Get hoppy

A look at beer’s bitterest building block

There are four key ingredients in beer: barley, water, yeast and hops. All four ingredients add nuance to pints and each rightfully deserves its own article, but considering how many drinkers are seduced by hops, they’re the ingredient getting the love this beer issue.

Hops, like beer’s three other building blocks, have an important role. They preserve freshness in our brews by adding essential oils that stabilize a beer’s head. They offer antiseptic properties that prevent bacteria from growing in beer. Most importantly, even in the lightest of hopped beer styles, they are the bitterness teeter to malts’ sweet totter — they add the mouth-drying component that entices us to dig into that next spicy sip.

Although hops are important to beer, they have a greater use in the pharmaceutical industry than in the brewing industry. They are the strongest phytoestrogens known to naturally occur in the plant kingdom. Hop plants are also part of the Cannabinaceae family, so yes, for all the stoners reading this, hops are marijuana’s sister. Both plants produce the precious crystal-laden buds that make hopheads and potheads blissful. In the beer world, the IPA family offers the biggest bong blast of hops, complete with an aroma reminiscent of Otto’s jean jacket.

Hops in the medical field have many uses — from treating insomnia to hormone replacement therapy for women going through the hot flashes of menopause (since hops mimic estrogen). For the guys who find themselves washing higher and higher on their foreheads each day, there are even hop-laden shampoos that help promote hair growth and thickening.

Hops and their antioxidant qualities can purportedly help prevent cancers, high cholesterol, kidney stones, heart plaque and osteoporosis. A compound called humulone in the hops sticky buds helps guard against viruses and — some claim — even help fight common cold-like symptoms in adults. The sedative properties of hops decrease irritability and promote relaxation.

Moderate beer drinkers regularly ingesting hops can reap a lot of health benefits, but for those easily tempted by the palate-bashing IPA family of pints, there is one minor health risk you should be aware of: “Lupulin Threshold Shift” — 1. When a once extraordinarily hoppy beer now seems pedestrian. 2. The phenomenon a person has when craving more bitterness in beer. 3. The long-term exposure to extremely hoppy beers; if excessive or prolonged, a habitual dependence on hops will occur. 4. When a “Double IPA” just is not enough.”

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