Humulus Lupulus (wolf of the woods) are mysterious plants. The speed with which they can grow — almost one metre a day in ideal conditions — rivals Jack’s beanstalk. But what’s important for us is that humulus lupulus is just the fancy latin name for hops — the sticky, flavourful relative of marijuana that makes beer taste so good.
Hops bring bitterness to mingle with malt’s sweetness in the never-ending palate battle that makes beer so enjoyable. Hops are also a natural preservative, adding essential oils that stabilize a beer’s head and increases its shelf life by controlling that crazy fungi we call yeast.
Part of the magic of hops is all the different varieties a brewer can choose. Amongst the 50 or more strains of hops, flavours and aromas range from flowery to citrusy to spicy and beyond.
If you’re going to talk about hops, it’s only natural to delve into the beer style that relies most heavily on them — India Pal Ale.
One recent craze in the beer world is single-hopped beers. Alberta has two interesting new examples and there are more on the way. Most beers use two hop varietals (Tree Hophead uses five), so these single-hopped brews provide a great way for homebrewers and beer lovers to learn each hop’s unique flavour profile.
• Mikkeller Single Hop East Kent Golding IPA — This is an English hop indigenous to East Kent. This one is spicy, tangy, earthy and made with one of my favourite old-school British hops.
• Charlevoix La Vache Folle Herkules Double IPA — Herkules is a new-school hop — less than five years old — that has been cloned and spliced for the most potent bitterness. Most big hops have a Manitoba wild hop background with big notes of grapefruit or pine in the aroma and taste. Herkules, however, has been cloned from traditional German lager hops, making for a unique taste. Imagine a great German lager on steroids.
If you don’t want to settle for just one hop in your brew, there are still plenty of multi-hop options.
• Central City Red Racer IPA — This beer arm-wrestles with the tastebuds as it goes back and forth (many times) between intense hops and sweet malt in one sip. Spoiler alert: The hops win. Red Racer is only available in cans and you may have a hard time finding it — it’s been a hophead favourite this summer.
• Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale — The burnout surfers at Lagunitas know how to brew. With a name like Sumpin’ Sumpin’, you know they’re referring to hop’s sister plant with sticky buds of its own. The Sumpin’ Sumpin’ is a huge hit of hops, but for a real whallop, look for Lagunitas’ A Little Sumpin’ Extra. It has a more intense floral aroma and an even bigger toasty caramel malt backbone.