Hoppiness is often used as a synonym for the word bitter and many brewers market their craft beers promoting the ‘hoppy’ elements. But this is where it gets confusing as there are plenty of beers that use loads of hops and don’t taste the least bit bitter.
Beer is made from just four ingredients; grain, hops, yeast and water. What makes a beer bitter or sweet is the balance between the grain and hops.
So hops add bitterness?
Yes, but hops basically do two things to a beer. The first is to provide bitterness as a balance against the sweetness generated from the yeast fermenting the malt. The second is then to provide hoppiness, the flavour and aroma to the beer itself.
It is the type of hop balanced with the moment in the brewing process that you add the hops that will determine what effect it will have on the beer. Typically, if you add ‘bittering’ hops early in the boil they will add bitterness but also lose most of their flavour and aroma. But when ‘aroma’ hops are added at the end of the boil they add the flavour and aroma without increasing bitterness.
This means it’s possible to have an extremely bitter beer that has almost no aroma and little hop flavour and it’s also possible to have a beer that is absolutely packed with flavour and aroma but is not very bitter. This is all down to the brewer, the type of hops being used and when they are added.
So what have we learnt?
Not a lot I hear you say, well this is the whole point in the exciting explosion of nano- and micro-breweries.
Gone is the time when just a few large brewers created standard traditional pints for the mass market, but now we have many small breweries off the beaten track exploring and creating some exciting combinations.
Yes, we have the traditional Bitters, Pale Ales, Brown Ales and Milds that offer a more consistency balance but we now have the Blonde Ales, Golden Ales, IPAs and Amber Ales that are pushing the boundary on taste and vary from brewer to brewer.
This new world of craft beer is actually incredibly diverse and all we can say is have fun trying new beers whilst drinking responsibly.