After being botanically described and classified under the binomial name Humulus Lupulus by Roman statesman Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D., hops eventually rose to prominence in beer brewing in the late Middle Ages. Its ability to balance beer’s flavor by imparting bitterness as well as supplying aromatics and flavor made it an indispensable element of nearly every beer on Earth. For centuries thereafter, hops remained a relatively straightforward affair.
Hops thrive around the world and can grow in a multitude of climates, though they do best along a band of latitude around the 48th parallel. These prime growing regions include the Pacific Northwest of the U.S, southern England and central Germany, as well as the Czech Republic further east.
American hop subspecies include classics like Cascade, Centennial and Chinook. These hops showcase aromas and flavors of citrus and pine. English hops like Target and East Kent Goldings have fruity and earthy characteristics. Mainland noble European hops like Hallertau, Spalt and Saaz taste minty, herbaceous and even woodsy. These classic subspecies, also known as varieties, anchored the beer world for lovers of the sudsy stuff until recent decades. This is when the affair became decidedly less straightforward.
As craft beer exploded in popularity, brewers, geneticists and chemists alike sought out new flavors and aromas from their hops. To this end, they began selectively breeding and engineering new varieties of hops that offer up a litany of new flavors. New regions of the world have even gotten into commercial hop production. Australia and New Zealand crank out Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, Rakau and many others. Japan grows Sorachi Ace. The U.S has reasserted itself by creating Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic and many others too numerous to mention. All these new hops offer up flavors and aromas of lemon, strawberry, mango, peach, papaya, pineapple, grapefruit and pear. New varieties are being created and trademarked almost faster than we can keep up with them. The end result is a bold new world of flavor to keep avid beer drinkers excited and engaged in this brand new frontier of beer geekiness. So next time you’re in the store, do a little label reading and try out a beer that features an exciting new boutique hop. Cheers!
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