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Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Henry VIII didn't have hops ... and here's why

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Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Henry VIII didn't have hops ... and here's why By JIM BEAUREGARD | November 09. 2016 4:27AM

Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Henry VIII didn't have hops ... and here's why

If you have been anywhere in the general vicinity of a bottle of beer at any time in your life, you are probably familiar with the word “hops.” It’s been a staple of beer making for centuries.

Reginald Scott, in his wildly successful 1576 best-seller, “The Perfite Platform for a Hoppe Garden,” advises that “if your ale may endure a fortnight, your Beere through the benefit of the Hoppe, shall continue a moneth, and what grace it yieldeth to the teaste, all men may judge that have sense in their mouths.”

Hopefully there were a few Englishwomen partial to a good ale in those days as well. Hops are the flowers of the herbaceous plant Humulus lupulus (meaning “little wolf”) and there are many kinds, some of them known as the “Noble Hops” which can include Hallertauer Mittlefrüh from Bavaria, Tettnanger from Germany’s Lake Constance, Spalt, also from Bavaria, and Saaz from the Czech Republic, as my Oxford Companion to Beer informs me.

But hops use in beer making goes way back before that. There is documentation attesting to the use of hops as far back as the year 822 in northern France, when one Benedictine abbot, Adalhard of the monastery of Corbie, noted that the monks in charge of beer-making added hops to the brew. Word spread fast — well, fast for those days, when nothing moved faster than a galloping horse — so that by the early 1000s pretty much everyone in France was adding hops to the fermenting brew.

A few centuries later, England’s Henry VIII played the killjoy, banning hops altogether, claiming it was an aphrodisiac that led his unsuspecting subjects into sin (his six wives thus being a hops-free historical note).

Subsequent monarchs, however, saw the error of Henry’s ways and reintroduced hops, a wise move in a perennially cloudy country. (My English friend Simon tells me, “I know about the sun. I’ve seen pictures.” Very sensibly, he and his wife Orla are just back from a vacation from sunny Bavaria, where hops were never, ever, banned.)

This brings me to the issue of “dry hopping” which we need to know about to understand today’s beer, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Hops can be added to the beer-making process at one or more points in the boiling process. “Dry hopping” is the addition of still more hops to infuse more bitterness and flavor. It’s added not at the boiling process, but when things have cooled down, so that the hops’ oils don’t all cook off.

What do hops do? They are one of the principal ingredients of beer, along with barley and water, and they provide both bitterness and flavor — different hops contributing different flavor profiles just as different grapes result in different tasting wines. They also increase the stability of a beer, as Mr. Scott above indicated.

Hops can run a huge gamut of flavors, from fruit to floral to spice, vegetal, nuttiness, wood, earth and cheese. The brewer can make choices about the end product by the initial choice of hops.

Let’s look at a dry-hopped example from Belgium.

Piraat Triple Hop Dry Hopped Ale: Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Belgium. 750 ml bottle, 10.5% abv, about $13. The head is just off white, with the slightest, just the very slightest hints of tan; huge like a Belgian ale head should be. The beer is a rich, light amber shade. It’s slightly cloudy. The nose is hops, light fruit, with hints of citrus, orange, and some floral notes. The palate is dry, with good bitterness, good carbonation and acidity, and well-integrated alcohol — but remember that it’s over 10%, on the high side for a Belgian.

The body is medium with a smooth mouth feel, silky in fact, as you would find in some heavier beers. The flavors are intense, and along with the hops flavors I mentioned, the malt comes through much more clearly, staying in balance with caramel, toast and bread hints.

It has a long finish, very good quality with good balance of components, intensity, concentration of flavors and complexity. It’s rich enough to lay down for a while, but it’s certainly ready to be sipped now, and your attention will be richly rewarded.

Don’t be fooled by the pirate ship on the label. This isn’t made quick for pounding down before you make somebody walk the plank. It’s elegant, and meant to be sipped and meant to be enjoyed.

Not being a killjoy myself, I do have to include here a “caveat emptor”: Double IPAs and Imperial IPAs are typically dry hopped, but the additional flavor gained by doing this is short-lived. All the additional pleasing flavors tend to fade in two or three months, leaving a tea-like flavor that usually isn’t particularly pleasing.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.

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