Saturday, 15 November 2008

Hops for Beer, Medicine and Garlands

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsBack in the UK one of my pastimes was brewing my own beer. This was not done from kits but from gathering all natural ingredients. Many types of beer were made from a black Guinness type to lager and nettle and bran beer to cock ale (where the carcass of a chicken was also used in the brewing stage.)

In all the wonderful beers that I produced, the need for hops was apparent in each case, this is what made a beer taste like a beer.

History shows that the hop herb was used almost extensively in brewing throughout most of Europe. It has properties that give beer its distinctive flavour, it help preserve and clear the beer. This goes back to the 9th Century and was actually documented in the 11th century.

There are many reasons why hops are used in brewing. There is the distinctive bitterness of the hops balances with the sweetness of the malt. Then there is the flavour of the hops that add to the beers' characteristics and is achieved by boiling the hops in the wort for 10-15 minutes.

The aroma of the hops is absorbed into the beer by boiling the hops with the wort or by 'dry hopping', this is basically adding the hops to the secondary fermentation for up to a week. Finally there are the preserving qualities it holds. Hops are a natural preservative needed to insure a beer's aging process.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsTraditionally in hop growing areas in the UK, the cultivated hop plant forms a beautiful garland that is ready to harvest at the end of August.

Little know is the fact that hops stems can be steamed and eaten, this is a recipe that came from the Romans..

Hops are the flowers of the plant. It has bitterness that balances out the sweetness of the malt in beer. It is common that hops are added at the end of the boil, know as the finishing hops, which give more flavour and aroma to the beer.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsParticular hop varieties pertain to certain beer regions and styles. Pale lagers are usually brewed with European noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Hallertau and Strissel Spalt. British ales use hop varieties such as Fuggle, Golding and Bullion. Across the Atlantic in North American they use Cascade, Columbia, Willamette and Amarillo hops.

Hops are used in herbal medicine not too far removed from the effects of valerian; this is to treat anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A folk remedy is to fill a pillow filled with hops for sleeplessness. Although hops are usually be used alone, they combined well with other herbs, such as valerian.

Hops for Beer, Medicine and GarlandsHops grown in gardens for home brewing use are not that popular today, even though they are easily manage. The reason is that buying in hops from professional producers will always guarantee quality. It you do want to try some out, planting should be made where there is a good drainage and a sunny position. Hops are climbers and will reach up to three metres, so they will need supports or a trellis. It is only in the second season that the flowers will appear. An established hop plant with give scented bloom in mid summer and the hops cones ripen in autumn to be harvested for decoration or home brewing.


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