Hops, What Are They?

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What Are Hops?
Hops are the female flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor. The hop plant is a vigorous, climbing, herbaceous perennial, usually trained to grow up strings in a field called a hop field. Many different varieties of hops are grown around the world, with different types being used for particular styles of beer.

Beautiful Hops
When we brew beer we use hops, different amounts, different varieties and we add them at different times for bittering, flavor, or aroma. John Palmer described it best in his book How To Brew.
Beer wouldn't be beer without hops - hops provide the balance, and are the signature in many styles. The bitterness contributed by hops balances the sweetness of the malt sugars and provides a refreshing finish. The main bittering agent is the alpha acid resin which is insoluble in water until isomerized by boiling. The longer the boil, the greater the percentage of isomerization and the more bitter the beer gets. However, the oils that contribute characteristic flavors and aromas are volatile and are lost to a large degree during the long boil. There are many varieties of hops, but they are usually divided into two general categories: Bittering and Aroma. Bittering hops are high in alpha acids, at about 10 percent by weight.
Aroma hops are usually lower, around 5 percent and contribute a more desirable aroma and flavor to the beer. Several hop varieties are in-between and are used for both purposes. Bittering hops, also known as kettle hops, are added at the start of the boil and boiled for about an hour. Aroma hops are added towards the end of the boil and are typically boiled for 15 minutes or less. Aroma hops are also referred to as finishing hops. By adding different varieties of hops at different times during the boil, a more complex hop profile can be established that gives the beer a balance of hop bitterness, taste and aroma. Descriptions of the five main types of hop additions and their attributes follow**.
**Palmer, J. (1999, January 1). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter5-1.html
Hops are available to brewers in whole-leaf, pellet, or extract form. American craft brewers have also started using fresh, unprocessed hops to brew "harvest" or "fresh-hop" ales. Each of these forms has advantages and disadvantages.
  • Whole Leaf Hops - Whole-leaf hops are simply the dried hop cones that have been compressed into bales. They are believed to have greater aromatic qualities than the other forms and are easier to strain from wort. However, because they retain more of the vegetative matter greater volumes must be used. They soak up more wort than other forms resulting in greater loss to the brewer. Their bulk also makes them more difficult to store and more susceptible to spoilage.
  • Pellet Hops - To make pellet hops the dried cones are shredded, compressed, and extruded into pellets that resemble rabbit food. The shredding process exposes the lupulin glands and removes a percentage of the vegetative matter, meaning smaller volumes can be used in the brewery. Their lighter weight and compressed state also makes them easier to store and less susceptible to spoilage. On the down side, they tend to lose some of their aromatic quality in processing and they create sludge at the bottom of the brew kettle that can be difficult to remove from the wort. The majority of hops used in the craft brewing industry are pellet hops.
  • Hop Extract - For hop extracts, the alpha acids and essential oils are pulled from the cones using heat and various solvents. These concentrated liquid extracts can be used in the brewing process just like hops. There are separate extracts for bittering, flavor, and aroma. They are mostly used by large breweries, although they are sometimes used by smaller breweries to reduce wort in highly hopped beers. Hop extracts are easy to store and can be kept for long periods of time without spoilage. Their concentrated state and lack of vegetative matter reduces the amount that must be used and eliminates wort loss. Their concentration can make them difficult to use properly in small batches however, and some claim undesirable flavors from their use.
  • Fresh or Wet Hops - Fresh hops are green, unprocessed cones, often added to the beer within hours of harvest. Wet hops give beers an intense, bright hop flavor and aroma. However, because they lack the concentration that comes with drying, a much larger volume is needed to achieve the same result as from dried hops. The additional vegetative matter can lend beer a grassy character and results in greater wort loss for the brewer***.
***Agnew, M. (2010, January 1). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.aperfectpint.net/Hops.pdf
A good understanding of various hop techniques is critical for successful brewing. Beginners and intermediate brewers alike often apply the wrong technique to a given beer style. Knowing which technique to use for a particular style or desired flavor profile is part art form, but it all starts with a firm understanding of the techniques themselves.

