For about fifty years following the end of the second world war, Americans were terrified of hops. Our national beer was a light lager that had almost no perceptible hops in it.
This never made sense to me. Americans always do things bigger and bolder than the rest of the world. Why were we so timid about our beer? Recently, however, American craft brewers and home brewers have fallen in love with hops, and the USA now produces the world’s hoppiest beers!
It has been really interesting to watch this trend intensify while running a homebrew shop. The hop varieties that homebrewers are demanding this year end up getting featured in next year’s trendy West Coast IPA. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting hops.
Each year, Northern Brewer purchases more hop varieties than any brewery in the world. We carefully source, select and package 60-70 different hop varieties each year. Each hop has its own unique character. They can smell like grass, pine cones, or grapefruit. Some are light and refined, while others are bold and intense. I have personally come to have a deep, olfactory communion with all of the major hop varieties in the world, because I have personally packaged so many packets of hops for my customers. It has been an amazing form of aromatherapy, and it’s my favorite part of my job.
But it’s not enough just to smell the hop in its raw form. Hops change so much depending on how they are used. Even though I’ve been a homebrewer for 20 years, I am still learning about new ways to use hops: early additions, late additions, continuous additions, first wort hopping, mash hopping, hop backing, randallizing, wet hopping, dry hopping… each technique brings out different aspects of a hop.
On top of that, hop breeders are constantly experimenting and introducing new breeds of hops. Every year there are more and more experimental varieties. Many are grown in such limited quantities that the only way to play with them is to do it on a homebrew scale.