When it comes to craft beer, or beer in general for that matter, it would be nothing without hops. These conical little flowers is what imparts bitterness to beer during the brewing process. The bitterness of the hops helps balance the sweetness of the malt, allowing for a more palatable beer. Coincidently, hops are part of the cannabaceae family but contain no THC. Hops also act as antibacterial defenders, warding off bacteria to keep from spoiling; act as a natural filter, helping clear beer; and help with the retention of the head. All said, hops are an important ingredient in the beer recipe arsenal—a key seasoning input. But just as grapes are to wine, a bevvy of hops cultivars, regions and varietals make it into craft beers around the states.
Probably the most commonly known blanket term is that of noble hops, which refers to variety of European hops that originally grew wild and were named for the cities and regions in which they were first found. Stemming primarily from Bavaria and Bohemia (though there are a few additional key regions), these hops have a pretty strong aroma—there is a spicy, herbal nose to many of them—though have relatively low Alpha and Beta acid levels, making them a bit softer on the palate while imbuing a citrusy bite. For the European traditionalist, and those who really dig Oktoberfest, noble hops—Saaz, Hallertauer, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Spalt, Perle, and Hersbrucker—are the floral component of all those pilsners, dunkels and märzens.
And though Germany is still a traditional power as a producer of hops, reaping 19,904 tonnes in 2012, the United States is no slouch, growing 21,498 tonnes itself, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Division of Statistics – both country’s yields have experienced a decrease compared to 2011, which may speak to the overall increase in the cost of beer, but that’s a story for another day. This massive amount of hops – both yields pale in comparison to China’s 30,137 tonnes – speaks to the still growing demand for craft beer in this county. Stateside, 2013 saw a 17.2 percent increase in demand for the suds, bucking the overall trend for beer sales, which experienced a 1.9 percent decrease. Still, the market share for craftbeer in the U.S. equated to $14.3 billion in 2013 according to the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit trade group representing small and independent craft brewers. The business of small, local breweries is a growing proposition – but for how long.
On the domestic side, hops grown in the North West take on some pretty robust, forwarding-leaning flavor, as prevalent in the country’s thirst for Indian Pale Ales—IPAs. American hop cultivars range in strength, from understated varieties like Cascade and Sterling, both with Alpha acids in the 4-6 percent range (similar to noble hops), to deeper, more bitter cultivars like Simcoe (12-14 percent Alpha), Mosaic (11.5-13.5 percent) and Centennial (9-11.5 percent). The range of hops grown gives brewers plenty of opportunity to experiment, creating new flavor profiles on an ever-expanding portfolio of beers produced here in the states, giving new reason for beer lovers to return the taproom time and time again.
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For those who are looking for some hop-forward beers here in Palm Beach County, the fresh-brewed options are growing at a steady clip. Tequesta Brewing Co. in Jupiter, Due South Brewing Co. in Boynton, Salt Water Brewery in Delray Beach and Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park (originally in Boca Raton) have already proved there is a palate in our neck of the woods, while BX Beer Depot in Lake Worth is the spot for brewing your own beer.
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BX Beer Depot is the flag bearer of the homebrew movement here in Palm Beach County. The small store/taproom/hard-to-find craft beer dealer, BX is a one-stop shop for all things beer related. And owner and beer lover Sally Parson knows a thing or two about crafting a tasty brew. “The opportunities are endless when it comes to what you can put in your beer,” says Parson. “Pretty much anything grown can be put into beer as an ingredient.”
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BX is the go-to place for anything homebrew related, or for that hard-to-find craft beer. Specializing in rare, micro- and nano-brewery beers and all the supplies needed to start your own batch of beer, BX fills a niche here. Stocked with hops, yeast, grains, bottles and all the relevant accessories, BX not only encourages people to try their hand at creating their own brews, but also offers beer-making classes, craft and homebrew tastings, food pairings, and hosts “meet-ups” based around a mutual love of beer. “We want to increase the appreciation of beer through education and a social aspect that brings us like-minded people together,” says Parson. The Tiki Bar behind BX acts as the social setting and classroom for patrons. Think of it as a place of higher learning.