Now that spring has really sprung and the Capital Weather Gang is predicting a great string of days, don’t forget about all of the great beers that are brewed with flowers … and by flowers, I mean hops! Hops are the flowers of the plant Humulus lupulus and has been used in the brewing of beer for over a thousand years. Originally, they replaced other bittering herbs because of their antibacterial properties and it is believed that many of the other bittering herbs were abandoned because of the ability of hopped beers to last longer. Hops are also the Swiss Army Knife of Brewing: they act as seasoning, balancing the sweetness of the malts; they help with head retenting; they help clear the beer; and do a whole lot more! Walking into the shop, you will see dozens of variety names and, even some random numbers, on the cans and bottles of beers. Then, if you get into a conversation with a beer geek, you may here them make proclamations about Mosaic, Centennial, Crystal, or Fuggle, like a wine geek would talk about Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, or Malbec. So, here is a list of some of the most popular hops:
- Amarillo: It is used in several commercial beers where its aroma is highly desired to create a delicious orange citrus note. It is also highly acidic, making it perfect for ESB’s and Pale Ales. A varietal of Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc., Amarillo was discovered to be a mutation from another variety.
- Cascade (US): Pioneered in the 1950’s by Jack Horner and his team at Oregon State University, Cascade hops have since gone on to become one of the most popular American hops of all time. Released in 1972, Cascade now represents around 10% of all hops grown in the USA. When brewed, exudes a distinct spicy citrus aroma with hints of grapefruit, is a great dual purpose hop (bittering & aroma) and is suited to most styles of ale and lager.
- Centennial: Centennial has had its ups and downs in the commercial brewing industry but is currently experiencing a return to popularity (often ranked second/third), particularly among leading craft breweries. Another great dual purpose hop, it has great earthiness with a floral note backing by an element of citrus. It is much-celebrated because of its versatility: it has depth of bitterness and forward aroma that balance each other wonderfully and can create single hop beers easily.
- Chinook: Another powerhouse in American craft brewing (often ranked second/third on most used lists), it was released in 1985 and is currently featured alone in Stone’s Arrogant Bastard. Another great dual purpose hop, it has a bouquet of piney, spicey notes and can be used in any stage of the boil. They’re not only used in American-style Pale Ales and IPAs, but they also find their way into seasonal ales, barley wine and some porters and stouts.
- Citra: Only released in 2008, this is one of the most coveted high-impact aroma hops in the USA! Gene Probasco is credited with having first bred Citra in 1990. After trialing the new variety with iconic craft breweries Deschutes, Sierra Nevada and others, commercial acreage was significantly expanded in the lead up to its official release. It has a strong citrus profile, with an extraordinary flavor profile of grapefruit, lime and tropical fruits, while it can be used for bittering, many brewers don’t because it’s harsh nature.
- Cluster (US): One of the oldest and most robust hop crops in the USA. It once accounted for 96% of the total acreage of hops grown in the USA and remained at the top of hop usage from the early 20th century until the 1970s. Even today, it is a top ten hop! It has a clean and slightly floral flavor.
- Mosaic: Even newer than Citra, it was released in 2012, and has been called “Citra on steroids.” Mosaic hops feature complex but clean flavor characteristics and are known for their triple-use profile encompassing bittering, flavor and aroma. They are pleasantly hoppy, carrying flavors of mango, pine, citrus and herbs and aromas of tropical and stone fruit.
- Simcoe: Mainly used as a bittering hop, it does carry nice fruity, earthy, and piney aromas. Simcoe is hugely popular with craft brewers and has been featured in many special releases, anniversary beers, and heavily-hopped bolder styles.
I hope this helps you decode your next bottle of beer a little more and if you want to know more about hops, check out the Beer Advocate’s Hop Guide.