Beer 101: Hops

07-04-2016, The BeerVibe Crew


Beer History Hops Cartoon

We’re starting a short series on hops. Before we get into the history of hops (which has in fact already been touched upon), we will briefly discuss the subject scientifically. Hops existed long before beer, and beer was used long before anyone added hops into the brew. To make this part informative and at the same time not too boring, we will give mostly some highlights and cut out most of the details. Must you know these things before you can enjoy a cold mug of beer? Yes! Not really, but a little knowledge can impress your friends and irritate your enemies.


The hop plant is called Humulus lupulus. We can be pleased that the Latin name isn’t any more difficult than that. “Humulus lupulus; humulus lupulus; humulus lupulus…” Keep saying it until it gets boring.


In plant taxonomy, humulus lupulus shares space with cannabis in the plant family known as Cannabaceae. Unlike cannabis, however, humulus lupulus is completely legal everywhere.


Humulus lupulus, with all of its known varieties, is just one species. The plant is dioecious, which means that the males and females are separate plants. This little detail is important, because it is the female flowers that wind up in our beer. Males are kept out and often destroyed. Some males may be preserved occasional breeding purposes, producing seeds, but usually new plants are grown vegetatively, from crowns, rhizomes, and bine and shoot cuttings.


Whatever you might occasionally see on some websites, hops do not grow on vines. They grow on bines. For those who care, there is a difference. A vine climbs by using tendrils and entwining itself on whatever it is climbing on. A bine climbs by using stiff hairs and entwining itself on whatever it is climbing on. The hairs enable the stem itself to be anchored to whatever it is climbing. Bines don’t have tendrils.


We at BeerVibe regard Scientific Correctness (SC) to be very important. It is not our policy to use any language that might offend anyone’s scientific sensibilities.


This matter of hops being a bine has much to do on how it is cultivated. They are grown on trellises with strings and wires. The part of the plant used in brewing is the flower, which resembles a cone so much that it is often called a cone. For obvious reasons hops were harvested by hand for many centuries, but mechanization took over in the 20th century. To illustrate what centuries of breeding and growing hops has accomplished, MidwestSupplies.com lists 103 varieties of hops, sold either as pellets or as leaf hops.


Hops finds its place in alternative medicine. As an herbal remedy, it has been used for insomnia, restlessness, tension, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and several other maladies, including treatment for high cholesterol, some cancers, tuberculosis, and several others. According to WebMD, there is “Insufficient evidence” to support the medicinal value of hops in the above-mentioned maladies.


There is a chemical in hops that closely resembles estrogen. This is not noted, as far as we have seen, for causing any problems. Hops are also anti-microbial, which contributed greatly to its gradual replacing of the many herbs used in gruit.


Something that we should take special note of, however, is that according to WebMD hops have a specific interaction with alcohol. Alcohol and hops can cause excessive sleepiness and drowsiness. Alcohol and hops are both found in beer. (Yawn!)

NEXT: We begin THE HISTORY OF HOPS AND BEER.

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