Make Our Beer Taste Good
Mash Hopping
Mash hopping is simply the addition of hops directly to the mash tun itself. The hops are often placed on top of the grain bed and left to sit as the mash is sparged. Mash hopping is reported to provide a better overall balance and character to the beer, though it adds almost no bitterness.
First Wort Hops
First wort hops are hops added to the boil pot at the very start of the lautering process. Unlike mash hops, first wort hops remain in the boiler during the boil and therefore do contribute bitterness to the wort. In blind taste tests, beers brewed with this method are perceived as smoother, better blended and have less of a bitter edge and aftertaste.
Bittering Hops
Bittering hops or boil hops are just that hops added for the bulk of the boil to add bitterness to the beer. Boiling hops releases the alpha acids that provide bitterness in your beer. The longer you boil your hops, the more bitterness you will add.
Late Hop Additions
Hops added in the last 5-15 minutes of the boil are called late hop additions. These hops are usually not added for bittering, though they do contribute a small amount of bitterness to the beer. The main purpose for late hop additions is to add aroma and aromatic hop oils to your beer.
The Hop Back
A hop back is a device containing hops used in line between the boiler and chiller to infuse fragile hop oils and aroma directly into the hot wort before it is cooled and transferred to the fermenter. While a hop back does not add any significant bitterness to the beer, it can add great aroma to your finished beer.
Dry Hopping
Dry hopping is the addition of hops after the beer has fermented. Hops are typically added in the secondary fermenter or keg and left for a period of several days to several weeks. Dry hopping is used to add a hoppy aroma to the beer, as no bitterness is added with this method.
So how do you know what is the right hop(s) for your beer? With the wide range of hop characteristics, I combed the internet to provide the below list to help make your decision easier. I know the below list is not complete but I feel these are commonly used hops and readily available.
Admiral 11-15%
Citrusy, orange flavored
English style IPA and other ales
Challenger, Northdown
Ahtanum 3-6%
Aromas that are citrus (Grapefruit), earthy, and floral
American Style ales
Amarillo, Cascade
Amarillo 8-10%
A flowery, citrus like aroma, more orange than grapefruit
Pale Ales, IPAs, Porters
Cascade, Centennial
Apollo 18-21%
Citrus notes, with emphasis on orange, resiny and spicy
Any beer with a big hop profile, definitely all American
Magnum, Columbus
Australian Helga 4.9 - 7.3%
Very mild and pleasant with delicate floral and herbal tones
Brambling 5-8%
Blackcurrant, lemony aroma.
Golden Ale, Rye Ale
Bullion, Northern Brewer and Galena
Bravo 14.0 - 17.0%
Flavor and aroma are an earthy spice and herb, fruity and floral
American IPA, American Pale Ale, American Stout
Columbus, Tomahawk, Zeus
Brewer's Gold 6-9%
Spicy, fruity characteristics, black currant
Stouts and Dark ales
Bullion, Northern Brewer and Galena ,Bramling Cross.
Bullion 6.5-9%
Intense,black currant aroma, spicy and pungent
Stouts and Dark ales
Brewers Gold, Northern Brewer and Galena ,Bramling Cross, Mt Ranier
Calypso 10-12%
Pleasant, fruity aroma, with hints of pear and apple
Ales, Stouts and Barley Wines
Cascade 4-7%
Medium intense floral, citrus and grapefruit tones
Pale Ales, IPAs, Porters
Amarillo, Centennial, Ahtanum
Cashmere 7.7 - 9.1%
Mild herbal aroma with strong melon, lemon, lime and slightly spicy notes
Centennial 4-7%
Flowers & citrus most evident
Extra Special Bitter, Barley Wine, Imperial Stout
Chinook, Galena, Nugget, Zeus, Columbus, Cascade
Challenger 7-10%
Mild to Moderate aroma, quite spicy
Golden Ale, Barley Wine, Imperial Stout
Northern Brewer, Perle
Chinook 11-13%
Spicy, piney aroma like a pine forest washed with exotic spice and infused with grapefruit
Winter Ale, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, Lager, Barley Wine
Nugget, Bullion, Columbus, Northern Brewer, Target

