2018 Herb of the Year: Hops

The International Herb Association chose hops (Humulus lupulus) as the 2018 Herb of the Year. Most people recognize hops for its use in beer making. Hops add bitterness, aroma, and flavor to beer. Hops also contribute as a stability agent, keeping beer from spoiling. India pale ales (IPAs) are a highly hopped style of beer originally made to survive the voyage from England to India in the 1800s.


Hops are an herbaceous perennial. Technically bines instead of vines, they twine around supports. For commercial production, growers use 18-foot tall supports with horizontal wires to trellis the hops. Home gardeners can enjoy the ornamental plants grown on a fence or shorter trellis. Hops plants can be male or female. Only the female plants are grown for use in beer. The unfertilized flowers (cones) are harvested in the fall. 

The leading commercial producers grow hops in northern climates. The state of Washington leads U.S. production, followed by Oregon and Idaho. The demand for hops and the rise of craft breweries have led growers in other regions to grow hops. North Carolina does not have large-scale commercial production, but many small farmers grow hops, and N.C. State University has led the way in trials to determine the best varieties of hops for our climate.

Culinary and Other Uses

In addition to being used in beer making, hops can be used culinarily in several different ways. The tender young shoots can be cooked early in the season. People with access to the cones can use them in a bouquet garni to flavor soups, stews, and sauces. The easiest way, though, to use hops in cooking is to start with beer.

Hops have been used medicinally for relaxation and as a  tonic for digestion. People make dream pillows—little sachets filled with hop cones and lavender. The plant’s fibers can be used to make cloth and paper. Hops can also be used as a natural dye, producing colors ranging from yellow to green to brown, depending on the part of the plant and mordant used.

At the May 2018 meeting of the herb society, Neal O’Briant presented the following menu to highlight hops:

·         Hopped-Up Ginger Lemonade

·         Bock Barbecue Sauce

·         Lager-Boiled Shrimp

·         Porter Mushroom Stew

·         Brie with IPA Jelly

·         Guinness Brownies

·         Hefeweizen-Battered Apple Rings with Amber Ale Caramel Sauce

Hopped-Up Ginger Lemonade

2 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water
¼ cup freshly chopped ginger root
2 tablespoons dry hop cones
2 cups fresh lemon juice
12 cups cold water
lemon slices for garnish

Dissolve sugar in boiling water. Add ginger and let steep until cool. Add dry hops. Let stand for 30 minutes. Strain and combine with lemon juice and cold water. Add lemon slices.

Bock Barbecue Sauce

12 ounces bock beer
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup tomato paste
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1–2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
¼ cup molasses
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Heat beer and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, vinegar, sriracha sauce, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and smoked paprika. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until thickened to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lager-Boiled Shrimp

2 12-ounce bottles of lager
3 cups water
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
2 bay leaves
juice of 1 lemon
1 hot pepper, thinly sliced
2 pounds tail-on shrimp

Bring lager and water to a boil. Stir in Old Bay, bay leaves, lemon juice (and lemon halves), and hot pepper. Continue to boil for 5 minutes before adding shrimp. Cook shrimp 3 to 5 minutes or until done. Drain. Add additional Old Bay seasoning to taste. Serve with the bock barbecue sauce or cocktail sauce.

Vegetarian Porter Mushroom Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound button mushrooms, quartered or halved if large
½ pound portobello mushrooms, sliced in bite-size pieces
1 medium sweet potato in half-inch dice
1 bay leaf
1 4-inch sprig rosemary
12 ounces porter
1 quart vegetable stock

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add onion, garlic, and celery and cook, stirring constantly, until onions start to become tender, about 3 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Transfer to a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. Serve over couscous, rice, or pasta.

Guinness Brownies

one 12-ounce bottle Guinness Extra Stout

¾ cup butter (1½ sticks)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1¼ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon black onyx cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Guinness Frosting

½ cup butter (1 stick), softened to room temperature

2 cups confectioners' sugar

2-3 tablespoons reduced Guinness

1 teaspoon black onyx cocoa powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat Guinness in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to two-thirds cup. Reserve 3 tablespoons for frosting. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pan. Melt butter and chocolate chips. Stir in sugar and salt. Stir in ½ cup of reduced Guinness. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Stir in flour and cocoa powder. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until done, using a toothpick to test. Cool before frosting.


Mix butter, sugar, 2 tablespoons reduced Guinness, cocoa powder, and vanilla with mixer. Add additional tablespoon of reduced Guinness if necessary.

Hefeweizen-Battered Apple Rings with Amber Ale Caramel Sauce

1 cup flour

¼ cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon baking powder

10 ounces Hefeweizen

3 apples, cored and sliced ¼-inch thick

vegetable oil for frying

Sift together flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Whisk in beer. Let batter sit for 20 minutes. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Dip apple slices in batter one at a time and fry no more than three or four at a time, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Serve dusted with powdered sugar or with caramel sauce.

Amber Ale Caramel Sauce

8 ounces amber ale

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat ale in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if necessary. Stir in sugars and pinch of salt until dissolved. Stop stirring and let mixture continue to cook until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream until thoroughly combined. Return to medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 20 minutes before stirring in vanilla.