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The Myth of the Hop – 4 persistent untruths about hops

It’s wonderful that hops have become the subject of so much writing and discussion. It’s just unfortunate that in the process so many (false) myths are being passed on – in countless forums and blogs, on Facebook and even in conversations. So let’s do some spring cleaning and do away with some of these myths:

 

Myth No. 1:
Hops with a particularly fruity aroma are grown in California on former lemon plantations or in former vineyards.

That may sound plausible at first, but it’s wrong nevertheless. The different aromas of the different varieties come from the breeding of the hops and not from the citrus (or other) trees that were grown in the same soil previously. The aroma in the hops comes from the hop oils that the plant itself produces and which may contain more than 400 different compounds. Even Hallertau Blanc or Nelson Sauvin, whose aromas are reminiscent of wine and gooseberry, do not get their aromas from the vineyards that are allegedly located nearby. Or have you ever seen any vineyards in the Hallertau region?

 

Myth No. 2:
Aroma-intensive hop varieties are new breeds and “that sort of thing” never existed before.

Wrong, too. There have always been aroma-intensive varieties, but they weren’t always what was wanted, and, as a result, many of these varieties never appeared on the market or disappeared again after only a short time. The focus in hop breeding has changed again and again over the years. Until only a few years ago, in addition to yield, disease resistance, etc., high and stable alpha acid contents were the main focus. The hop aroma was no more than an “embellishment” that happened to be there. Very good examples of this are the varieties Cascade, Hallertau Mittelfrüh, Comet and Topaz. Comet (1961) and Topaz (from the 1980s) were bred as high alpha varieties. Comet disappeared very quickly and is only now experiencing a renaissance as an “aroma bomb”; Topaz was only discovered as an aroma-intensive variety a few years ago. Cascade (1972) and Hallertau Mittelfrüh (an old regional variety) had almost become extinct, before being rediscovered by lovers of aroma-intensive varieties. Cascade, for example, is currently the most popular variety among craft brewers, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh is the hop variety used in one of the best-known craft beers in the USA.

 

Myth No. 3:
Only flavour hops are suitable for dry-hopping. High alpha varieties are unsuitable for dry-hopping.

Wrong again! Basically, any variety is suitable for dry-hopping. Regardless of whether it’s a high alpha variety or a fine aroma variety, each one has its unmistakable aroma profile and thus contributes to the aroma of the beer. It always depends on how the variety is used. In other words: not every hop variety suits every type of beer, and adding a lot of hops doesn’t always produce a beer with the best of aromas. What is incredibly exciting is to tease the very best out of each hop variety and then to discover that some hop varieties can be an excellent complement to the traditional beer styles in particular.

 

Myth No. 4:
Hop varieties are easily interchangeable.

Wrong yet again! Hop oil contains more than 400 aroma compounds in different concentrations and combinations, and these substances additionally produce synergistic effects. It is therefore very difficult to swap hop varieties – especially if the hop is being used for its aroma and not just for additional bitterness.

Any attempt to establish similarities between hop varieties on the basis of only 3 to 4 (out of 400!) hop oil compounds will completely fail to do justice to this complex subject and will not produce a satisfactory final brewing result, i.e. a similarity to another variety.

Nor is the subject of variety mixing as simple as it may seem. Two different hop varieties, with the flavour attributes “citrus-berry” and “vegetal-spicy” will certainly not produce an attribute like “sweet fruits”. Or, to put it simply: if you mix lemon and fennel, you won’t get apricot…

Incidentally, it is not a myth (and therefore cannot be false) that the well-judged addition of hops is one of the keys to brewing unique and excellent beers 😉

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