Before hops became popular, brewers used all kinds of herbs and flowers to lend bitterness and flavor to ales. Gruit, a blend of such herbs, might contain mugwort, yarrow, horehound, heather, wormwood, and any number of other mostly now-forgotten plants.
But it is the humble hops that came to dominate brewing. And while nature gives us hops in only one form—the female cones of the climbing hops plant, Humulus lupulus—hops growers and processors deliver those hops to brewers in a range of products. Here’s what to look for when you’re hops shopping.
Whole Leaf Hops
Whole leaf hops are the dried cones of the hops plant and the least processed form available. Growers pick the cones from the bines (similar to vines), dry them in an oast house, and press them into bales, half bales, or quarter bales. In the United States, a hops bale is 200 pounds (90.7 kg), but homebrewers can purchase whole hops one pound (454 g) at a time or in convenient 1- or 2-ounce (28- or 57-g) bags.