I am a brewer
I have hayfever
I am allergic to hops
I shall reflect on this in a positive light, channeling my energy into an informative post about hops.
Beer is made from four natural ingredients; water, barley, hops and yeast. Hops plants grow as winding bines, creeping up a vertical string runner up to 8 meters high. The important part for brewers is the hop cone, which is the complex female flower part of the plant, packed full of oils and resin.
Hops were originally included in beer alongside a number of other natural bittering herbs and spices, but when it was seen that beer made with these hops was less prone to spoilage, they became more commonly used. To find out more about preservative characteristics and a weenie bit more interesting history, have a snoop at my IPA post: History and Science But Not Much General Knowledge.
Brewers use hops in up to three different stages when making tradition British ales. This is so we can get the most from these lovely green cones and give the beer a number of different characteristics.
1: Bittering hops - early copper addition. This stage releases all the α-acids which give bitterness to the beer and have a preservative property. We boil the wort with hops in the copper for just over an hour to caramelise sugars, extract the α-acids, and reduce down the liquid. It's important to work out how bitter you'd like your brew to be, and calculate what weight of which hops to use to achieve this. The hops used in the boil are usually high-alpha hops to achieve this efficiently.
2: Aroma hops - late copper addition. This is a bit ronseal. Hops are also heavily laced with gorgeous smelling oils - between 0.5% and 3% to be precise. If you've got a beer in your hand now, give it a swish in the glass... now stick your nose in the top, inhale, and soak up the lovely smells. There are so many hops with different oils, we can achieve thousands of combinations to balance our other beer characteristics. To leech the most out of the aroma hops, we add them after the boil has finished and just mix them through the wort - boiling would destroy the delicate chemicals and add more bitterness to the beer.
3: Dry-hopping - hopping the cask. Some of the hop oils are so volatile that they're lost even during late addition to the copper (the wort will still be above 70°C) so hops can be added to the cask of beer at about 10°C. On a practical note, a pain in the neck to do it and to clean out the cask when it comes back!
Pale Rider is Kelham Island's flagship beer. It's a light, sweet, straw coloured ale which is brewed using North American 'Willamette' hops to give punchy floral and citrus flavours, and well balanced with a subtle bitterness. Our Best Bitter uses English Fuggles and Goldings which are more earthy in aroma, matching a darker beer much better, and contributing more to the bitterness.
So hops are wonderful, except for irritating your brewer while she hand-crafts your next pint through sniffles and blurry vision.
I suffer for my profession, but then the product is rather rewarding.