Over the past 30 years, the beer scene has been filled with hop-oriented beers. From classic pale ales via the iconic IPAs to evolutions of Double or Imperial IPAs. Pale ales, IPAs and Double IPAs are codified styles, which means that there are production criteria and product characteristics that make them such and branding a beer with one of these terms on the label indicates to the consumer a specific set of beer characteristics.
Occasionally, however, we come across new nomenclatures and variations, especially on the hop theme, with claims promising new techniques or product innovations. “Triple hops brewed” is one of these, but to find out what lies behind this claim, we need to take a step back in time and get to know our special ingredient, the hops.
Hop: origins and evolution
Originating as an antioxidant and antibacterial agent, hops’ journey into the world of beer began many centuries ago. The first recognised uses date back to around the 8th century, but it is believed that it was probably used even earlier. Certainly, its spread was slow but steady, and its virtues and properties recognised over time. From 1000 to 1700, practically all brewers abandoned gruyt (a mixture of local spices used as a bittering agent) in favour of hops.
Studies by Abbess Hildegard in 1100 supported the preservative properties of hops, confirming its fundamental characteristics in beer production. It was, however, with English ales that emphasis began to be placed on this ingredient. Ironically, the last nation to adopt hops as an ingredient, it was also the one that gave birth to the first styles oriented towards the use of hops in large amounts. In English Pale Ales and IPAs, the taste and aroma characteristics of the hops begin to be emphasised, evolving and reaching the peak in the modern US versions.
These qualities are recognisable in the beer on two different fronts: bitterness and aroma. It is the hops that give the bitter taste in beer, balancing the sweetness of the malts. And it is again the hops that offer a wide range of aromatic scents, ranging from floral to earthy, from fruity to spicy. Today, it is possible to choose among over 200 different hops varieties, each one with distinct flavour and bittering capacities. But to know how bitter taste and aromas are released in beer, it is necessary to understand few production steps, which are useful to answer the question asked earlier.
How hopping techniques affect the beer
Hops contain two substances crucial to the final characteristics of beer: alpha acids and essential oils. The first are responsible for the bitter component, the second for the aromatics mentioned above. During the wort boiling phase, which usually lasts between 60 and 90 min, hops are normally added to the beer. And it is here that several possibilities begin to emerge for the brewer. By adding hops at the beginning of the wort boiling phase, mainly the bitter part will be extracted and the essential oils will evaporate and disperse. Adding it instead towards the end of boiling will preserve the essential oils but there will be no extraction of the bitter component.
This mechanism is the basis of hopping in brewing and all beers brewed in some way must balance these two characteristics, depending on the brewer’s wishes. Different hops, with different aromatic characteristics, can be added at different times during the boiling process, leading to different result.
The standard is to do a first hop run at the beginning of the boil to give the bittering component and a second run at the end of the boil to give the aromatic part. All this with one or more different hops. This is quite the default, in non-hop-oriented beers. A classic Pale Ale can go as far as having 3 or 4 different hops run and an IPA over 6, not to mention the later techniques for hopping which we will go on to see. We note, however, that at least 2 hop addition are always present in any beer, and it is absolutely normal to have 3 or 4 in a classic recipe.
Quantities and qualities
Over the past 20 years, in the wake of the demand for beers increasingly characterised by the hop component, brewers have taken from the past or invented from scratch, new hopping techniques to be implemented in addition to the classic hop-adding techniques during boil phase. All with the aim of preserving the aromatic component of the hops as much as possible and to emphasise this ingredient.
Among the best known is certainly dry hopping, the addition of hops after the boiling phase and during fermentation or maturation. Or whirlpool hopping, which involves adding large quantities of hops after boiling, during the cooling or whirlpooling phase of brewing. Hop bursting, first wort hops, double dry hopping, the list is long. This is to point out how numerous hopping techniques are possible and can be employed at different points in the production process. Caution though. In addition to the number of times hops are used, we should also know the quantities. Add 1 g of hops in 1 litre of wort is different from add 5 g.
In addition to when, it is also important to know how much. Using a lot of hop runs but with small quantities is useless for the aromatic qualities of the product. Similarly, claiming to use 10 different hops tells us nothing about the actual quality of the product, if we don’t know which hops are used, when and in which quantities.
To sum up, the claim “triple hopped brewed” means that hops were added in 3 different times in the brewing process, but this does not mean anything, it is just a marketing slogan and does not tell us anything more about the beer, about its qualities or characteristics. As we have seen, almost all the world’s beers receive multiple hops adding in different times, so emphasising on triple hopping only serves to create confusion in the hope of attracting a few new, distracted consumers.