Basically, hops are a plant. And the flower of that plant is what is used in the brewing process. They contain alpha acids, which are responsible for the bitter flavor. And you guessed it: the more alpha acids the plant has, the more bitterness it can impart. There are three basic functional categories of hops: Bittering, Aroma, and Dual Purpose. Bittering or Kettle hops are used during the boil for flavor, Aroma or Finishing hops are used near the end of the process for bouquet, and Dual Purpose hops are just what they sound like. In addition to adding complex flavor and aromas, hops also act as a preservative and help to retain the head of the beer.
The majority of the hops grown in the United States come from the Pacific Northwest region. And much like wine grapes, studies have shown that hops’ characteristics are affected by “terroir” (pronounced tear-WAR); meaning climate, soil, terrain, and farming practices. Cascade hops are the most commonly used and considered the quintessential American hop plant. It is characterized by moderate bitterness and a strong grapefruit essence. Cascade hops are used to brew our Stockholm’s G.P.A. (Geneva Pale Ale), added toward the end of the boil to balance the initial caramel sweetness of the beer with citrus and piney bitterness.
Many people have heard of the term “noble hops”, which refers to varieties of hops grown in central Europe and used to brew beer for centuries. Two of the noble hops, Saaz from what is now the Czech Republic and Tettnang from southern Germany, are used to make Abbey Ale, one of our current seasonal selections. The Abbey is our version of a Belgian Tripel, which essentially means triple the amount of malt. This gives the beer a sweet taste and high alcohol content, which is contrasted by the noble hops; added at two different points in the brewing process to produce a wonderfully balanced sweet beer with mild bitterness. It pairs well with robust and flavorful dishes, like our BBQ Ribs or Seafood Diablo. Skoal!