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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hops

That beer you’re drinking right now – it’s tasty, right? Well, that’s thanks in part to the hops used in the brewing and fermentation processes. But what do you care, as long as you love the beer you’re with, right? What if those hops were replaced with herbs and spices – maybe you’d care then, right? So maybe you can understand why it was so remarkable when brewers stopped using herbs and spices (then referred to as “gruit,” which sounds more like something you might be concerned enough to ask your doctor about) to brew beer, and replaced it with hops. Ahh, the hops… It’s kind of like scotch drinkers saying, “Ahh, the peat!” But wait – what’s a “hop” anyway? They’re more interesting than you might realize.

What You Didn’t Know You Always Wanted to Know About Hops

Hops are flowers herbal flowers; they come from the humulus lupulus plant and its perennial vines that can grow as much as 30 feet long. Hops are sometimes used as an herbal treatment for – maybe you could’ve guessed this – restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia; it’s even been shown to have a sedative effect on animals. Someone alert the press! Is this really a news flash? Probably not that part, but did you know that hops also have antibacterial properties? Here are some other things you might not know about hops:

  • As of 2012, Germany and the U.S. are top two producers of hops worldwide, and the United States alone produces more hops every year than the next seven highest producing countries combined!
  • Hops grows in moist temperate climates, in many of the same or similar areas as potatoes. It used to be that Germany grew the most hops in the world, but as of 2015, the Yakima Valley area (located just a bit southeast of Seattle) has edged them out to be the world’s largest producer of this key ingredient.
  • Oddly enough, Ireland (which grows a lot of potatoes) didn’t start growing hops until relatively late in the hops game, but by the mid-1700s, the country produced about 500 tons annually. If you’re from the Seattle area, you’ll know that potatoes grow well here, too – and lucky for us, the Washington soil and climate are both great for growing hops.
  • Don’t let your dog drink your beer – not only is it generally not advisable to give pets alcohol, hops are toxic to dogs. It just means that much more for you, right?
  • Hops come from the same plant family as cannabis; they look, feel, smell, and taste pretty similar, thanks to the terpenes in each.

Varieties of Hops

There are different varieties of hops, each giving the brew different levels of bitter, zesty, citrus, earthy flavors. Hops also provides stability to the brew. Most IPA drinkers might know that their chosen adult beverage can be heavily hopped, but hops are used in many if not all beers; there are different methods of using them in the brewing process. IPAs, for example, are made with very strongly bitter, pungent hops; they’re used in American stouts to give the drink a unique aroma and flavor.

There are bitter hops, aroma hops, “noble” hops (Hallertau, Tettnanger, Saaz, and Spalt), and alpha hops. Like the different varieties of wine grapes, the different types of hops produce different tastes, smells, and looks; like wine, what matters more than anything is not which type of hops were used, but rather that you enjoy your beverage. If you drink local Seattle area beers or anything with hops grown in or around this general area, you are probably drinking something with one of the more popular varietals grown here, which are Willamette (typically used in ales, pale ales, and porters), Cascade (used most frequently in pale ales, these are the most widely used of all hops), Mt. Hood (which are used in ales, pale ales, and brown ales), Columbus/Tomahawk (which are used in stouts in addition to the other more common ales and pale ales), Zeus (which are key in the flavor of stouts and pale ales), Nugget (bitter beers such as stouts and barley wine have this as an ingredient), and Galena (which are used in porters, stouts, and ales) hops.

So come on in to Easy Monkey to discover which brew is your favorite today. Your favorite this week might not be on tap next week, so hurry in to try what we have available now. Whichever your favorite, it’ll be local, and it’ll be fantastic.

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