As a fan of beer you may already know of some of the different types of beer hops used in the brewing process. For example most people know that hops give IPAs that bitter taste. But other than that, hop profiles and the reason hops are used may not be common knowledge.
Few beer drinkers dive head first into the world of ingredients, yet understanding the different hops used in the brewing process will give you a hint as to what the beer you are brewing or buying will taste like and what to expect.
Knowing what ingredients are used in food will let you know whether you should order it or whether you won’t enjoy it. The same is true with hops.
To help, I have put together a list of some of the different types of beer hops and how each influences the taste of your beer.
Table of Contents
The Addition of Hops To Beer
In order to understand the different variations of beer you need to have a basic understanding of its history. Hops weren’t used at all in beer until around the year 1000 AD, but even then hops didn’t become widely used in the brewing process until three hundred years later.
Up until this point, an herb mixture called gruit was used to bitter and flavor beer. But then different governments and even the Catholic Church started to tax the use of gruit, so many brewers switched to hops (this went back and forth between gruit and hops for ages).
Up through the 1500s almost all hops came from Germany, France, and Holland. It wasn’t until 1524 that England started to import hops from these nations for use in their own beer.
This is important because it is the English that really started relying heavily on hops (although King James went to make this illegal in the 1600s as he didn’t want money going outward to foreign nations). The British went on to begin cultivating their own hops, which they used in crafting beer and shipping it around the world to colonies.
The hops helped extend the life of the ale (lagers, which are cold fermented and have a longer shelf life, wasn’t an option for shipping across oceans). The original India Pale Ale was created by the British because they used added hops for the extended voyage.
You can learn when and how to add hops to your homebrew here: Home brewing instructions
Hops are now grown around the world, although a tempe climate is desirable for growing hops.
As of now, the United States produces the most hops of any country in the world, followed by Germany. No other country produces even a quarter of what the US does (in sheer weight), although the Czech Republic, China, Poland, the UK, Australia, Argentina, and others do grow hops).
Understanding the chemical makeup of hops will not only help illustrate how beer gets its flavor, but it will also explain the name of some of your favorite IPAs.
Inside of hops there is a chemical compound, including alpha acids, also known as humulones (you’ve probably seen a number of beer names that begin with “Hum”). This is what gives beer the bitter taste.
Beta acids are also found in hops and give the beer the aroma. Beta acids are also known as lupulones (likewise, you probably know of several beers with names beginning with “Lup”).
The essential oil of myrcene is what gives some hoppy beers its pungent, funky smell, while there are other essential oils that can alter the smell.
Every strain of hop is slightly different in its alpha and beta acids as well as the essential oil makeup, which is what changes the flavor and aroma characteristics of the beer.
Two “Kinds” of Hops
Hops can be broken down into two main categories: bittering and aroma.
One kind of hop is used to add the flavor and bitter element of the beer.
The other will add the aroma to the beer. Aroma hops will also give the non-bitter flavor to the beer (beyond what malt and any grains used might give the beer).
Breaking Down The Other Hop Styles
Now, with the hundreds of hop variations out there you’d need an entire encyclopedia to go over every one individually. However, you don’t need to know the slight tweaking of one hop strain over another to know what it will likely taste like prior to sipping the beer.
You simply need to know some basics. Beyond being used for bittering or aroma, hops will be categorized as one of the following:
- Noble hops
- New Zealand
Now, there are additions to this (such as South American hops), but in almost all beers you drink, the hops will first fall under one of these categories.
These are the classics. The greatest hits of hops. When drinking a beer from a historical brewery it likely has noble hops. If you see an advertisement talking about “noble hops” it means it uses one of these original strains of hops.
These hops also will usually not be as pronounced with as much bitterness or pungent aroma as other hops.
Most of the other hop styles have dozens (if not more) variations, but there are only a few noble hops, so it’s easier to consider each hop.
The Spalt hop comes from the Spalter region of Germany. It has a bit of a woody taste to it.
The Tettnanger hop comes from Germany and is commonly used in lighter wheat beers or pale lagers.
It is similar to the Saaz hop (also a noble hop) which comes from the Czech Republic. If you’ve ever had any Czech Republic lagers this is the kind of hop used in it.
