What are hops?
Hops are small flowers that grow on the hop plant Hummulus lupulus. It is a climbing plant that can grow up to 20ft and only the female plant can produce the hops. They also belong to the Cannabaceae family which includes other flowering plants such as hemp and hackberries.
When was the use of hops first documented?
The earliest documentation of the use of hops and their use in the brewing process goes back to the year 822 AD with a group of French monks in the abbey of the Corbie monastery in Picardy, France. It was here that the rules for running the abbey were introduced that included duties such as gathering firewood and collecting wild hops as an ingredient for brewing.
But hops were not that popular at the time to be used in the brewing process in beer. In fact, brewers would use a mixture of herbs called a ‘gruit’.
Why were hops used more than a gruit?
Before hops came onto the scene, brewers would use herbs such as sweet gale, yarrow or mugwort, also known as a gruit. The idea of such herbs being the primary ingredient slowly began to lose popularity from the 11th century right up-to the 16th century, and was replaced by hops due to their brewing properties.
Hops can act as a preservative that prevents the beer from spoiling, adds flavour, aroma and provides a good head on beer.
Apart from being a brewers dream ingredient by providing them the best way to brew beer, hops were also used for other things.
What were hops used before brewing?
Apart from balancing the flavours in beer and preventing spoilage, hops had a different use to them. In ancient Greece, they would be consumed as a salad green. In Sweden, the stems from the hops were used to produce a fabric that resembled linen. And across parts of the world, they had medicinal purposes that would cure ailments such as skin disease and impurities in the blood.
Today, there are about 80 different types of hop plants across the world with their own unique ways of giving your favourite lager, pilsner or IPA that thirst-quenching and mouth filling enjoyment with every gulp you make.