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Hops Education 101

Let’s talk about hops, yippee! Let’s talk about Legacy®. Let’s talk about all the varieties and the flavors that may be. Let’s talk about hops. (Spinderella, cut it up one time) 

We don’t need Salt-N-Pepa to tell us just how important hops are to beer, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a few more tid-bits to your arsenal of knowledge regarding all-things-hops as a beer consumer.

Hops refer to the flower of the hops plant Humulus lupulus (it totally sounds like a Harry Potter spell, doesn’t it?!) which is a member of the Cannabaceae flowering plant family – Cannabis being a part of the same family. The hop plants have separate male and female plants, but only the female plants are grown for beer production, because only unpollinated hop flowers are produced by the plants. These perennial plants are planted 7-8 feet apart in the spring, and due to their vine-like preference to climb, they are thus trained to grow up trellises made of strings or wires in a hop-yard – these are called bines. 

The flower may also be referred to as a seed cone or strobilus. The parts of the hop flower consist of the stem (strig), the outside overlapping layers (bracts), the inside layers (bracteoles), and the lupulin glands are located inside the bracteoles. These lupulin glands produce resins that consist of alpha acids – responsible for the bitter flavors of beer, beta acids – contributes to the beer’s aroma, essential oils consisting of myrcene, humulene, and caryophyllene – these also aid in producing a beer’s aroma, and flavonoids with xanthohumol being predominant which contributes to the bitterness and overall flavor of hops.

Hops thrive in moderate climates and America is the top world-wide producer today with the Pacific Northwest – Washington, Oregon and Idaho – growing 99% of all US-produced hops. Harvested at the end of summer, ripe hops appear bright green with some browning on the tips. They ought to feel dry and papery and will spring back into shape after giving them a light squeeze. The lupulin glands will stand out as a bright yellow and will also have a pungent aroma. The bines are cut down, and while some small hop yards still pick the hop cones off the plants by hand, many of the larger-scale hops producers use a mechanical hops separator. The hops are then dried via dehydrator, ovens, drying screens, or kilned depending on the scale of the harvesting, but typically the hops are never exposed to any heat over 140°F. 

Once dried, it is key to the life and quality of your hops to keep light, moisture, heat, and oxygen OUT. This is done by vacuum sealing the hops and typically storing them in a freezer. Fresh is best though for brewing, therefore normally, hops are not left to sit for too long, and for never more than 6 months. Hop pellets can also be made from dried hops by utilizing a hammer mill for crushing. Once crushed they are fed into a pellet machine that creates uniformly-sized pellets. All pellets must be kept in an airtight container or vacuum-packed in order to avoid oxidation. 

Fun Fact: You don’t need to brew beer with dried hops, one can add fresh picked hops while brewing (at any point), before they’re dried and this is known as “wet-hopping.” Because of spoilage concerns, hops are typically picked and added into the brewing process on the same day when wet-hopping. While “dry-hopping” is the term for adding hops late in the brewing process during fermentation or conditioning.

Hops impart several different aromas and flavors to beer. Some of the more popular descriptive words you’ll hear: “grassy,” “floral,” “piney,” “earthy,” “dank,” “citrusy,” and “spicy.” Different styles of hops will provide different flavors and aromas to a beer. There are 3 main categories of hops: Bittering hops have high concentrations of alpha acids that contribute to the bitter flavors of beer and are boiled anywhere from 60-90 minutes during brewing. Aroma hops typically have lower concentrations of alpha acids and therefore aide in flavoring the beer without adding bitterness and these are normally added to the wort later in the brewing process or added to the beer while fermenting, in order to provide a beer with its “hop taste.” There are also dual use hops which contain high amounts of both the alpha acids and favorable aromatic properties, and these hops can be utilized at any time during brewing. According to Hopslist, there are 42 different varieties of bittering hops, 134 different varieties of aroma hops, and another 92 different varieties of dual use hops. 

In a study, published by Beer Maverick in 2022, utilizing 2020 data, the most popular overall variety of hop used in brewing was Cascade, followed by Citra®, Mosaic®, Magnum, Amarillo™, Centennial, Simcoe® and Saaz, respectively. 

Cascade is a dual use hop that was cultivated in the 1950s at Oregon State University and has grown in popularity to become one of the most utilized American-grown hops of all time, and accounts for approximately 10% of all hops grown in the US. This particular hop lends aromas of spicy citrus, grapefruit and floral notes when used in brewing, making it a great choice to use in ales and lagers, particularly American Pale Ales. Cascade is named after the Cascade Mountain Range that runs along the west coast from California into Canada. There are also now Australian and New Zealand Cascade varieties.

Citra® is another dual use hop, but you’ll typically see it used not for bittering, but for its aromatics. This was cultivated by the Hop Breeding Company and introduced to the market in 2008. This hop boasts strong citrus flavors including grapefruit, lime, and tropical fruits. Citra is utilized in IPAs, American ales, and sometimes Ambers too. 

Mosaic® is also the brain-child of the Hop Breeding Company and this dual use hop was introduced to the general public in 2012. As with most all the varieties of hops, this was one was cultivated from Simcoe and Nugget hops. Mosaic characteristics are complex and include mango, pine, citrus, herbs, bubblegum, berry, tropical fruits, and stone fruit. You will find this hop used most in IPAs and Pale Ales. 

Magnum is a bittering hop also known as Hallertau Magnum and is German in origin being available to the brewing world beginning in the 1980s. It is used as a base bittering hop that results in clean-cut bitterness with slight citrus notes. It is used in a vast array of beers including: American Ales, Blonde Ales, Pale Ales, Dark Ales, Pilsners, Bright Ales, and Hefeweizens. 

Amarillo™ hops contain high levels of myrcene that provide aromas and flavors of oranges, tangerines, and clementines. This aroma hop variety was cultivated by Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc., based out of Washington state. This hop is good for use in Pale Ales and wheat beers. 

Centennial is a versatile dual use hop that has some of the same aroma and flavor characteristics as Cascade with earthy elements. Developed in 1974 at Washington State University, it was not released until 1990. Extra Special Bitters, Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, IPAs, and Pale Ales are all beers where this hop can be utilized effectively. 

Simcoe® hops are a dual use hop introduced in 2000 by creators Yakima Chief Ranches, an integrated botanicals management group that specializes in breeding new hop varieties out of Washington state. It is used for both bittering and for aroma alike. Notes of earthy herbs, pine, grapefruit, and citrus fruits are abundant, making this a great choice for IPAs, Double IPAs, and Pale Ales. 

Saaz hops are one of the four Noble hops (Hallertau, Spalt, and Tettnang being the other three) which are classic European varieties typically used in Pilsners and Lagers – Stella Artois being potentially the most well-known utilizer. These hops originated in Germany and the Czech Republic and date back to over 700 years ago. It is an aroma hop with its herbal notes, but still maintains a delicate bitterness. There are several hybridizations including a couple of different New Zealand varieties as well as one here in the US. 

And as you might have guessed, Legacy®, as noted in my song parody, is another type of hops that I’ll introduce you to. A dual use hop, this Washington state originator has been around for over 50 years. It is unique in its characteristics and include aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currant, orange, and grapefruit along with some floral and spicy notes. Ales, Lagers, Stouts, and IPAs can make use of this hop in spectacular fashion. 

Hops are essential to beer. Beer is essential to us. Not only should we talk about hops, but we should raise a glass and toast them too! Cheers! 

References: www.wikipedia.com, www.hopslist.com, www.beermaverick.com   

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!