We Just Can't Get Enough Of Them
Citra 10-11%
Very fruity Citrus, peach, apricot, passion fruit, grapefruit and other tropical fruit
Pale ales, IPA
Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial
Cluster 5.5-8.5%
Floral aroma
Light and Dark American Lagers.
Galena, Chinook, Eroica
Columbia 8-10%
Pungent hoppiness with a lemon citrus twist
Ambers, Ales, Pale Ales, Porters and Stouts
Centennial, Chinook, Eroica
Columbus 13-16%
Earthy, spicy, pungent, with some citrus overtones
American IPAs and Pale Ales, Stout, Lager
Centennial, Chinook, Galena, Nugget, AKA Zeus/Tomahawk
Crystal 3-5%
Mild and pleasant, a delicate blend of spices and flowers
German-style Pilsner, Lager, Kolsch, ESB, Belgian Ales
Liberty, Mt. Hood, German Hallertau, Ultra
Czech Premiant 7.0 - 11%
Pleasant, mild aroma
Belgian Pilsners, Belgian, French, and German Ales
Delta 6.5%
Aroma Type Hop Mild and pleasant, slightly spicy with a hint of citrus
American Pale ales, American IPA
Cascade, Delta, Nelson Sauvin
Erotica 11-13%
Forward fruit flavors, aroma is quite strong, but not unpleasant
Bitter, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Porter, India Pale Ale
Bullion, Brewer's Gold, Galena
Falconer's Flight 9.0 - 10.5%
Distinct tropical, floral, lemon and grapefruit attributes
IPA, Pale Ale, Lager
Cascade, Columbus, Centennial Technical
First 6-9%
Very floral and fruity, like marmalade and magnolia
Porter, English Bitter, Wheat Beer, Amber Ale, Dark Amber Ale, India Pale Ale
Willamette, East Kent Golding, Styrian Golding
Fuggle 4.0 - 5.5%
Mild and pleasant, spicy, soft, woody, with some fruit tones
English ales, especially Pale ales, Porters, Stouts
Willamette, East Kent Goldings, Styrian Goldings
Galaxy (Australian) 11 - 16%
Distinct citrus, peach and passion fruit flavors
Pale Ales, IPA's, Barley Wines
Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo
Galena 10-12%
Clean and very agreeable notes of citrus
Imperial Stout, Stout, India Pale Ale, Barley Wine
Nugget, Columbus, Zeus, Chinook, Pride of Ringwood, Eroica, Newport, Cluster, Brewers Gold
Glacier 5-6%
Herby, woody, and citrusy
Extra Special Bitter, India Pale Ale, Wheat Beer
Willamette, Fuggle (US), Tettnanger (GR)
Golding 4-5%
Fragrant and pleasant with flowery tones
All English-style beers (Ales, ESB, Bitter), Belgian-style Ales
Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Willamette
Green Bullet 9-11%
A high alpha hop with fruity and resiny flavors and floral aromas
Liberty, Hallertauer, Crystal, Mount Hood, Ultra
Hallertau (US) 5-6%
A mild, flowery and delicately spicy aroma and flavor
Lager, Pilsner, Bock, Wheat Beer, Kolsch, Munich Helles, Belgian Ale, American Lager
Mount Hood, Liberty, Crystal, Hallertauer Mittelfrh, Hallertauer Tradition, Ultra
Hallertau (German) 3.5-5%
Lightly flowery and spicy aroma
German Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat, American Lager
Liberty, Hallertauer, German Tradition
Hallertau (NZ) 8-9%
Woodsy, citrusy notes, clean taste that has staying power
Pale Ale, Lager, Pilsner, Bitter, Bock, American Lager
Hallertauer (German), Perle
Hallertau Mittelfruh 3.5%
Lightly flowery and spicy aroma
German Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat, American Lager
Liberty, Hallertauer, German Tradition
Horizon 12-14%
Floral and citrusy
Light Ale, Red Ale, Pumpkin Ale
Magnum, Hallertauer
Kent Golding (UK) 3-5%
Refined Gentle, Fragrant and pleasant with flowery tones.
Pale Ale, Extra Special English Ale, English Dark Ale, Belgian Ale, Christmas Ale
Goldings (British Columbia), Fuggle, Willamette

