HOPS IN BEER
By Paul D. Knight
The use of hops in beer most likely began when some ancient cave brewer, in an effort to gain a competitive edge, started experimenting with "additives" to his product. The hops grew wild, as did the brewer, the barley and the yeast. Some degree of variability in the product was no doubt acceptable.
The use of hops probably started before recorded history. It is known that the Babylon and Egyptian people used hops and other aro-matic and spicy plants to improve the palatability of their brewing efforts.
Germans are often identified with hops and beer, but from a historical perspective, this is of recent practice. The first documented evidence of hop yards in Germany dates back to the year 736, to a monastery in Bavaria.
The early brewers, especially those on the cutting edge of technology, discovered that the beer containing hops had better keeping qualities than their unhopped products. The practice then began of adding greater quantities of hops to beer depending on the season of year and expected storage time. More hops equaled greater storage life. The reason for this was not known and not important; the results were important.
Hop production in America followed closely the settlement of the first colonies in the New England areas. Early American brewers used wild hops, but the cultivation of hops in the old world had progressed to "industry status" and soon moved to the new world. After growing hops in New England and Virginia, the center of hop production moved to New York State by the middle 1800s. Problems with powdery mildew practically wiped out the production of hops in New York about 1909. The region revived again around 1920 with the discovery of sulfur-based fungicides only to be devastated again in the late 1920s by downy mildew.
Starting about 1850 the hop industry in the Western states of Washington, Oregon and California began to develop and eventually became one of the major regions of the world. In recent years, California and Western Washington hop production has ceased. Oregon and Idaho still account for 25-30% of U.S. production while the Yakima Valley of Washington totals 70-75%. The total U.S. production accounts for nearly 30% of the world hop crop.
Brewers no longer rely on the antiseptic properties of hops for microbiological control and, in general, the modern consumer prefers a lighter and lesser hopped beer. The growing and processing of hops has become a highly scientific endeavor as has the brewing of beer. Hop usage in beer is deeply ingrained and is considered one of the more vital ingredients. Beer without hops is unthinkable. Or, for that matter, so are hops without beer!