Never been clear on what exactly hops do to beer? That’s okay—buy a Hoptorial Pack from Muskoka Brewery, containing two of Detour, Mad Tom, and Twice as Mad Tom, and it’ll all be made slightly clearer.
Now that you’re drinking, he’s the quick and dirty scoop on hops. Hops are the female flower of the hop plant, they grow wet-ish places near the forty-eighth parallel, like Washington State and Germany, and they’ve been used in the production of beer since the Middle Ages. Why? Preservative and anti-bacterial agent. Prior to that, medieval brewers had to make due with herbs like sweet gale, which today is only really found in specialty beers like Innis & Gunn’s Rare Oak Pale Ale.
So how did hops become so dominant, and why do they remain so? One word: flavour. You can change the flavour of a beer relatively easily (emphasis: relatively) by dry hopping it with a different varietal (or combination of varietals) of hops. It’s a bit easier to experiment with different flavours by testing a bunch of different hops on one batch of beer than it is to brew a whole bunch of different batches of beer. Also, seasoned beer drinkers tend to go for more bitter flavours, which hops produce, in much the same way as seasoned Scotch drinkers go for peatier and peatier drams.
Speaking of bitterness, that particular quality is measured in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. Detour weighs in at 30, Mad Tom weighs in at 64, and Twice as Mad Tom weighs in at 71. What makes it twice as mad? They use twice the hops—which doesn’t result in twice the bitterness.
Anyway, I suggest drinking them in that order. Not only will this give you a feel for bitterness, but you’ll learn to pick out the flavours hops impart. Look for citrus, especially grapefruit, as well as pine, medicinal, and floral notes.