Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Every once in a while, gazing out at the world of beer, it’s hard not to throw one’s hands up in the air and cry, “Good gracious, what wild fantasies these madmen have wrought!”How, for instance, is one supposed to choose between a beer made with yeast cultured from prehistoric whale fossils (Lost Rhino Brewing Company’s recently announced Bone Dusters Paleo Ale) and one that includes bull testicles (Wynkoop Brewing’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout)?
In Oregon, an intrepid brewer has supposedly fermented a concoction using yeast culled from his own beard (Rogue’s Beard Beer; no offense to brewer John Maier, but, blech). In Canada, a clutch of intergalactically-minded marketers have launched a crisp Klingon brew for Star Trek kooks (Federation o Beer’s Warnog).
Faced with all this, it’s important to remember that beer, when you come right down to it, only requires four ingredients. Organs from unfortunate bulls or prehistoric whale bones really don’t come into it. Water, a starch (typically malted barley), yeast and hops are all you need. And if you ask me, the coolest of that quartet is the hops.
Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant. Hop flowers look like small, green, leafy pinecones, and, when used in the brewing process, contribute to the aroma, flavor and stability (thanks to certain antibacterial properties) of beer. There are any number of strains, and each one can contribute different characteristics to the resulting beer. Brewers most often use a combination of hop strains, but more and more “single-hop” beers are now turning up, and they’re a fascinating category.
So, before diving into the weirder depths of the beer world - like smoked-goat-brains ales (Dock Street Brewing’s new Walker Pale Ale) - you might want to check out the range of influences that hops, one of beer’s basic ingredients, can have.
Anchor Brewing: Brekle’s Brown Ale
Citra hops, the strain that Anchor Steam uses for this brown ale, tend to give distinctive tropical-fruit notes - think guava and passion fruit. 3 Floyds' Zombie Dust, if you can find it, is another all-Citra beer, and a great one at that.
Deschutes Brewery: Fresh-Squeezed IPA
A combination of Mosaic, Citra and Nugget hops gives this IPA a particularly potent citrus character of tangerine, grapefruit and orange.
Weyerbacher: Double Simcoe IPA
Simcoe hops give a particularly piney character to beer, along with some citrus and/or tree-fruit notes. Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe is about as Simcoe as you can get.
Anderson Valley Brewing: Hop Ottin’ IPA
Both Columbus and Cascade hops are used in this beer, but it’s the Columbus strain that provides Hop Ottin’s distinctive earthy, resiny notes.
Brooklyn Brewery: Sorachi Ace
This is a saison-style beer brewed using the Japanese-developed Sorachi Ace hops. Lemon, lemon peel, lemongrass - it’s hard not to notice the effect.
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"Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant. Hop flowers look like small, green, leafy pinecones, and, when used in the brewing process, contribute to the aroma, flavor and stability (thanks to certain antibacterial properties) of beer."
This is all true, but leaves out a very important use of hops: Bitterness. Hops added a the beginning or very early in the boil contribute much of the bitterness that offsets sweetness. Without the bittering addition, beer would be overly sweet.
Another interesting thing along the lines of this article is SMaSH beers. SMaSH stands for Single Malt and Single Hop. It really highlights the ingredients. It could be just malted 2-row barley, any hop you like added with 60 minutes left in the boil (bittering), 15 minutes left (flavor) & five to zero minutes left (aroma). Add your yeast and ferment! Simple, but can be very tasty.
Hops always looked to me like something that should be dried and smoked........
Ever tried it? Be a trendsetter. :)
It is actually a cousin of cannabis.
There's also Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, which is just hopped with Centennial hops.
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