Beers with lots of hops tend to have more alcohol than others so many drinkers and homebrewers might wonder if hops add alcohol content to the beer.
Hops do not add alcohol content to beer as they are simply used during the brewing process to add flavor and aroma to the finished beer. Hops used in brewing are the flowers, or cones, of the Humulus Lupulus plant and contain no fermentable sugars which could be converted into alcohol during the fermentation process.
So, why do hoppy beers usually contain so much alcohol? Read on to find out more about what hops are, what they are used for in brewing, and why they usually accompany higher alcohol percentages.
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Do hops increase alcohol content in beer?
If you’ve ever taken a look at the label of a super hoppy beer then you probably saw a much higher alcohol content listed than you are used to seeing on standard domestic beers but the hops themselves aren’t directly to blame for it.
Alcohol content in beer is dependent on the amount of fermentable sugars included in the recipe and the type of yeast used during fermentation. Since the hop plant does not add any fermentable sugars it does not directly add any alcohol content to the finished beer.
So, what do hops do in beer exactly?
Well, hops have been added to beer to provide flavor and aroma since at least 822 AD when a French abbot recorded a recipe for beer that included wild hops found while foraging. Their use has been more or less popular within different cultures over the century but they are found in every modern beer style available.
Fun fact, beer made without hops is actually called a ‘gruit’ which instead uses a combination of herbs to add flavor and aroma to the beverage.
In addition to the unique flavor and aroma they provide, hops also bring several other benefits to beer. Hops help beer by:
- Clarifying the wort during the brewing process before fermentation begins
- Helping to create and retain head on the top of the beer after pouring
- Acting as a preservative inside the beer. Hops have natural antimicrobial properties that help beer travel and keep for longer periods of time
Something to point out is that although you might not get a huge blast of hops in the flavor of many beer styles, there is almost always some amount of hops inside the recipe to add the bitterness necessary to balance out other flavors such as sweetness, smokiness, or maltiness.
Do hops contain alcohol?
Like I said before, the hops used in brewing are actually just the cone-shaped flower of the hops plant. There are many, many different varieties of hop plant, each with their own unique flavor and aroma profile.
Since they are just the flower of a plant, hops do not break down into any fermentable sugars during the brewing process and they will not add any extra alcohol content to the final ABV of a beer.
In general, hops will be added to beer to add one of two things:
- Bitterness – measured in IBUs (International Bitterness Units), bitterness is desirable in beer to offset sweetness and other flavors.
- Aroma – Essential oils inside the hop plant can lend smells such as citrus, pine, mango, flower, herb, earthiness, and more to a beer.
Some hop varieties are naturally suited to providing bitterness to a beer while some are more suited to adding aroma. Meanwhile, there are a few special varieties, such as Simcoe, that can be used for both.
Do more hops mean more alcohol?
If you are a beer drinker then you probably know that some beers, such as IPAs, are much hoppier than others but even standard domestic beers like Bud Light also include hops in their recipe.
But, why do hoppy beers seem to usually have higher alcohol content?
Remember that hops are used to add flavor and aroma to beer but they are used most effectively when balancing out other flavors in the recipe. Beers with high alcohol content benefit from extra hop flavor to avoid tasting boozy and to offset the potential sweetness of the extra malt used to create fermentable sugars.
So, high alcohol beers tend to have more hops but not every hoppy beer will have a high alcohol content.
In fact, one of the most popular styles of beer hitting the shelves lately is the low-calorie IPA which includes plenty of hop flavor but tones down the malt bill to lower the overall alcohol content, and thus, the amount of calories in the beer.
If you are wondering, I just wrote an article recently on whether or not hops increase the number of calories in beer if you want to check it out!
Does dry hopping increase ABV?
Dry hopping is the process of adding hops, typically fresh whole hops, at the end or near the end of fermentation to increase the flavor and aroma of hops in the beer while minimizing the added bitterness.
Since dry hopping uses the same hop flowers included in traditional beer recipes they will not add any fermentable sugar to the beer and, therefore, will not add any extra alcohol content to beer.
Once fermentation is complete, it is easy to check the alcohol content of the beer by measuring the final gravity and comparing it to the original gravity of the beer. This will tell you how much sugar has been converted to alcohol fairly accurately.
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