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An Introduction to Hops

March 26, 2010

The vine grows in a clockwise direction around its support (as it follows the sun) and may reach up to 25 feet.

Hops are the flowers of the Humulus lupulus vine, a hardy herbaceous climbing plant from the family Cannabacese, sister plant to cannabis. It is a native wild plant of Europe and Western Asia. Today, Humulus lupulus are found most commonly at varying elevations between the 30th and 50th parallels. Hops have been popular over the course of history because of their essential role as an ingredient in beer. They contain bitter oils that have become a staple taste in beer since the 8th or 9th century AD, and balance out what would otherwise be a sweet beverage.  These plants are perennial and once they’re established, they will return each year, and can remain viable for up to 50 years. The vines develop into annual climbing stems, emerging from a perennial crown and rootstock. The stem grows in a clockwise direction around its support (as it follows the sun) and may reach a total height of 25 feet or more in a single growing season. Little hooked hairs on the bines help them attach themselves to the twine or ropes that hop farmers provide, but they are fairly versatile creatures, and will wrap around just about any reasonably rough surface.  The stem dies back to the crown after the hop cones mature, and the weather begins to turn toward winter.

When fully developed, the strobiles are about 1 1/4 inch long, oblong in shape and rounded.

Hops are dioecious, which means that male a female flowers are produced on separate plants. The male flowers are produced in panicles and average about 4 inches in length.  The female flowers are leafy and cone-like structures known as strobiles. The female plant is commercially cultivated for its use in beer, with the male flower being used mainly for pollination. Although the makeup of the hop cone is fairly basic, it is also entirely unique. From a brewer’s perspective, the advantage to hops is the concentrated amounts of specific alpha acids, namely humulone, adhumulone and cohumulone.  These acids offer bittering flavors that can be manipulated during the brewing process to deliver a wide range of desired flavor profiles in beer.



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