It's common knowledge that some years produce particularly good wines. That's because weather affects the qualities of the grapes – a good year will produce a superior vintage.
Beer enthusiasts are equally aware that it is the ingredients that imbue each brew with its distinctive character. However, climate – rather than simply the weather – is the most important factor that has an impact on these elements.
The use of hops gives beer its distinctive bitterness and can impart all kinds of other flavors – hops are classed as either ‘bittering', ‘aroma' or ‘dual purpose' based on their use. Bines are harvested once per year in each hemisphere, dried, then added to the boiling liquid extracted from malt – early in the boil to add bitterness, late for aroma – before yeast is added to the mixture to begin fermentation.
Hop bines grow in a more restricted temperature range than grapes, and are more vulnerable to pests and bad weather. New varieties have been created over the centuries to allow easier cultivation in different conditions, and to produce completely different aromas and tastes.
Some premium beers are made with a single hop, but master brewers can also mix varieties in order to create distinctive beers – just as altering the mix of spices in your food produces different cuisines. It is also possible to generalize, at least in terms of geography, about the kind of hops that lend different beers such distinctive characteristics.
- Central European lagers are characterized by blending in aromatic ‘noble hops', such as the Saaz variety which can give a distinctive spicy, citrus taste.
- ‘New World hops' are bred from older varieties, but have flavors that are all their own. Varieties from the United States frequently have strong citrus notes, but the country has such a broad range of climates that there's something to suit everyone. Try a beer brewed with Cascade hops for hints of grapefruit.
- Britain's most famous variety, Fuggles, has been at the heart of the nation's brewing since the early 1800s, and remains popular thanks to the earthy flavor it lends to a brew. Challenger hops, with flavors reminiscent of tea and bitter lemon, are best experienced in an IPA.
- Meanwhile, fruity flavors are common in the antipodes. For example, New Zealand's Nelson Sauvin hop is named after Sauvignon Blanc wine grapes because it imparts lychee and tropical fruit flavors.
Why not find out what kind of hops are in your favorite beer? Using that as a guide, you could discover other brews that perfectly match your palate.