A Bit of
Originally, beer was a mixture
of malt grain and water fermented under the action of wild yeast. As history
progressed, hops were introduced for their qualities as a preservative.
These days of course, hops are an essential component because of their
bitter taste and fine aroma.
The traditional method of
brewing involves special treatment of malted grain (usually barley) to
convert its starches to fermentable sugars. This occurs automatically during
a process called “Mashing”.
The malted grain is cracked,
mixed with water, heated to about 68 deg C and held at this temperature for
1-2 hours. The fermentable sugars created in this process are washed out of
the grain, mixed with hops and boiled for 30-60 minutes. This mixture, which
is now called the “wort”, is then cooled and
strained into the fermenter and made up to the
correct volume. Yeast is added and the brew is allowed to ferment.
Another style of brewing is a
little easier because it avoids the grain treatment process by using malt
extract. This is mixed with the other ingredients and water and boiled for
30 minutes or so. The resultant wort is cooled
and strained into the fermenter and fermented
out. We refer to this as “Malt Extract Brewing”
The easiest way to make beer
these days is to use one of the many pre-prepared home brew packs that come
in the form of a can of concentrated wort. All
you need to do is mix it with water in a fermenter
add the yeast and allow it to ferment.
We call this “Kit Brewing”
Although it is easy, this does
not mean the quality of the beer you make is poor.
In fact, you can make great
beer this way. To do so, remember that it is important to use really good
The History of
The first documented instance of hop cultivation was in 736,
in the Hallertau region of present-day Germany (which is today the most
important production centre with about 25% of the worldwide production),
although the first mention of the use of hops in brewing was in 1079. Hops
were introduced to British beers in the early 1500s, and hop cultivation
began in the present-day United States in 1629.
Until mechanisation (in the late 1960s for the UK), the need
for massed labour at harvest time meant hop-growing had a big social impact.
Many of those hopping in Kent were Eastenders, for whom the annual migration
meant not just money in the family pocket but a welcome break from the grime
and smoke of London. Whole families would come down on special trains and
live in hoppers' huts for most of September, even the smallest children
helping in the fields.
Today, the principal production centres for the UK are in
Kent (which produces Kent Golding hops) and Worcestershire, and Washington
state for the USA; other important production areas include Belgium, as
mentioned Germany and the Czech Republic.
Hops are the
flowers of Humulus lupulus used as a flavouring and stability agent in beer
since the seventeenth century. Hops contain several characteristics very
favorable to beer: (a) hops contribute a bitterness that balances the
sweetness of the malt, (b) hops also contribute aromas which range from
flowery to citrus to herbal, (c) hops have an antibiotic effect that favours
the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms and (d)
the use of hops aids in "head retention", the length of time that foamy head
created by the beer's carbonation agent will last. The bitterness of
commercially-brewed beers is measured on the International Bitterness Units
scale. While hops plants are grown by farmers all around the world in many
different varieties, there is no major commercial use for hops other than in