A History of Hops in the Craft Beer Industry

Kindly submitted by Bob Gorman, on behalf of Beer Cartel.

Beer has been around for millennia and has been part of human fabric comprising our cultures from antiquity. The advent of the modern ‘microbrewery’ has brought new beer varieties to the ancient brewing process and contributed to the craft beer industry. Today a given beer flavor may be based on the availability of local herbals or common ingredients available around the world. The microbrewery continues the traditions of the past history of hops, but has often added some modern ingredients to the ancient recipe for beer.

Hops – One of Many Ingredients

AA basic beer utilizes water, grain, and yeast. Hops has been added to give the brew an extra ‘bite’ since the late 800s CE. Other additives predate hops, and exotic tastes continue to complement the microbrewing industry, including ingredients like saffron, cocoa, rice, honey, grapes, various fruits, chillies, flowers, etc. Beer Cartel made this interesting infographic that shows just how amazing the hop plant is.

A History in Folk Medicine

Hops was first gathered in the wild and only later cultivated as an herb to be used in folk medicine. It continues to be used in skin preparations today and appears to have some antibacterial properties. It has been used for sleep problems and appears to have properties as a tension reliever, an appetite enhancer, an antianxiety preparation, and a myriad of additional folk medicine uses. Its unique flavor makes its use desirable in beer as an additive, and annotations by a French Benedictine Abbot about gathering hops in the late Middle Ages has also alluded to its medicinal use. Within a couple hundred years Benedictine Sister Hildegarbe, in what was to become Germany, wrote about hops’ special preservative function. She suggested the addition of hops to a variety of beverages. By the early modern age, the use of hops was commonplace throughout the western world.

Microbrewing Dependent on Hops and Other Flavor-Loaded Ingredients

Craft Brewing has rapidly expanded from its origin as a simple home brewing activity in the last half century. Hops was a key ingredient in small beer producing operations. In the first part of the last century, E.S. Salmon (Wye College, Kent, UK) began the development of additional varieties of the herb. Today’s hops, depending on variety, bring a continuum of flavors to today’s beers – everything from spice to floral to resin to fruit to melon to meadow grass to pine to berries to citrus.

Humulus Lupulus Has Flavor

Hops is native to Asia, Europe, and North America. Humulus Lupulus is a climbing perennial with cone-like flowers (the actual hops) and is a plant related to cannabis. Its flavors are derived from alpha and beta acids and essential oils producing the bitter flavor in beers containing hops. Its ‘medicinal’ components produce a brew that maintains freshness and its flavors balance the sweetness of fermented grain or sweet components added to the brew.

Timing of Hops Addition Alters Taste

The brewing process can be quite complex when one considers the protocol for adding beer components. Precise brew flavor is dependent on this combination process. The longer one waits to add hops to a boiling mix, the less likelihood there is for both the taste and aroma of hops. If hops is added after boiling and at the completion of most of the fermenting process, the aroma and flavor of hops will be enhanced while its bitterness will be reduced.

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Courtesy of Beer Cartel


Beer Cartel is a highly reputable supplier of international craft beers in Sydney, Australia.

If you have any questions about hops or want to know more about Beer Cartel, please leave a comment!

2 thoughts on “A History of Hops in the Craft Beer Industry

  1. You have a very informative site here on hops!

    Your passion for hops and the wonderful beer you can produce with it certainly comes out in your writing!

    At the moment I am torn about whether I should go brew some beer right now, or, find a way to get some hops growing! Perhaps I should have a beer while I get the my tiny home brewery going, then get the garden ready for some hops .. lol

    I had no idea that hops and cannabis were related.

    Thanks for the great information! I found it enlightening, and entertaining.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you very much for your kind praise, but I must give all credit to Bob Gorman and the good people of Beer Cartel.

      I have some hops growing at my family home in Sydney, and it is a very rewarding pasttime. Before you buy any rhizomes, check that you have enough daylight hours in Summer, or you won’t get any hop cones growing.

      As to whether you should brew a beer – the answer is ALWAYS yes!


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