What Are Hops?
Let’s start with the definition of hops.
Hops are the flowers of the hop plant, scientifically known as humulus lupulus.
They bring balance to the beer world. Without them, beer would be dull, sweet, and flavorless.
Just like chefs add herbs and spices to their dishes to tantalize taste buds, brewers add hops to entice beer drinkers.
Why Are Hops Added to Beer?
Hops are added to beer during the brewing process for several reasons:
To provide essential bitterness (beer would be sugary and sweet without them)
To add irresistible flavors that we all love
To act as a preservative
To retain the head of the beer
Before hops became popular, people used various ingredients to flavor their beer. Can you imagine using twigs and berries to flavor your beer? Well, it actually happened.
Fortunately, nowadays you can easily obtain delicious, zesty, aromatic hops.
Before we dive into the most popular hops for beer, it’s important to understand the different categories of hops and their roles in the brewing process.
The Three Types of Hops (and How to Use Them in Brewing)
If you’re familiar with brewing, you’ve probably heard of wort. It’s the sweet liquid produced during the mashing process when grains steep in water to release fermentable starches.
Now that we have that covered, wort needs to be boiled before it becomes your beloved bottled beverage.
During the boiling process, different varieties of hops are added based on their flavor profiles and levels of alpha acids.
Let’s introduce a new term: Alpha acids. Alpha acids are responsible for the bitterness in beer and are found in hops. The higher the alpha acid content, measured as International Bitterness Units (IBUs), the more bitter the beer will be.
The Three Categories Are:
Bittering Hops: Also known as kettle hops, bittering hops are added at the beginning of the boil and are boiled for about an hour. These hops have a high acid content, resulting in a more bitter taste. The prolonged boiling breaks down the acids and allows them to be absorbed by the wort in a process called isomerization.
Aroma Hops: Also known as finishing hops, aroma hops are added for their flavors. They are boiled for a shorter time, allowing more of their flavor and character to be captured by the beer.
Dual-Purpose Hops: These hops fall somewhere in between. They can be used for both bittering and aroma purposes. The choice depends on the brewer’s preference (we’ll provide industry recommendations below).
The Three Best and Most Popular Hop Varieties
Now, let’s get to the exciting part.
In this article, we’ll cover the most popular and delicious hop varieties along with their flavor profiles. This will give you a good idea of what to expect and their unique characteristics.
We’ll also mention the types of beer they are commonly used in.
Why bother with experimentation when major brewers have already done it for you? So…
1. Bittering Hops
Bravo is a “super-bitter” hop variety popular for pale ales. It offers pleasant fruit aromas with zesty hints of flowers, oranges, and vanilla. The combination of candied orange, delicate fruit notes, and excellent bittering properties makes it one of the most sought-after hop varieties.
As another high-alpha hop, Admiral provides balanced bitterness. Its aroma can range from citrusy to woody. It is not as harsh or bitter as some other varieties in this range, and its resinous hop aroma carries hints of herbal flavors.
Magnum is primarily used for its extreme bittering abilities. Its taste profile varies from pepper and nutmeg to a slight citrus touch. Its versatility allows it to be incorporated into various types of beer.
2. Aroma Hops
Earthiness, woody notes, and full-bodied character define Fuggle hops, making them one of the most esteemed flavoring hops worldwide. These earthy tones make them perfect for English-style ales, bitters, and porters. If you desire pleasant flavors with a floral hint, Fuggle hops are an excellent choice.
Cascade hops are the most popular hop variety in American craft brewing. They possess distinct and powerful floral characteristics, accompanied by spicy and exquisite citrus flavors. The balance between aroma and bitterness is well-preserved. With its medium intensity, Cascade hops deliver one of the most recognizable tastes in the industry, making them ideal for IPAs and American Ales.
Hallertauer Classic, the classic German hop variety (not to be confused with the American imitation), is the aroma hop associated with German-style lagers, bocks, and weissbiers. It offers a unique combination of bright fruity undertones and harmonious bitterness. These hops possess spicy, herbal, and fruity notes, making them both versatile and delicious.
3. Dual-Purpose Hops
Similar to Cascade hops, Centennial dual-purpose hops exhibit pine and citrus aromas, along with a distinct hint of floral notes. The blend of delicate and assertive flavors pleases the senses of craft beer enthusiasts from Portland to Brooklyn. These hops’ powerful bittering qualities make them compatible with a wide range of malts, offering limitless possibilities.
Despite its high alpha acid content, Chinook hops are versatile and excel in dual purposes. Its grapefruit undertone harmonizes with spicy and piney flavors, creating a beautiful symphony that brewers adore. Dry hopping with Chinook has gained popularity recently and can even produce smoky flavors.