Historically the management of hop additions to beer was, for most brewers, a relatively simple process. Whole hops were added to the boiling wort and the spent hops provided a filter bed for the wort as it was passed on to fermentation. Some English brewers also added whole hops to finished beer in order to impart a dry hop flavor to cask-conditioned ales. Brewers could vary the amount of bitterness and the intensity and quality of hop aroma by varying the varieties of hops used, the amount used and the time of addition during the wort boiling process.
Over the past one hundred years or so this situation has changed dramatically and, due to a number of factors, the whole issue of hop addition to beer has become much more complex. The major factors contributing to this process have been:
- a need to reduce the costs associated with hop usage. This includes purchasing hops with higher alpha acids contents, using lower volume products to reduce shipping and handling charges and increasing utilization rates through using different products or modifying the brewing process itself.
- a need to provide a higher level of consistency both in the brewing process and in the final beer. It is important with a number of large brewing plants to provide a consistent product from site to site over a long time period.
More recent considerations are:
- a need to demonstrate publicly an awareness of environmental and public health issues. From this has developed a trend towards hops and hop products with reduced health risks (pesticide residues, solvent residues, nitrate residues, etc.) plus a demand for less packaging materials which can be costly to dispose of or recycle.
- a need to produce specialty beers to attract and hold a particular group of consumers. This has to be done within the current brewing infrastructure of large plants with little ability to vary brewing methods on a day to day or even week to week basis. The role of specialty beers to fill particular market niches is however becoming increasingly important in an evermore segmented marketplace.
Many of the considerations above are as important for microbreweries as they are for the large scale brewers.
Although a relatively small factor in the production cost of beer, hops are an extremely important contributor to the flavor and aroma of the product. It is, therefore, not surprising that such a large effort has been devoted to hops in respect of product consistency, health concerns and specialty beers.
Work in these areas has been done by the brewing industry itself, hop trading operations and career brewing and hop chemists. It has resulted in a tremendous array of hop products which seems to be growing larger each year. The purpose of this section is to attempt to classify this diverse group of products by considering their preparation, their perceived use in the brewing process and their relative advantages and disadvantages in terms of the current and future developments in brewing defined earlier.