Hops are the female flower clusters (commonly called seed cones or strobiles), of a hop species, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor, though hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. Hops were cultivated on a continuing basis around the 8th or 9th century AD in Bohemian gardens in the Hallertau district of Bavaria and other parts of Europe. However, the first documented use of hops in beer as a bittering agent is from the eleventh century. Prior to this period, brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers. Dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound (the German word for horehound means "mountain hops"), ground ivy and heather were often used prior to the discovery of hops. Hops are used extensively in brewing today for their many purported benefits, including balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness, contributing a variety of desirable flavors and aromas, and having an antibiotic effect that favors the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms. Historically, it is believed that traditional herb combinations for ales were abandoned when it was noticed that ales made with hops were less prone to spoilage.
The hop plant is a vigorous climbing herbaceous perennial, usually trained to grow up strings in a field called a hopfield, hop garden or hop yard when grown commercially. Many different varieties of hops are grown by farmers around the world, with different types being used for particular styles of beer.
The first documented instance of hop cultivation was in 736, in the Hallertau region of present-day Germany, although the first mention of the use of hops in brewing in that country was 1079. Not until the thirteenth century in Germany did hops begin to start threatening the use of gruit for flavoring. In Britain, hopped beer was first imported from Holland around 1400; however, hops were initially condemned in 1519 as a "wicked and pernicious weed". In 1471, Norwich, England banned use of the plant in the brewing of beer, and not till 1524 were hops first grown in southeast England. It was another century before hop cultivation began in the present-day United States in 1629.
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