Humulus Lupulus; more “u”s than a sheep factory and the Latin name for the common hop plant. The history of these fragrant little fellows is strikingly similar to this column; it abounds in unsupported statements, misleading or inaccurate quotations, and inadequate references. It’s the perfect topic.
The first mention in human history was penned by Pliny the Elder, who was a bit older than Pliny the Younger, by all accounts, about 77AD. At this time hops were being utilised as a medicine to treat restlessness, insomnia and anxiety, which explains perfectly how they ended up in beer 500 years later. Since then, all sorts of stupefying stories and deceitful ditties have diffused the historic discourse, not least that of the Jews and their jeopardous jail time behind Babylonian bars, during which their hoppy habits happened to have the effect of miraculously eliminating Leprosy. Now in terms of skepticism, I’m right up there – I don’t even believe Harry Potter – so when I say that I don’t know a single person who drinks beer who’s had Leprosy, I think it’s safe to say the Jews weren’t joking.
Alas, the comprehensive hop compendium I was shamelessly copying has come to an end, and lest too this article’s coherence, it might be best to circumvent the hop plant’s closest cousin, cannabis – aside from mentioning the resounding family resemblance. We best get back to beer.
To both the brewer and the boozer, hops throws down a triple threat; boiled for an extended time they give us bitterness, added in the final five to 30 minutes of boiling the brew they give us flavour, and added any later in the process they provide aroma. These combine to give us the flavours in beers that range from the banal – lemon, citrus, pine, tropical, to the bizarre – fermented bandages, rusty nails and Heidi Klum after a cigarette. In terms of bitterness, for those not so initiated into the dank dark arts of resinous refreshments, there’s a dubiously studied but definitely demonstrable effect dubbed the “Lupulin Shift”, whence once one whops enough hops, they shift their bitterness threshold and immediately need a bigger dose to get the same hit.
Hops sound a lot like crack cocaine, right? They live in beer? Cannabis’ cousin! It would be easy to paint these green goodies as the party boys of the plant world, but in fact you’d be fudging one of their most fortunate features. Brewing clean beer means constantly battling bad bacteria, and you know what bacteria hate? That’s right: a certain crime fighting climbing plant’s compounds that create bitterness! Boom, like Charlie Sheen and Mcauley Caulkin’s little danky dank love child, hops bounce back from the brink and become household heroes once again.
Talk about a whirlwind tour of the history of hops! It’s doubtful any of those basic HTML websites from the ‘90s I used were remotely true, so you should really save the recalling of this raucous rambling for your less well read friends over a ridiculously hoppy red IPA, whose bouquet reveals layer after layer of rusty nails, Chernobyl rubble and Rigor Mortis.