New to brewing and want to know all about the different types of hops? You’ve found the right guide. 52Brew’s guide to hop varieties will cover everything you need to know to get started down the zesty, citric, bittersweet road to brewing better beer. In it, we cover:
- Hop Varieties and Their Flavors
- The Different Categories of Hops and How to Use Them in Brewing
- The Most Popular Types of Hops
What if we told you there were a special plant that was a bringer of balance, a miracle filtering mechanism, and the sole flavoring agent responsible for everything from bitter blackcurrant shades to succulent flower aromas?
Behold, the hop plant.
But there are as many types of hops as there are reasons to love them. Good thing us beer nuts (that’s the socially acceptable way of referring to our condition) have already done all the research for you.
So start a tab and let the fun begin.
- 1 What Are Hops in Beer?
- 2 The 3 Types of Hops (& How to Use Them While Brewing)
- 3 The 3 Best & Most Popular Hop Profiles
- 4 Did We Miss Anything?
What Are Hops in Beer?
Let’s start with the definition of a hop. They’re the flower of the hop plant, also known to very smart people as humulus lupulus.
They are the bringers of balance in the beer world. Without them, your beer would be dull, sweet, and flavorless. Just like chefs add herbs and spices to their creations to entice the palettes of diners, so to do brewers for beer drinkers.
Hops are added to beer during the brewing process for several reasons:
- To add that essential bitter taste (beer would be sugary and sweet without them)
- To add those irresistible flavors we all love so much
- To act as a preservative
- To retain the head of the beer
Before hops, people used just about anything they could to flavor their beer. Imagine using twigs and berries to flavor your beer (seriously, people did that).
Lucky for all of us, you can go get delicious, zesty, aromatic hops easier than ever before.
Before we get to the most popular hops for your beer, it’s important to understand the different categories of hops and their role in the brewing process.
The 3 Types of Hops (& How to Use Them While Brewing)
If you’re familiar with brewing, you know the term wort. It’s the sweet liquid byproduct of the mashing process (when grains steep in water to create fermentable starches).
Hope that’s all making sense.
Wort must then be boiled before it becomes your favorite bottled beverage. During the boiling process, different varieties of hops are added according to their flavor profile and level of alpha acids.
New Term: Alpha acids: Alpha acids are responsible for the bitterness of beer and are found in hops. The higher the alpha acid measurement, measured as International Bitterness Units (IBUs), the more bitter the beer.
The 3 categories are:
- Bittering Hops: Also known as kettle hops, bittering hops are added at the start of the boil and are boiled typically for about an hour. Since these hops have a high acid range, they are more bitter. They are boiled longer so the heat can break down the acids and the wort can absorb them (a process known as isomerization).
- Aroma Hops: Also known as finishing hops, aroma hops are added for their flavoring. Since they boil for far less time, more of their flavor and character are captured by the beer.
- Dual-Purpose Hops: These hops are stuck somewhere in the middle. They can’t decide for themselves whether or not they work better as a bittering hop or an aroma. That’s up to you to decide (we clue you in on what the industry thinks below).
The 3 Best & Most Popular Hop Profiles
Now, it’s time for the fun part. We’ve covered the most popular and delicious hop varieties and their flavor profiles so you can get a good idea of what to expect, as well as their unique characteristics. We’ll also include the types of beer they are normally used in.
Pro Tip: Want to become a real hops snob fast? Start reading the labels of your favorite beers and seeing them in action. Why go through the work of experimenting when big brewers have done it for you already?
1. Bittering Hops
Complete with pleasant fruit aromas and zesty hints of flowers, oranges, and vanilla, Bravo is a “super-bitter” variety of hops that is popular with pale ales. The candied orange and delicate fruit notes mixed with its excellent bittering properties makes it one of the most popular varieties out there.
Another high alpha hop with balanced bitterness, Admiral’s aroma profiles are said to be anywhere from citrus to woody. It isn’t as harsh or bitter as some others in this range either. Its resinous hop aroma also contains hints of herbal flavors.
Bred in Germany, Magnum is primarily a bittering hop variety used only for its extreme (but useful) bittering abilities. The taste spectrum runs anywhere from pepper and nutmeg to a slight citrus tint. Its alpha % range makes it versatile enough to be included in multiple different types of beer.
2. Aroma Hops
2.1 Fuggle Hops
Earthy, woody, and full-bodied, Fuggle is one of the most revered flavoring hops in the world. Its earthy tones make it perfect for English style ales, bitters, and porters. If you’re going for pleasant flavors with a floral hint, you can’t go wrong.
The most popular hop in American craft brewing, Cascade is a hop variety that has unique and powerful floral tones to go along with a spicy and exquisite citrus character. This aroma palette is well balanced by its bittering potential. Its medium intensity makes it one of the most recognizable tastes in the industry. It’s perfect for IPAs and American Ales.
2.3 Hallertauer Classic
The classic German hops variety (not to be confused with the American imitation) is the aroma hop associated with german style lagers, bocks, and weissbier. This hop’s tale is one of a clash of two extreme opposites: bright fruit underpinnings and harmonic bitterness. Spicy, herbal, and fruity, these hops are as a versatile as they are delicious.
3. Dual-Purpose Hops
3.1 Centennial Hops
Very similar to Cascade hops, Centennial dual-purpose hops are characterized by pine and citrus notes as well as a distinct hint of citrus. The mix of delicate and aggressive aromas makes the perfect scent to please the olfactory glands of craft snobs from Portland to Brooklyn, but its powerful bittering qualities let it stand up to a wide range of malt. Your options are limitless. The choice is yours.
Despite its high alpha profile, this versatile hop variety is dual purpose and dang good at what it does. The hint of grapefruit is balanced out by the taste of spices and pine, creating a beautiful harmony that brewers love. Dry hopping with Chinook is becoming more popular as of late and can even result in smoky flavors.
Did We Miss Anything?
Hops may have changed a lot in the last few hundred years, but they have never been more important to the brewing process. As a budding brewer, your choice of hop varieties has never been wider. It’s up to you to find that perfect mix.
Did we leave any varieties out that you wanted to see? Which other flavors did you discover in your types of hops that we should know about? Let us know so we can make our next hops guide even better.
Want a new DIY project? How about learning how to grow hops for the first time. See our guide down below.