Hopheads out there may need to hold on to their hats for what I’m about to say….beer hasn’t always been made with hops!! Once upon a time beer was made with gruit, a mix of various herbs, it spoiled faster and probably didn’t taste half as good. Hops started to appear in brewing around the 9th Century, but didn’t really take off until the 12th/13th Century, primarily in Germany.
The first documentation of the use of hops in brewing wasn’t until 1150: it appears in the book Physica Sacra (The Natural World) written by Benedictine Nun and all round badass Hildegard von Bingen. In Book 1, Chapter 61 ‘De Hoppho’ she writes:
“It is warm and dry, and has a moderate moisture, and it is not very useful in benefiting man, because it make melancholy grow in a man makes the soul of a man sad, and weighs down his inner organs. But yet as a result of its own bitterness it keeps some putrefactions from drinks, to which is may be added, so that they may last so much longer”
Later on in the book when discussing the ash tree, as some may say the use of the word ‘drinks’ makes it vague, she writes:
“If you also wish to make beer from oats without hops, but just with grusz (gruit), you should boil it after adding a very large number of ash leaves. That type of beer purges the stomach of the drinker and renders his heart light and joyous.”
Being the first person to write about hops in brewing may be quite an accolade but there was a lot more to Hildegard von Bingen. Not only was she a Nun, she was a herbalist, mystic, musician, writer, composer, philosopher and visionary. She wrote about the powers of nature in healing and medicine, and is considered the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. Her fellow Nuns elected her as Magistra (female teacher) in 1136 and if that wasn’t enough she smashed through social, cultural and gender walls to be sought out as an advisor by Bishops, Popes and Kings. She died in 1179 at the ripe old age of 81, long surpassing the average life expectancy of the time of 30-40 years. She may never have been canonised but many considered her a saint, personally I think she’s a fucking hero.