When trying to explain how the approach to using hops in beer has changed in the last 30 years we’ve frequently resorted to an analogy: brewing a cup of tea.
Traditionally, British brewing has used hops primarily for bitterness. Just look at some of the recipes Ron Pattinson has shared over the years, on his website and his splendid book: in most, the last hops are added no later than 30 minutes before the end of the boil. (We’ll get on to dry-hopping in a moment.)
In recent years, some trendy beers have tended to move the hop addition later and later in the brewing process — fifteen minutes from the end, ten minutes, five minutes, one minute, or even at the exact moment the boil stops. Sometimes that’s in addition to a base layer of bittering hops, but increasingly not.
Dry-hopping — the traditional method of adding hops to cool beer during fermentation, conditioning or storage — has also become more popular, and more extreme.
(You can read about all of this in more detail in another excellent book, Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops.)
Anyway, here’s that analogy: we’ve explained this to curious people as the difference between (a) making your morning cuppa by stewing a single tea-bag for ten minutes, or (b) by dipping in ten but only for twenty seconds.
(We sort of tested this at breakfast today, stewing one bag for five minutes versus five for 30 seconds: the stewed tea was more bitter and sort of drying, while the five bagger was slightly more flowery, but not hugely so. Which brings us to…)
You can further extend the analogy: instead of stewing Red Label, you’re dipping a mix of five different exotic teas, most of which your Nan would have turned up her nose at.
Now, of course, you could pick holes in this analogy (and most analogies in general) but the point is, it’s a useful bit of rhetoric: when you’re talking to people who don’t really have any idea how beer is made, this can help switch on the little light-bulb.