Hops are an essential ingredient to beer-making, and at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, our love affair with this bittering, malt-balancing and aroma-affecting agent couldn’t be more profound. Since hops (known in nerd circles as humulus lupulus) are one of four main ingredients in all of our beers (aside water, barley and yeast), we rallied our house hop king, Chestnut Hill’s head brewer Paul Rutherford, to educate beer lovers on some hop-centric basics.
Impress Your Friends with Our Hop Facts:
Fact 1: Most hops originate from the West Coast.
“Most hops grown in this country originate from the Yakima Valley in Washington and a few farms in Oregon, due to the ideal climate and the proximity of processing plants,” revealed Paul, who happens to be a West Coast native. “I think the main appeal of West Coast hops is the bright aromas and flavors of citrus and other fruits and pine.”
Fact 2: Hop characteristics range per the region in which they are grown.
“Hops grown in Germany tend to have more spicy and floral characteristics,” he continued, “while those grown in England I find to have a bit more earthiness and grassiness.”
Fact 3: Pelletized hops are most accessible to U.S. brewers.
Brewers like those at Iron Hill use hops in a variety of forms, including pelletized (pulverized whole leaf hops), liquid, dried or wet hops. However, pelletized hops are used most within Iron Hill’s brewing operations, revealed Paul, because of due to ease of storage and convenience.
But, while hops in pellet-form are largely in stock, so are other varieties. “Here, at Chestnut Hill, we are also using whole leaf hops in our hopback and sometimes in the fermenter for an added burst of aroma. We do occasionally use hop extract for certain beers. Wet hops beers are amazing, but we have not experimented with any here yet, just because we are so far from a large commercial hop growing region to get them at their peak freshness.”
Fact 4: There are over 75 varieties of reported hops.
“There are so many new hops coming out these days, which makes it really fun to experiment with different combinations in different beers,” Paul said excitedly. “We are always trying to get our hands on some new fun limited varieties. However, there are a few varieties that I am partial to, and that we built a lot of our go-to beers around, so we use a lot of them.”
Fact 5: There are four common hop varieties found in Iron Hill beers.
Centennial: A great classic American hop with strong piney flavors and aromas. “I rarely make an IPA recipe without this hop,” shared Paul.
Simcoe: Another really nice classic IPA hop, with pungent citrus notes and a touch of pineapple if you get them fresh.
Citra: One of the newer impact hops that came out 4–5 years ago and that lend notes of tropical fruit such as mango, passion fruit and lychee.
Nelson Sauvignon: “We have also had a lot of fun using this varietal out of New Zealand, which gives lots of white grapes and over-ripe pineapple. This hop really stands out in a beer and adds a really different twist to it.”
Fact 6: There are two types of hops: bittering and aroma.
“Basically any hops can work as a bittering hops, but you usually look for ones higher in alpha acid so you don’t have to use as much,” he said.
“Lots of the aroma hops have higher alpha acids for bittering, but if you use them in the beginning of the boil, the aroma will pretty much not be there at the end,” Paul revealed. “We tend to save our aroma hops for the end of the boil, hopback and dry-hopping.”
Now, with your fresh hop knowledge in tow, are you ready for Chestnut Hill’s ultimate hopped experience? Lex Luthor IPA hits taps exclusively at Iron Hill Chestnut Hill on May 28, 5–8 p.m. For this beer release, an impressive inventory of over 80 pounds of American hops were incorporated into this creation. Paul elaborates...
“Lex Luthor is a beast—it is a 10.5% ABV Tripel IPA that we only brew once a year,” he said. “We add quite a few varieties in this one to get some added levels of complexity. For 2014, Lex Luthor features Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Citra, El Dorado, Citra, Amarillo and a new German variety, Mandarina. That being said, I think the dominant flavor and aroma component that you get from this beer is a really pungent, sweet citrus. I really prefer a blend of hops in IPAs and don’t really brew single hop IPAs here, and this beer is kind of using the philosophy of blending different hops to the extreme.”
Click here to reserve your table for Chestnut Hill’s Lex Luthor IPA release party. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant specializes in handcrafted beers and fresh, from-scratch New American cuisine. Monthly releases vary by location, so scout them out and visit us soon. For more information and to hear from more of our brewers, visit Iron Hill’s blog.
Content provided by Dish Works author Amy Strauss.