fuggles hop with Russian Serebrianker hop parentage. With low-medium alpha acid, it's as versatile as its parents when it comes to adding both aroma and bitterness to beer. With a flowery nose and feel, it can border on being perfumed with a keen hint of spice whilst remaining solidly citric. No wonder it's often quoted as being the most widely-used hop in the United States.

Chinook was released in the mid 1980's having been derived from "Petham Golding with a USDA 63012 male". I'm assuming that makes it a Golding hop cross? Anyhow, the higher alpha acid content makes for more intense bitterness (some may say course) alongside a herbal, almost tobacco-ish aroma and flavour.

Centennial is the quasi-baby of the bunch, released in 1990 although it was first bred back in 1974. Profiled as being descended mainly from Brewers Gold but with a sixteenth of its gene from a 'unknown' hop, it sits between the others in terms of alpha acid content. With a floral profile and still-solid citrics, it's been described as 'Super Cascade' and has become increasingly popular in the States as both its aroma and bittering qualities. Not bad for a hop that was once going to be destroyed due to lack of brewer interest.

So that's an aromatic hop derived from Fuggles, a bittering hop derived from Goldings and a dual-use hop derived from Northern Brewer. Resolutely citric across the range along with subtler flavours and aromas. Their popularity in bold beer making is obvious, especially in dry-hopping to maximise those aromas. If you've ever sniffed Sierra Nevada Celebration or Bigfoot, you know what a heady mix these hops have to offer.

British brewers are using these hops more and more, particularly for dry-hopping. I'd like to see them used smarter; not just obvious citric bludgeoning but inventive and subtle applications. Perhaps Chinook into darker/redder beers to bring wafts of fresh tobacco. Perhaps Centennial into milds to give a fresh, biting feel. Perhaps classic Fuggles/Goldings best bitter recipes recreated with Cascade/Chinook. Perhaps they're already out there. If you find them, let me know. And send a bottle, natch ;-)


Hops A-Z: B is for Bitterness

The right kind of bitterness. Not the kind that we associate with toxic substances, nothing bordering on the taste sensation of denatonium. It's about the bite, the edge, the sudden sharp finish or the lingering itch.

It's all about the alpha acids again. The thermal isomerisation of the humulones produces the intensely-bitter iso-alpha acids; they're modified by the residual sugars present in beer to balance out the bitterness.

But how bitter do you want your beer to be? International Bitterness Units (IBU) provide a guide, with a classic English bitter rating around 25-35 IBUs on a scale where 100 IBUs is regarded as the threshold of taste. Not that such limits hold back extreme beers by experimental brewers - Brewdog, Pitstop and Mikkeller have all sought to produce beers with a theoretical bitterness way in excess of what the palate can discern.

Perhaps that's good PR but bordering on developing a denatonium approach to brewing. As Brooklyn brewmaster Garratt Oliver says, "It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish'. Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?”


Hops A-Z; A is for Aroma

Think about the first time you lifted a beer to your nose and felt its bouquet pervade your nostrils. Or when you've held hop flowers in your hands, rubbed them between your fingers and released their sticky scent. When you've walked into a brewery and the air was filled with flowers and fruits. The sheer joy of hop aroma.

It's a volatile commodity, though. The essential oils in a hop cone have a hydrocarbon fraction comprised mainly of the aromatic monoterpene, myrcene. Broken down by the boiling wort in a process called thermal isomerisation, only a minority percentage of those oils remain present.

So the aroma profile of beer is bolstered by adding hops towards the end of the brewing process. That could be either directly into the copper (late hopping), infusing the hot wort as it travels to the cooler (via a hop back) or adding them direct to the fermenter or barrel (dry hopping).

The result can be a harmonious gathering of ripe citric fruits or summer meadow flowers. Or it could be a big fat nose-stinging-oh-my-god-I'm-having-a-nose-bleed mess. Sometimes brewers can be heavy-handed, albeit with the best intentions. I like a beer's aroma to be alluring - a fleeting glimpse of bra strap rather than a flash of boobs. Subtle aroma isn't yet an endangered species in craft brewing and I'm hoping that it'll stay that way.


Hops A-Z

It won't tell you everything you've ever wanted to know about humulus lupulus.

It will use big words like thermal isomerisation of humulones.

It won't be scratch-and-sniff.

It will take you on a journey from aroma to Zeus via Kent, New Zealand and Pliny the Elder.

Reluctant Scooper's willfully eclectic A-Z of Hops starts here tomorrow.


Beer is for sharing

Do you remember your first time?

It may have been a mate, a colleague, a brewer, a toper, a complete stranger.

They were quietly enthusiastic about a beer. They wanted you to share the joy. And so they gave you a bottle of it. All they wanted in return was your honest opinion.

How good did that feel?

So imagine how much better it feels to be the one who gives the beer away.

Those jolly decent chaps at mybrewerytap.com are kind enough to bung me their 52 week beer club mixed selection, so I decided to dish this quarter's offerings out amongst my day-job colleagues. Some of them dabble in whatever bottle is on offer at the supermarket, some are lager lads, others are ambivalent about beer. What would they make of a random selection?

I pranced round the office like some bacchanalian fairy godmother, dishing out bottles without forethought or planning. Willing volunteers were easy to find and most were happy to feedback their thoughts to me. So, in no apparent order, the results:

"smells like cool, fresh country air.. surprisingly light" - Cornish Buccaneer, Wooden Hand

"punctured through my curry... a perfect dinner companion" - Thin Ice, Windsor Castle

"fruity but overly distinctive" - Midsummer Madness, Best Mates

"citric but not overbearing... I'd buy it but I wouldn't have picked it off the shelf, the label wasn't eye-catching" - Game Keeper, Wensleydale

"it was rank" - Original, Old Bear

"I usually drink lager but I'd drink more of this, it's really tasty" - Lakeland Golden, Bitter End

"wasn't keen.... just didn't like the flavour. Had to leave half of it" - Aviator, Dent

"one of the highlights of the year, really impressed" - Raglan Sleeve, Leyden

"lively, tastes very hoppy, would try it on draught" - Wandle, Sambrooks

I tried a couple too;

"thin, scratchy hops with an under-attenuated sweetness" - Blonde, Quartz

"robust fruity malts veneered with dusty spice and nutty edges" - Red, Atlantic

So, it was great to introduce people to beers that - quite possibly - may change their drinking habits. Make them eager to seek out ales both on the shop shelf and in the pub. And it makes me want to give away more beer - writing's one thing, but there's nothing more powerful than putting a product into someone's hands in order to persuade them of its merits.

Thanks again to myBrewerytap.com for allowing me to play beer fairy. And thanks to Stu, Sean, Phil, Neil, Mark, Mandy, Andy, Leigh, Craig and Yvonne for their feedback.