All About Hops

For those interested in a more in depth view or for those who are just starting out in the homebrew world, we wanted to share some background and information on those wonderful, sticky little cones called hops.

Hops are the delicate female flower of the Humulus Lupulus plant, or hop vine. Considered the spice of beer, hops contribute flavor, aroma and bitterness. The bitterness is there to balance beer’s malty sweetness. Without the bitterness you would have a cloying, overly-sweet drink.

The first solid evidence of hops being used was in northern Italy. They also showed up in medieval records (around 800 C.E.) as being used in beer. They seemed to really become popular in Germany and quickly spread to cities around the country. Only a few places in the world have just the right conditions to produce truly delicious hops.

Once dried, hop cones are wither packed “whole” without further processing or formed into pellets. Dried hops are finely ground into smaller pellets and held together by resins. Some people think using whole hops gives a richer flavor over using smaller pellets but that can be a trial and error exercise or just based on your taste. The “whole” hops aren’t very compact and they don’t store as well and only a few varieties are available to homebrewers. The pellets also dissolve into the boil faster, making them the preferred choice for additions at the end of the boil. Whichever type you select, we strongly recommend using fine mesh, nylon Hop Bags to minimize the amount of the leftover hops that enter your fermenter.

Hops are vital to beer and contribute many things. They provide pleasant aromas and bitterness as stated above, but also provide some antibiotic affect against bacteria that can spoil beer. They also contain tannins that are attracted to proteins in the boil, helping clear the wort of unwanted, long-chain proteins. The result of this process is a clearer beer in the end.

Alpha acid is the chemical component in hops that creates bitterness. The higher the alpha percentage the more bitter the hops. But don’t be afraid to use hops with higher AA ratings; simply use less per batch. For example, when added at the beginning of the boil, 2 oz of, say, Northern Brewer hops with a 7.5% AA will yield the same bitterness as 1 oz of Magnum hops with a rating of 15%AA.

Brewers divide hops into three categories:

  1. Those used for bittering and bought on the basis of the quantity of alpha acid
  2. Premium low-alpha hops used exclusively for aroma
  3. Hope that are considered dual-use meaning used for aroma and have moderate alpha levels

Hop Variety Descriptions

Amarillo hops have a flowery, citrus-like aroma with a medium bittering value and are gaining popularity as a Cascade substitute due to their hardiness.

Cascade hops is a very successful and well-established American aroma hop developed in 1956 by the breeding program at Oregon State University from Fuggle and Serebrianker (a Russian variety), but not released for cultivation until 1972. It has a flowery and spicy citrus-like flavor with a hint of grapefruit. Along with Centennial and Columbus, it is one of the “Three Cs.” Centennial and Columbus are acceptable substitutes (but they have a higher Alpha Acid content).

S.T. Kenny and C.E. Zimmermann, the breeders of the Centennial Hops, bred it in 1974 and released it in September 1990. Cascade and Chinook are both similar. 3/4 Brewers Gold, 3/32 Fuggle, 1/6 East Kent Golding, 1/32 Bavarian, and 1/16 Unknown make up the genetic make-up. Along with Cascade and Columbus, it is one of the “Three Cs.” Because of its strong citrus aroma, Centennial is often referred to as a ‘Super Cascade.’

Chinook Hops, a green bine cultivar (W-421-38) was released in Washington State and Idaho in May 1985 as a result of a cross between a Petham Golding and a USDA-selected male (63012M). It’s a little spicy and a lot piney. It contains between 12 and 14 percent alpha acid.

Citra Hops is a registered trademark associated with the Hop Breeding Company’s HBC 394 cv special aroma hop variety (a joint venture between John I. Haas, Inc. and Select Botanicals Group, LLC). It came out in 2007. Citra Brand hops have a relatively high alpha acid and total oil content, with a low percentage of cohumulone. Citra hops add interesting citrus and tropical fruit flavors to beer.

In 1993, Hallertau, Cascade, Brewer’s Gold, and Early Green were crossed to create an American triploid variety. Crystal Hops has a spicier flavor than Hallertau (cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg). Any Hallertau variety, Mount Hood, or Liberty can be used as substitutes.

Columbus hops are bitteringly high on the bittering scale, but they are also valued for their oil content, resulting in a hop with an interesting dichotomy of sharp and herbal.

In 1861, Fuggle Hops was discovered growing “wild” in the hop garden of George Stace Moore’s house in Horsmonden, Kent, England. It was named after Richard Fuggle, who lived in the village of Brenchley (not far from Horsmonden) and introduced it in 1875. The aroma is more earthy and less sweet than that of Kent Goldings.

Golding hops is an old-school English aroma hop with flowery notes that has produced some of the best bitters in the country.

Belgian hops cultivated in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries in the Aalst-Asse area near Brussels. The Coigneau hop was originally a favorite for Lambic beer due to its low bitterness.

Magnum Hops is highly valued for its high bittering value. Spice and citrus dominate the aromatic profile.

Mosaic® Hops HBC 369 cv. has earthy, grassy, herbal, citrus, cedar, tropical, spice, and stonefruit notes that complement the piney pungency. A sophisticated modern lady!

Mt. Hood hops is a Hallertau hybrid with mild flower/spice aroma characteristics and a hint of forest. It is commonly described as “clean.”

The USDA first introduced Nugget hops in 1970. It has a strong herb/spicy aroma and a high bittering value.

Saaz hops is an Old World staple made famous by Pilsner Urquell. It has the aromatic blend of earth and spice that distinguishes European pilsners.

Simcoe hops is a patented variety that is quickly gaining popularity among bitter-loving craft brewers. The intense pine aroma contributes to the fresh, youthful vigor.

With its low bittering value and sublime blend of flowers, fruit, earth, and spice notes, Willamette Hops is the king of aroma hops in the United States.

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