Your Guide to Hops: Humulus Lupus and Its Role in Beer
Water, yeast, grain and hops are the four primary ingredients in beer. All of them are absolutely crucial, and have a great deal of impact on the finished product. Everything from the alkalinity of the water to the type of yeast will change the flavor profile, body and character of the beer. Hops, while technically a “flavoring” agent, have a lot more to do with the drinking experience than you might think, and there are a very wide range of types out there that can be used to achieve different goals.
Primarily, there are three types of hops, although they all bring something unique to the mix. These three categories are bittering hops, aroma hops and dual-purpose hops.
Bittering: Hops were originally used primarily for bittering in order to offset the sweetness of the malt. Bittering hops have higher levels of alpha acid in them, and they’re added at the beginning of the boil. The earlier hops are added, the more they’ll add to the flavor of the beer and the less they’ll add to the aroma.
Aroma: Aromatic hops are used not for bittering, but for the aroma they bring to the brew. They have lower alpha acid levels, and are generally added near the end of the boil, or even during the fermentation stages (dry hopping during secondary fermentation, for instance).
Dual-Purpose: Some hops can serve both purposes, and will bring both aroma and additional bitterness to a beer.
Now, with all that being said, there are tons of different hops varieties out there, and they’re used to create very different beer. We’ll run through some of the more common, as well as some of the up and coming varieties.
We’ve listed these in alphabetical order, rather than in order of popularity.
- Ahtanum: Aroma with some bittering, citrus, floral and earthy notes.
- Amarillo: Aroma, flowery and citrus, moderate bittering.
- Apollo: Bittering, very high alpha acid content.
- Azacca: Aroma, citrus and tropical fruit with some pine.
- Bravo: Bittering, super high alpha acid content.
- Calypso: Dual-purpose hop, with fruity notes.
- Cascade: Aroma, flowery, spicy and citrus, derived from Fuggle and Russian hops.
- Centennial: Aroma, strong citrus, also called “Super Cascade”.
- Chinook: Aroma and flavor, spicy and piney, high alpha acid content.
- Citra: Aroma, citrus and tropical fruit, high alpha acid content.
- Columbus: Bittering hop, but also aroma, herbal and sharp.
- Cluster: Aroma, low alpha acid content.
- Crystal: Aroma and bittering, spicy (pepper and cinnamon).
- Fuggle: Aroma, earthy and not sweet.
- Galena: Bittering, high alpha acid content, but less bitter than many varieties. Most widely used bittering hop in US, replacing Cluster as a general purpose bittering hop.
- Golding: Aroma, flowery, primarily used in English ales.
- Hallertau: Aroma, mild spice, ideal for European style lagers.
- Horizon: Aroma, but high alpha acid content.
- Liberty: Aroma, resiny and a little sweet.
- Magnum: Bittering, high alpha acid content and very low aroma.
- Mosaic: Aroma and flavor, tropical fruit, floral and earthy.
- Mount Hood: Aroma, primarily used for styles where little aroma is desired.
- Northern Brewer: Bittering, but also used for flavor and aroma (evergreen).
- Nugget: Bittering and aroma, with herbal notes.
- Perle: Aroma, minty.
- Saaz: Clean bitterness, a traditional noble hop.
- Satus: Bittering, medium-high alpha acid content.
- Simcoe: Bittering and aroma with very high alpha acid content, citrus and pine notes.
- Spalt Select: Aroma, very low alpha acid content.
- Sterling: Aroma, very low alpha acid content, floral notes.
- Tettnang: Aroma, traditional noble hop used with lagers and wheat beers.
- Tomahawk: Bittering, upper high alpha acid content.
- Ultra: Aroma, low alpha acid content, peppery and spicy notes.
- Vanguard: Aroma, spicy aroma and flavor.
- Warrior: Bittering, mild and clean.
- Willamette: Aroma, fruity and floral notes.
Note that this list is not complete – there’s an incredible variety of hops out there, including wild hops, rare hops and others that are used only rarely, have fallen out of favor, or are only used in very specific geographic regions.
When Are Hops Added?
Hops can be added at many different points during the boil or even during fermentation. A lot will depend on the style of beer being brewed, but also the brewer’s vision for any differences he or she wants to make. Some brewers have adopted a staggered hopping schedule during the boil, with a percentage added at the beginning, and then at different intervals. The closer to the end of the boil the hops are added, the more aroma they will impart. The closer to the beginning of the boil they’re added, the more bitterness they’ll add.
What’s Dry Hopping?
According to Brew magazine, dry hopping is, “the addition of any hops after the wort has been cooled”. As such, you can imagine there are many different ways to dry hop beer. Why is it done, though? Really, it’s all about getting that aroma and flavor in there. Hop aroma deteriorates quickly over time, which is why if you’ve ever sampled an IPA or DIPA that’s past its prime, you probably noticed that it didn’t smell or taste quite right. It probably came across as muted. Professional and home brewers have turned to dry hopping to up the amount of aroma offered by beer. It’s also not limited to IPAs, either. Just about anything can be dry hopped (that doesn’t mean that it should be, though).
While you can dry hop just about any way you can imagine, at any point after cooling the wort after boiling, there are three commonly used methods today. The most common is to dry hop with loose hops during secondary fermentation. The second is the same process, but relies on hoping in a muslin or mesh bag (for easier cleanup). The third is to dry hop during primary fermentation. Each method offers something slightly different.
What are your favorite hops varieties? Which ones do you look for in a beer, and are there any that you actively try to avoid? For instance, some folks love Mosaic, but others can barely tolerate it. What’s your take?