In the simplest sense, to brew beer, you need water, malts, yeast, and hops. That’s true whether you’re a home brewer slaving over your own little cauldron or a brewery working in vats at a much larger scale. And while each ingredient is important to the final product (and there are other ingredients based on beer styles), in our opinion, nothing impacts the overall flavor profile more than hops. This is especially true when you’re crafting robust pale ales, IPAs, and other hop-centric brews. But, even with that limited information, what do you really know about the most popular hops varieties?
In addition to aroma, flavor, and overall bitterness, “hops provide preservative characteristics to beer, enabling a longer shelf life for the liquid,” says Garth E. Beyer, certified cicerone and owner/founder of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, WI. “Hops, and the alpha and beta acids within them, are critical in the brewing process as they influence the bittering mouthfeel, final flavor, and aromatics based on the type of hop used and when it’s added to the beer.”
Hops added earlier in the brewing process provide more flavor and bitterness, whereas hops used later in the brewing process provide the aromatic impact.
“The best brewers in the world know which hops to use together, when to use them in the brewing process, and how much to use to produce the ideal craft beer.”
Do you know how to recognize the most popular hops varieties to choose a beer you’ll enjoy? Do you know what flavors certain hops are known for? Do you know which hops impact aroma, or which gives your favorite beer its tropical tang or bitter finish? Well, you’re about to find out.
First, you need to know what hops actually are. Hops are a member of the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants (also known as the hemp family, unto which cannabis belongs to). They’re considered a flower, but are more conical in shape than a traditional bloom. They’re the reason your beer has a bitter, floral, fruity, dank, piney, resinous, or citrus flavor. Without them, your beer would be overly malty and not remotely as drinkable.
Now that you know a little bit about the importance of hops, it’s time to learn about some of the most popular hop varieties. We picked 10 of our favorites. Keep scrolling to learn what each brings to your beer.
10 Most Popular Hops Varieties and What They Bring to the Table
An offshoot of the popular Simcoe hop, according to beermaverick.com, Mosaic was first made available in 2012. “Mosaic is used as both a bittering and an aromatic hop, but brewers tend to use it more for bittering and flavor as it lends a light tangerine aroma with blueberry and currant flavor,” says Beyer. You’ll find it in popular fruit-forward beers like Trillium Headroom, which has tantalizing tasting notes of candied peach and orange peel up front, followed by juicy pineapple, sweet white grapes, bitter grapefruit, and mango smoothies for a creamy finale.
One of the most popular hop varieties in the world, according to hopslist.com, Cascade was originally created at the USDA breeding program at Oregon State University and made available to brewers in 1972. It’s the hop that elicits the classic pale ale flavor we’ve come to associate with that style here in the States (you can thank the folks at Sierra Nevada). “Cascade is often used in West Coast IPAs for bittering as it offers herbal spiciness and grapefruit and citrus rind notes,” says Beyer. “It’s best used in the tail end of a brew to give it as much grapefruit and resiny aroma as possible.”
“Saaz is a historic hop, one of the original four noble hops [classic European varieties] and is often used as an aromatic hop that gives beer an herbal, woody, and slightly spicy smell,” says Beyer. “It can also provide a subtle earthiness to flavor.” It’s often used for dry-hopping and can be found in many Czech and Czech-style pilsners, including the world’s first pale lager: Pilsner Urquell.
Like many hops, Amarillo only exists today because of a random discovery. Washington State’s Virgil Gamache Farms Inc. found it growing next to one of its other hop varieties in 1990, according to beermaverick.com. “Amarillo is a solid bittering hop that backs itself up with a light floral bouquet of tangerines, apricots, and melon flavors, but stays grounded with earthy-floral bitterness,” says Beyer. It’s most commonly used in dry hopping, when hops are added at the final stages of the brewing process to extract more of that citrus aroma. Experience it in all its glory by cracking open 3 Floyds Brewing’s Gumballhead, a tasty American wheat ale.
5. Hallertau Mittelfrüh
This classic German noble hop can be found in many beers in Germany and American craft beers hoping to emulate the traditional European flavor. “Hallertau Mittelfrüh is a hop that’ll insert herbal woodiness; aromas of sage, rosemary, and pine; and give beer a mild, clean bitterness in the mouthfeel and flavor,” says Beyer. Enjoy all it brings to the table aroma-wise in Deschutes Pacific Wonderland Lager.
Yakima Chief Ranches released Simcoe hops in 2000, according to hopslist.com, and they’ve since become one of the most popular varieties in American brewing. “Simcoe is a powerful bittering hop that combines subtle stone fruit aromas and flavors with more intense pine and bitter citrus zest,” says Beyer. It can be found in countless IPAs like Ommegang Neon Lights, a hazy IPA.
One of the coolest named hops on the market, Australian-bred Galaxy hops are an offshoot of the classic Perle hop variety, according to bsgcraftbrewing.com. “Galaxy is a remarkable bittering and aromatic hop that brings big waves of peach, guava, and tangy orange to the nose and tongue,” says Beyer. It’s found in beers like Trillium The Streets.
Some hops are used for flavor and some are multi-purpose, meaning they’re used for both, but some are specifically added for bittering. This is the case with Magnum. “Magnum is a unique hop that offers a broad variety of bittering and flavor elements of grass, spearmint, lemon, menthol, and green fruit like apple and pear,” says Beyer. It’s one of the main hops used in Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA to deliver a rush of hoppy goodness.
An extremely popular hop variety among American craft brewers, Centennial hops can be found in beers like Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Founder’s Centennial. “Centennial is a well-rounded hop that brings an even layer of citrus and pine characteristics to the mouthfeel, flavor, and aroma,” says Beyer.
With a name like Citra, you probably have a good idea what’s in store. “Citra is the most-used hop in the world because of its intense citrus notes in both flavor and aroma,” says Beyer. “This one’s a classic.” It also pairs well with other hops and can be found in beers like Maine Beer Dinner, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, and Toppling Goliath King Sue. If you want a beer that’s brimming with bright juiciness, these all have tasting notes of mango, pineapple, and passion fruit.
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