Hop Flavor Profiles
At first glance, the hop plant is not overly impressive. It doesn’t have a wide variety of uses, it’s susceptible to disease and pests, and it only produces its valuable flowers once a year. However, one of its uses is very important – making beer for the masses to enjoy. The cone-shaped flowers of the hops plant are harvested and after they are dried in the fall, they play a critical role in the beer brewing process.
Brewers love these buds for a few reasons. First and foremost, they taste good. Hops impart a necessary bitterness to beer; without them a beer could be unbalanced or too sweet. Additionally, hops imbue a lot of flavor in the form of citrusy, pine-y, herbal, and earthy aromatics. Hops also help prevent spoilage by lending their antibacterial qualities, and they help maintain a beer’s foamy head. In short, they help make beer, beer.
Hops are not all the same. The aromas and amount of bitterness that hops deliver to beer depend on numerous factors, including the type of hops grown (there are dozens of varieties) and their growing conditions. As you become familiar with hops from around the world, you’ll find similarities and trends amongst the hop varieties grown in the different major growing regions. Let’s take a look.
Note, as a rule, beers made with just one hop variety are very hard to come by; just as chefs layer flavors with a number of different seasonings and ingredients, brewers typically use multiple hop varieties to enhance and deepen the flavor of the beer. Since single-hop beers are not very common, the best way to experience an individual hop’s character is to brew your own single-hop beer.
Germany and the Czech Republic
When it comes to German and Czech hops, there’s one main group that you must know. They’re given an appropriately important moniker: noble hops. These are hops that are particularly worthy of admiration, and they showcase a range of aromas that go from from soft and floral to earthy and spicy.
Hallertauer Mittelfrüh – this is Continental Europe’s most famous hop variety and it is gentle and floral, with slightly peppery or woodsy spiciness.
Tettnanger – this hop is zesty and grassy and comes with an earthy spiciness and a hint of citrusy aromatics.
Spalt – mellow, woodsy, and peppery.
Saaz – A Czech hop known for its bold earthy spiciness. It is similar in flavor to the Spalt and Tettnanger.
Though English hops make up only about one percent of the world’s production, they have a loyal global following. They tend to be grassy, lemony, floral, woodsy, minty, or even tea-like, and are generally used in English beer styles made around the world. British beers typically have an even balance of malt and hop flavor, but English bitter and IPA are ideal when trying to taste what English hops can really do.
Fuggle – everyone loves the name, but Fuggles are beautiful hops regardless of their funny name; earthy, minty, cedary, and floral.
Challenger – these hops are used in English pale ales and have a tea-like earthiness with lemon/orange peel-like fruity bitterness. It’s basically an afternoon spot of Earl Grey tea in hop form.
Golding – Goldings have been popular for a couple centuries thanks to their earthy, peppery, and bright, lemon-like character.
Northern Brewer– this is perhaps best known in the US for appearing in steam beers (aka California common beers). Northern Brewer offers a minty woodiness alongside pine-like aromas.
The United States
American hops are appreciated throughout the world for their bold, intense flavors. “Citrusy” is the most common word you hear to describe American hops, but that’s just the start. There is an amazing range of character in American hops, and you’ll encounter intensely pine-like, floral, stone-fruity, and woody aromas as you taste all the US has to offer.
Cascade – this is the one that started the hoppy American craft beer revolution. Its flavor is usually compared to grapefruit or grapefruit peel, but Cascade can be an incredibly floral hop as well.
Centennial – this hop is often referred to as “super Cascade” because it offers similar aromas. It may be thought of as a bit more floral, but you can expect a nice balance of flowery and grapefruit-like aromas.
Columbus – this variety is a potent, showy hop. It’s herbaceous and pungent and often draws comparisons to marijuana and pine resin.
Chinook – this may be the most pine-like hop of them all. It features an overtly pine-like aroma with a touch of mellow citrus.
Citra – the name almost says it all with this one. Packed with citrus flavor, Citra was released in 2009 and is a newcomer to the world of beer. Along with its orangey citrus character, it has a veritable fruit bowl of aromas including mango, pineapple, passion fruit and peach.
Simcoe – this hop is wildly popular in the world of hoppy American beers. It’s intense and multifaceted aroma is often compared to tropical fruit, pine, sweet onion and grapefruit.
Mosaic – this hop has quickly become a favorite in the craft beer world since its release in 2012. Its flavor is most often compared to blueberries, and is absolutely packed with pungent pine and other fruity notes like pineapple, peach and tangerine.
Australia and New Zealand
The hops in Australia and New Zealand range from woodsy and earthy to super-bright and juicy. Those that fall on the fruit-forward end of the spectrum are well-loved in the US for the big notes of Sauvignon Blanc, melon, lychee, lime and passion fruit aromatics that they can bring to IPAs, pale ales and other hoppy beers.
Nelson Sauvin – this hop is named for its aromatic similarity to the Sauvignon Blanc wine grapes grown alongside them in the New Zealand region of Nelson. Expect a big punch of gooseberry, lychee and melon flavor.
Galaxy – an Australian hop, Galaxy is most commonly known for passion fruit-like juiciness, but its flavor can also have a peachy or orange bent as well.
Motueka – this hop is bred from Saaz parentage. New Zealand’s Motueka has some of the spiciness associated with its Czech parents but comes with a bright lime-like zing and some of the tropical fruitiness associated with its kiwi brothers.