No Matter How Hard We Try
Liberty 3-5%
Flower and spice characteristics, mild and pleasant
American and German Ales, Lager, Pilsner, Bock, Kolsch
German Hallertau, Mt. Hood, Crystal
Lublin (Poland) 3-4.5%
Wonderful aroma hop with notes of magnolia and lavender
Saaz, Sterling
Magnum (German) 12-17%
The aromatic of spice and citrus is minimal compared to its big bittering
Pale Ales, IPAs, German-style Lager
Millenium 14-16%
Floral, resiny, and a bit spicy/herbal
American Style Ales
Nugget, Columbus
Motueka 6.5-7.5%
Exciting fruity aroma with a refreshing citrus start finishing to a tropical note
European Ale, English Ale, Dark Lage
Czech Saaz, Saaz (US)
Mount Hood 5-8%
Mild flower/spice aroma characteristics with a hint more of the forest
American and German ales and lagers
German Hallertau, Liberty, Crystal
Nelson Sauvin (NZ) 12-13%
Rich, fruity character, said to have the essence of "freshly crushed gooseberries"
American Pale Ale
Pacific Jade, Pacifica
Newport 10-17%
Fairly pungent, resiny flavor
Pale Ale, American Lager
Galena, Nugget
Northdown 7-10%
Fresh, flowery and piney with notes of berry and spice
Blonde Ale
Challenger, Admiral
Northern Brewer 7-11%
Neutral, clean aroma, woody with evergreen and mint overtones
India Pale Ale
Nugget 11-16%
Strong heavy and herbal, spicy aroma
India Pale Ale
Omega 9-11%
Very bitter hop.
lagers, ales, stouts
any high alpha
Pacific Gem (NZ) 15-17%
Smooth and oak-like with notes of blackberry
Strong Ales
Pacific Jade (NZ) 12-14%
bold as it delivers a herbal infusion of fresh citrus and crushed black pepper
Dry Lagers
Palisade 6-9%
Floral, subtle apricot, grassy, smooth hop flavor with a fruity, non-citrusy aroma
English Style Ales
Perle 7-9%
moderate, pleasant, minty clean bittering and refreshing, spicy "green hop" aroma
A wide range from Pale Ale to Lager to Stout
Northern Brewer, Cluster, Galena
Phoenix 10-12%
Attractive English aroma
English Ales, Porters, Stouts, ESBs
Pioneer 8-10%
clean bitterness and mild English aroma.
English Ales, ESBs, and bitters.
Yeoman, Herald, Omega
Pride of Ringwood (AU) 7-10%
Pronounced aroma not unpleasant, citrus-like
Amber Ale, Lager, Fruit Lambic, Pale Ale, Australian Lager, Strong Ale, American Pale Ale
Kent Goldings, Centennial, Galena, Cluster
Progress 5-8%
Slightly sweet with a mellow bitterness
Cask Ales, English and Scottish Ales
Goldings, Fuggles
Riwaka (NZ) 4.5-6.5%
Powerful grapefruit "citrus" characters
Pale Ale
Czech Saaz
Saaz 3-5%
Aromatic blend of earth and spice
Santiam 5.5-8%
Herbal and floral
American Lagers, German Lagers/Ales, Wheat beers
Saphir 3-4.5%
Refined, sweet, mild clean citrus, hint of tangerine
Plisners, German lagers, Belgian whites
Hallertau Mittelfruh
Simcoe 12-14%
Aromas of passionfruit, apricot, Intense pine and woodsy aroma
American Ales, IPAs, Double IPAs
Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial
Sorachi Ace 13-16%
Lemon, citrus aroma
Spalter 3-6%
Aromatic and flavorful
German Ale, Lager, Pilsner
Saaz, Tettnanger, Spalt, Santiam, Liberty, Hallertau
Sterling 6-9%
Herbs and spices dominate, flowers and citrus around the fringes
India Pale Ale
Styrian Goldings 4-6%
Delicate, slightly spicy, soft and floral
Vienna/Oktoberfest lagers, Belgian ales, Pilseners
Fuggle, Willamette
Summit (Dwarf) 17.5-19.5%
Robust citrus notes of orange, tangerine and grapefruit
Pale Ale, IPA Drifter Pale Ale, Widmer Brothers
Target 10-12%
English hop aroma, quite intense
Bitter, Pale Ale, Kentish Bitter, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, American Lager
Fuggle, Willamette
Taurus 12-15%
It has a distinctive hoppy tang with a delicate aroma.
Magnum, Citra, Tradition
Tettnanger 4-5%
Fine, very spicy, mild, floral, very aromatic.
Bitter, Blonde Ale, Red Ale, Pilsner, Lager, American Lager
Spalter Select, Santiam, Czech Saaz, Spalter
Tomahawk 14-17%
Earthy, spicy, pungent, with some citrus overtones
American style ales, stouts
Columbus ,Zeus
Tradition 10-13%
High-alpha acid Hallertau variety with German characteristics
Lagers, Pilsner, Bock, Wheat, Weizen
Magnum, Hersbrucker, Taurus
Ultra 3%
Very fine, mild, spicy with floral notes
Pilsner, German Lagers
Hallertau, Any Noble hop, Crystal, Liberty, Mt. Hood
Vanguard 4-6%
Slightly flowery, mild
Light Lagers, Pilsners, Kolsch, Wheat, Munich Helles
Liberty, Mount Hood, Hallertauer Mittelfrh, Saaz
Warrior 14.5-17%
Grapefruity and lemony, some piney notes
Nugget, Columbus
Willamette 4-6%
joyous harmony of flowers, fruit, earth and spice
American and British Ales/Lagers.
Fuggle, Styrian Goldings, Kent Goldings.
Zenith 9-10%
Has a good aroma
British Ales/Lagers
Zeus 14-17%
Earthy, spicy, pungent, with some citrus overtones
Bittering American style ales, stouts
AKA Columbus,Tomahawk


Well-Known Member
Dec 16, 2014
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Absolutely amazing article. Great overall hop description and learned some things about how to add hops to my next batch.


Well-Known Member
Jul 3, 2014
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Has anyone produced a graphic placing hops according to alpha content on one axis and, say, flavor profile, on the other?


Well-Known Member
Feb 21, 2013
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Excellent article. Very useful information presented in an approachable manner.


Well-Known Member
Jan 11, 2014
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@wolfej50 - there are all kinds, just Google "hops chart". I think that this one is nice;


Apr 10, 2015
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Great article! I'm new to brewing and articles such as this are exactly what I need to help further my knowledge. Thanks!


Well-Known Member
Feb 2, 2013
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I've recently learned the magic of Willamette hops. It is now a permanent part of my hop chest. A wonderful hop. Not too much of anything, just the perfect amount of everything for those ales that aren't IPA or overly hop forward.

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