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Hoppy beer drinking

Janice Jones
Special to the Sierra Sun
Wendy Lautner/Sierra Sun Evergreen restaurant in Tahoe City hosts regular beer maker dinners where patrons can sample beers expertly paired with great food.
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Did you know that Americans consume 50 billion pints of beer a year?

Hops create the flavor and aroma essence of beer. The hop vine is somewhat similar to the grape vine. They both are propagated from a rootstock, have specific growing seasons, and die back and become dormant each fall.

Hop plants have separate male and female plants. The flower produced from the female plant is used for brewing. Wild hops are found throughout Europe, Asia and parts of North America. A good hop can yield up to two pounds per plant.

Once the soil warms up in the spring, the hop vine will break ground, and the grower will trim this first growth away to encourage hardier vine growth. After the initial trimming, the grower will allow the second sprout to grow about 12 inches, before wrapping the new growth around a string or wire that is secured to an overhead trellis structure. The climbing vines will be trained to grow horizontal onto the trellis system after they reach the desired height. Hop vines can grow to the height of 30 feet in just one season, and then will die off to the crown or rootstock at the end of the season. Training the hops to grow across a trellis structure will keep this fast growing, unruly vine in check.

Also as in the grape field, the grower will trim away excess leaves to allow for more air movement around the vines, and to create hops that are more flavorful. The grower will also trim away excess vines, keeping only two vines per string, which will help create more flavorful hop buds. The mature hop is coned shaped, and are between one and three inches long.

After about 120 frost free days the yellowish-green cones are checked for maturity by crushing the hop cone to check for full hop aroma. After harvest the cones are dried in ovens or air-dried on screens, and are ready to be used in creating a cold flavorful brew.

The purpose of hops

As each grape variety has specific flavor and aroma characteristics, each hop variety offers its own characteristics to the finished brew. In addition to adding flavors, aromas, and differing levels of bitterness, hops also have anti-bacterial properties which will give the finished product a longer shelf life. They remove unwanted proteins providing a clearer beer, and help retain the foamy head of the beer. The variety of hops selected for use in producing a beer depends on the level of bitterness, flavor, or aroma that it will create in the beer. There are generally two styles of hops, bittering hop or flavor/aroma hops, although there are some hop varieties that can be both bittering and aroma producing.

Which variety the brew master uses is dependent on the alpha acid level of that specific hop. Higher acid levels are generally used to produce bitterness in the beer, and the lower leveled hops produce certain flavors and aromas.

Bittering hops

These varieties impart bitter flavor to beer and have high alpha acid levels. They are generally boiled for 60-90 minutes in the brew which is called a wort at this phase of beer making. The boiling releases a hop oil from the cone which adds the bitter characteristics. These hops balance the sweetness of the malt with the desired level of bitterness that the brew master wants to obtain.

Aroma hops

These hops have low to medium alpha acid levels, and are used to give the beer an aroma which is prevalent in that particular hop the brewmaster has selected.

Combo hops

These hops have somewhat medium-high alpha acid levels coupled with equal aroma properties. These dual action hops are called finishing hops because they do not add very much bitterness to the beer, but add the finished aromas and flavors.

Where hops grow

Some of the better hop producing areas in the world are the Yakima Valley in Washington, Willamette Valley Oregon, Germany and England.

Most hops are named after the region that they originated from, and each growing area will produce hops with characteristic found in no other hop grown in another area, much like how grapes develop certain flavor profiles from the type of soils they are grown in. Therefore you will find hops grown in many areas of Germany producing low bitter beers that have strong aromas, classic European style lagers. Or the Cascade hop from Washington , is an aroma hop that adds fresh clean flavors to lagers and pale ales, Anchor Liberty uses this hop. The Chinook hop, grown in the Northwest, is a bittering hops with a strong spicy aroma, it is used in Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. The list of hops goes on and on. For what type hops your favorite brew is made from try that brewery’s web site.

Check out Evergreen Cafe in Tahoe City, they have been hosting beer tasting dinners, where you will be able to have a specially prepared meal from Chef David Lutz paired perfectly with a visiting brewery’s beer. Call (530) 581-1401 for more info.

Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consutant. You may reach her at sierrafinewines@yahoo.com.


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