The Hersbrucker hop from Germany is commonly used in classic German pale lagers, while the Hallertau, which is the oldest of all German hops, is used in darker German lagers and hails from Bavaria.
This is where the hops crossbreeding begins, but to help illustrate the different kinds of American hops it’s best to look at some of the more popular strains.
If an IPA lists the hops used on the label you will know what the beer will taste like before cracking it open by going through these hops.
Azacca is a hop boasting of tropical and citrus flavors (think mango, grapefruit, and lemon grass).
Cascade is by far one of the most popular hops used in the United States. It has been around since the 1950s, although it really took off in the brewing process more recently. A beer with Cascade hops will have a spicy, floral taste to it. You’ll find a hint of grapefruit with this hop.
Centennial is kind of the 1B to Cascade’s 1A. The two hops are both popular and extremely similar in flavor and aroma profile. However, because Centennial produces a much stronger citrus aroma. If you smell a Cascade and Centennial back to back, if they both smell similar but one has more pronounced citrus notes, it is a Centennial hop.
Another classic hop that is especially popular, it has a high alpha acid percentage which gives it a strong pine with hint of spice taste (if you have a beer that’s heavy on pine, it likely has Chinook as one of its hops).
Citra is one hop that has grown in popularity over the years. You’ll see a number of “Citra IPAs” named beers out there. This beer will have a strong grapefruit and tropical taste to it with a dash of pine.
Another hop that brewers like to name their beers after, Mosaic hops will give an earthy taste to the beer while also bringing some tropical fruit and floral tastes. It really does have a mosaic of flavors going on (thus the name).
A number of English hops first saw use at the end of World War I. Brewer’s Gold saw production begin in 1919 and has a spiced, black currant flavor. Most British hops do not have the pungent piney, floral taste of American hops.
Bullion is another 1919 hop that is used for bittering in dark ales as well as stouts. It has a resin, earthy taste to it.
Challenger is one of the more popular English hops right now, and it is used in English ales thanks to the toffee and marmalade taste it provides.
When you think of the taste of English ales those beers likely use the Goldings hop. A version of Goldings has been around since the 1800s. It offers subtle bittering elements while maintaining a smooth earthy and spice taste.
Many German hops are also noble hops. However, there are a handful of non-noble hops coming from Germany.
Mandarina Bavaria is one that gives a mandarin and citrus flavor to the beer. In a way it’s Germany’s version of the American Cascade hop.
Spalter Select is a variation of the Spalter hop, although this one is disease resistant and is used in most German pale lagers.
Probably the most popular of all Australian hops is the Galaxy hop (if you’re drinking an IPA with any kind of space reference it more than likely used Galaxy hops in the production).
This hop has an intense citrus flavor.
Topaz is another popular Australian hop that is similar to classic English hops in the earthy flavors it produces.
The Pacifica hop is popular from New Zealand.
It imparts a mild, soft bitterness to beers while also offering an orange, citrus, and floral taste and smelling notes.
Most European hops that are node from Germany or the Czech Republic are used in specialty beers or unique styles.
Aalst, for example, is a Belgian hop used in traditional Lambic beers, while the Tardiff de Bourgogne hop is a French hop used in many regional lagers.
The one real Japanese hop unique to the region is the Sorachi Ace hop.
If you ever have a beer tasting of bubblegum and even dill, it likely has Sorachi Ace hops in it.
More Are On The Way
The thing about beer hops is there will always be new strains developed.
Hops can be crossbred with other strains of hops in order to create a new flavor profile. This can be done multiple times, so three generational crossbred strains later, and you’ll have a hop tasting completely different from the original.
But that is part of the fun of beer. Beer is one of the few beverages in the world that continually develops over the ages. The beer you drink now is much different from the beers consumed 100 years ago (unless you’re grabbing a six-pack of some Belgian or German beers dating back to that point in time).
With the continued influence of new hops, new ingredients, and new flavors, beer will evolve into the future to suit the tasting pallets of beer drinkers. Thankfully though, however beer evolves, it will still always be beer.
Hop Substitution Chart
When it comes to making beer it can sometimes be difficult to find a certain hop that your recipe calls for. When that happens it is very acceptable to substitute one hop for another as long as they have similar properties.
There are many hop substitute charts you can find online to use, here is one of the ones I use.
Additional Reading: Are hops gluten-free?
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