The botany of your favorite beers
We’re living in the golden age of beer. Craft beers have never been more diverse in taste, style, and ingredients than they are today. This rampant diversity stems from the consumer’s ever-changing palettes as much as it does their desire to chat with friends and post about new and exciting beers on social media. More than ever before, people want to know what exactly goes into making the double IPA or sour ale that they have in front of them – and that’s a good thing.
Just like it has for the last 9,000 years, beer continues to evolve along with us. An IPA is no longer simply an Indian Pale Ale; there are West Coast IPAs and New England IPAs. There are double and triple IPAs. With so much experimentation going on in the beer-making industry, it’s easy to get lost as to what actually goes into all of these beers. What are the popular types of hops? How about malts? Which fruits give your favorite brew that unmistakable taste?
We decided to dig in and find out which botanicals are behind your favorite brews. We know that you’re just as curious as we are.
The most important ingredient in the modern brewer’s arsenal is Humulus lupulus, or Hops. Today, there are 80 commercially harvested types of hops for brewers to choose from, but that number is growing each year. Each variety has its own unique flavor and aromatic profile that can be combined or isolated to create beers that taste like pine needles, biting into a lemon, and much more. When you take a sip of a hopped-up IPA, for instance, that famous bitterness you’re tasting, measured in IBU’s, is the hops’ contribution to your beer.
Here is a list of trending hop varietals used in the beers we know and love today:
- Sabro hops – A new hop discovered in New Mexico. It’s notable for its ultra fruity and citrusy flavor profile.
- Lemondrop hops – Grown in the United States, this hop varietal is known for it’s pronounced herbal and floral notes. Its flavor profile has been compared to lemon, mint, green tea, and melon.
- Comet hops – Most commercial hops are grown in the United States, and Comet is no exception. Comet hops have become one of the most popular. With an aroma and flavor profile including grapefruit, rose, grass, and fruit, its popularity is no surprise.
Depending on who you talk to, malts are either the most important or second most important ingredient in beer. First and foremost it’s a primary fermentation source, but it also, just as notably, provides color to beers. Beers with less color like pilsners use lightly roasted malts. Darker beers like lagers and stouts use dark roasted malts.
The process of roasting the malts has two purposes. It preps the barley (or other cereal grain) for fermentation, while also giving the malts their unique flavors notes of caramel, molasses, bread, and more. Basically, the longer you roast, the darker the beer and the richer the flavors the malts provide to your brews.
Brewer’s favorite types of malts:
- Barley malts – By far the most popular malt used in brewing, provides grainy, bread-like, and coffee-like flavors to beers. Roasted barley malts also provide deep, rich brown colors. When dark-roasted, the malts create dark beers like porters and stouts.
- Wheat malts – The second most popular malt, wheat malts provide beer with a lighter color and more subtle flavor profile. Wheat malts are typically used for hefeweizens and American wheat beers.
- Rye malts – Rye malts aren’t the sexiest of malts, but they carry a lot of flavors from biscuits to chocolate to mildly spicy, which means it can be leveraged in a ton of beer varieties. Everything from light, florally IPAs to dark, caramelicious lagers can be brewed with Rye.
Citrus & Berries:
Spring and summer beers are known for their fruitiness. Beers of all styles are infused with fruit these days, and we’re all the better for it. Fruit and beer work harmoniously together. When it’s warm outside, there’s nothing like pouring a lemon or grapefruit-infused beer to refresh your mind, body, and tastebuds.
Brewers can add almost any fruit to their brews, but some work better than others, and some taste better than others. Citrus fruits and berries are a brewer’s go-to fruits when they want something seasonal and delicious. Oranges, lemons, cherries, raspberries, grapefruits, and more are staples at every brewery and bar during the spring/summer months because of their affinity for fermentation and the freshness they bring to the product.
Not only that, but fruit beers are typically lower in alcohol percentage, meaning they fall into the “session beer.” Session beers are ideal for summer BBQs, pool parties, or hanging out at your favorite rooftop bar.
Top fruits used for our favorite beers:
- Lemons & Limes
Hibiscus and Other Florals:
Not all flowers are great for beers but almost all beers contain flowers. This is because hops are technically the flower part of the plant (see what I did there?). Brewing with flowers is a relatively new concept, but one that has caught on quickly over the past few years. With flower-infused libations now making their way into our glasses, the possibilities seem endless in terms of what can be added to complement or empower the brews that we choose.
The Hibiscus flower, in particular, is one of the most popular flower infusions, bringing with it natural floral characteristics such as a fruity tartness bordering on berry-like, and summersweet aromatics reminiscent of wildflower meadows. All florals, not just Hibiscus, bring with them a complexity of flavors that pair wonderfully with beer. Beers such as sours, IPAs, and witbiers all benefit from the addition of florals, not just in their taste, but from the natural aromas that take the drinking experience to explosive new heights.
Most popular during the spring and summer months, floral beers are sure to satisfy. Even if you’ve never eaten edible flowers, don’t shy away from drinking them. Here are the top florals used in your favorite brews today:
- Hibiscus flower
Like learning about plant-infused beers and want to read more? We have just the thing! Take a look at The Botanist’s Guide to Summer Cocktails for more great insights and outstanding recipes curated just for you.
What goes hand-in-hand with breweries and beer festivals? Food trucks! So before you head out for a weekend of fun in the sun, take a look at our article on the Exotic Fruits & Vegetables Coming to a Food Truck Near You.