Nick Larson and Jake Devincenzi
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The modern-day American IPA is taking over the world of craft beer. You can’t visit any brewery or bar without seeing an IPA on tap. The complex combinations of hops is the driving force behind the craze. But why are there so many different kinds of hops? Why not just add more of one kind? What the hell is a hop?
Hops are small, cone-shaped, green flowers with an artichoke-like appearance. They come from the scientific family Cannabaceae, which also includes hemp and marijuana. They were initially used in the United Kingdom in the 19th century to preserve beers over long periods of time while being shipped across oceans. This is where the “India” in “India Pale Ale” comes from, as much of the beer was shipped to India. This was effective because of the anti-microbial qualities of hop oils, which inhibit the growth of organisms that can damage the flavor and appearance of beer. Hops contribute six other main positive attributes to beer: bitterness, aroma, flavor, foam and lacing, mouthfeel and flavor stability. Without hops, everything would taste like Bud Light and Blue Moon.
Different hop varieties, added at different times during brewing, make for drastically different traits in a beer. A main characteristic considered in hop choice is the amount of alpha acid they contain. Alpha acids are the components of hops that make a beer bitter, so hop varieties with higher alpha acid percentages are usually used when making a beer with more bitterness. These bittering hops are added early in the hop boil to bring out all the alpha acids, contributing those bitter bodies hop-heads go crazy for. Hops with low alpha acids are not useless, though. Low alpha hops are added late in the boil and contribute the refreshing earthy flavor and floral aromas you find in many less-bitter IPAs and pale ales.
Finally, you may have seen the words “dry-hopped” printed somewhere on an IPA label and thought to yourself, “Hmm, self. What do you think dry-hopping is? It sounds classy and complicated since beers are wet by nature. That is impressive!” Alas, dry-hopping is quite the opposite. It simply involves throwing hops into the fermenter during fermentation. It’s essentially the easiest hop addition method, but can also be one of the most rewarding. Unlike hops added to the boil, dry hops are not broken down enough to affect the flavor of the beer, be it bitter or earthy. Instead, dry hop additions simply add aromatic notes to a beer. If you take a sip of your beer and are immediately hit with an aroma resembling trees, earth and plants only legal in a select few states, it is highly likely the brew you are consuming was craftily dry-hopped to bring you a delightfully refreshing beverage.
For most people, hoppy beers are an acquired taste. People who hate them will likely enjoy them one day, as taste buds and palettes are constantly changing. If you’re someone who currently can’t stand hops, that’s fine, but don’t give up forever. Go back and try them every so often, and one day you’ll realize why this style is becoming increasingly popular.
Lastly, we’d like to thank everyone who came to the second installment of our bottle share. We had even more people come out than the first, and had some more awesome and unique beers available for tasting. Along with the beer, our favorite part is the atmosphere. It’s not like a lot of college events these days, with loud music and mindless drinking games. It’s all based on conversation, whether it’s beer or not, and it’s refreshing to have a social event like that every once in a while. Keep a look out for round three, as we are going to try to fit in one or two more before the end of the school year.