Hops – one of the four foundational ingredients in beer – are important to creating a beer’s overall flavor, aroma and bitterness. The female Humulus lupulus plants create hop cones or flowers that contain the chemicals that provide its pungent flavoring. Depending on the brewery’s size, brewers can use just a few ounces of any of the over eighty varieties of hops, or can utilize pounds at a time.
In Maine, and most of the Northeast, it has been much easier for commercial brewers to obtain hops that have been grown in Europe or the Pacific Northwest, where long-standing traditions of hop growing have thrived, and large quantities are produced annually.
In the Pacific Northwest, for example, there are hundreds of beers produced each fall made with freshly harvested hops – those that have been harvested and put directly into the beer within a few days of being picked. This can only be accomplished if the hop farms are in close proximity to their brewers – long distance transportation of fresh hops isn’t possible. The preservation of hops usually involves drying and pelletizing the hops (making them into small, compact pellets resembling hamster food in appearance). Fortunately, importing these pellets are what allow brewers across the country to create strongly-flavored hoppy beers year-round. The taste of fresh hops is significantly different than those of the pellets and their guaranteed freshness (hard to go stale if there’s less than 24 hours from bine to kettle) and strong character makes them desirable to brewers.
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