Green gold – the soul of beer, part 1: In a paradise for hops
Without water and malt, there wouldn’t be any beer – an incontrovertible fact. But what role do hops actually play in brewing beer? And who would be better suited to know than someone who wrote an entire doctoral dissertation on what is frequently referred to as green gold? “There’s almost no beer that doesn’t contain hops – the basic ingredients are water and malt, but hops are crucial to any beer,” Dr Christoph Pinzl explained to me. He’s not only a qualified beer sommelier, but also the Director of the German Hop Museum at Wolnzach in Hallertau. Yes – there really is an entire museum devoted to hops. Quite justifiably, too: after all, what would beer be without hops? “Hops are the soul of beer. They provide the crucial astringency, the contrast to the sweetness of the malt – and they’re also important for the head,” tells Dr Pinzl. In addition, hops more or less keep beer alive, since they function as a preservative. And how would the beer sommelier describe the fragrance of the green plant? “Spicy, herby, grassy. It will differ depending on the variety of hops involved. Not bitter but tart. Often quite fruity as well. Very delicate and differentiated. A mixture of many aromas.”
The world’s biggest hop-growing region: Hallertau
It’s no accident that the Hop Museum is located in Hallertau – it’s the world’s largest hop-growing region. But what exactly are the conditions that make the region so favourable for cultivating hops? The climate or the soil is not solely responsible, as might erroneously be assumed. “Until the 19th century, hops were grown almost everywhere,” as Dr. Pinzl explains to me. “But then breweries and dealers tightened up their quality stipulations. Mechanisation has progressed, and increasing amounts of specialised knowledge are required in order to grow hops successfully.” In Hallertau, the people were lucky – and knowledgeable. So in times of crisis the right action was taken at the right time. And hop-growing was successfully continued. “The fact that Hallertau is near Munich is an important factor, too, of course. There have always been lots of important breweries there, lots of important customers for hops,” relates Dr Pinzl. No less important is its proximity to Nuremberg, the former epicentre of the global hop trade, and to Weihenstephan, where the relevant academic institution is located. And not least it’s the mindset of the people there, who really want to grow the green gold.
Beer tastings and brewing seminars in the hop garden
Hallertau – the perfect place, then, for a hop museum. And it’s flourishing: “The goals we originally set ourselves have been more than accomplished,” says a gratified Dr Pinzl. No one dreamed that the museum, inaugurated 10 years ago, would become the cultural centre of Wolnzach. But that is currently the case: because now it’s no longer “just” a museum, it also offers additional events like beer tastings or brewing seminars. And even the building itself is worth an outing to Hallertau: it’s modern and airy, its architecture modelled on a hop garden. The visitors are a colourful mixture: beer-lovers, families, brewers, nature-lovers, and folklore enthusiasts. Hallertau is a particularly popular destination for day-trippers, reports the Museum’s Director.
Hallertau as a hop paradise for craft beer fans
In the long term, however, the plan is to make Hallertau and the Hop Museum even more famous: “In conjunction with the trend towards craft beer, people are suddenly becoming incredibly appreciative of hops. In the USA, in Denmark or in Italy, for example, there is huge enthusiasm, not often replicated in Germany itself. It would be very exciting if it proved possible to make Hallertau better-known to these hop fans as a place where you can experience hops hands-on,” says an ebullient Dr. Pinzl. But how exactly is the trend towards craft beer affecting hop cultivation in general so far – and the number of people visiting the museum? And what does the beer sommelier think of craft brewing? Find out in the next blog post!