Hops are one of the principle ingredients in the beer making process and provide the balance to the beer that often gives the beer its signature.
These “spices” are responsible for providing the beer with hop aroma, bittering and hop flavour. Although many of the same varieties of hops are grown in different parts of the world, hops are often characterized by their location in addition to their variety, having what wine makers call “terroire”.
Hops are a herbaceous perennial vine and are members of the plant family Cannabinaceae (Kneen, 2004). Hops are native to temperate zones of the northern hemisphere and are most commonly found between the 30th and 50th parallels (Kneen, 2004). These plants typically live over 25 years and take approximately 4 years to fully establish. An established hops plant can grow up to 6 m high and is able to produce upwards of 2 pounds of dried hops per plant in ideal growing conditions (Kneen, 2004). During the spring, the hops bines start growing at a fairly rapid rate, sometimes as much as 30 cm per day.
Once the plant has reached its maximum height, it begins to produce clusters of hops that typically mature between late summer and early fall, which is when they are picked, processed, and ready to be used for making delicious craft beer.
Hops can be used in their whole form or as pellets. Pellets are the most commonly used for commercial brewing, as many brew houses are not equipped to use whole hops in the brewing process.