Hop plants are largely what distinguish your dark ales from your refreshing pales, and each has its own “terroir”. With changing weather affecting how and where they grow, what does the future hold for brewing and beer?
WATER, malted barley and hops. It is the classic recipe for the world’s favourite intoxicant. According to a law declared in 1516 in the German state of Bavaria, a place that likes to see itself as beer’s spiritual home, those are the only three ingredients it may contain – the yeast that converts the sugars in the barley to alcohol being out of sight and out of mind back then.
Today’s craft beer revolution takes such strictures less seriously, with new and exotic brews catering for all manner of tastes. But one ingredient remains a constant – indeed the fulcrum – of good beer. Hops give beer the bitterness that counterbalances the sickly sweetness of the fermenting grain and imparts subtle flavour tones that distinguish one brew from another, all while acting as a natural preservative.
That is reason enough to declare the hop one of the world’s most important, if often overlooked, plants. Yet trouble is brewing, with a perfect storm of changing tastes and changing weather contriving to shake up its cultivation. The question frothing on many a lip now is whether an ale and hearty future for the hop can be assured.
Hops weren’t always so universally beloved. In England, they were once dubbed the “wicked weed”, and traditional ales were brewed without them. It is a myth that Henry VI once tried to ban them, although the city of Norwich did in 1471, as it tried to defend the purity of yeoman English ale in the face of perfidious hopped continental imports. Before …