What Are Hops?

What Are Hops? 1

Credit: HopsDirect.com

The name is tossed around in brew lover conversation and found in beer descriptions at Flagstaff breweries, but what exactly are hops? What are the experts talking about? And why does it matter to your beer drinking experience?

You have questions. We have answers.

So, What Are Hops Anyway?

Hops are the flower clusters from the hop plant Humulus lupulus, a perennial plant that is a member of the hemp family.

What does this have to do with beer? It’s one of the four basic ingredients in beer brewing (the other three being grain, yeast, and water). Brewmasters only use the flower of this hop plant for beer brewing in the shape of compressed pellets.

Why Brew With Hops?

The flower of this hop plant contains an essential oil with a very bitter flavor. This counters the sweetness from the malt in beer, thus creating a more balance beer. It also acts as a beer preservative. Brewmasters play with the ratio of bitterness and sweet maltiness in their brew by:

  • Adjusting the type of hops used
  • Timing when the hops are added to the wort
  • Adjusting the time they’re boiled

What Are Hops? 2

Types of Hops You Should Know

Generally, hops are divided into two broad categories: aroma and bittering.

Bittering hops have high levels of alpha acids and high levels of bitterness

Aroma hops have lower alpha acids and higher levels of essential oils

Beyond this broad division, hops are categorized by region of origin. Here are the varieties that you may come across along the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail.

Continental or Noble Hops

Origin: central Europe

Brews: Lagers

Examples: Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt, and Czech Saaz

How Bitter?: Smooth bitterness and spicy/floral aromas

Descriptors: Spicy, black pepper, licorice, perfume, floral, and herbal

English Hops

Origin: United Kingdom

Brews: European ales and lagers

Examples: East Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Chalenger, Target, and Progress

How Bitter?: Low alpha acid aroma and more balanced

Descriptors: Herbal, grassy, earthy, floral, and fruity

American Hops

Origin: North America

Brews: American pale ales, IPAs, and amber ales

Examples: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Willamette, and Amarillo

How Bitter?: High alpha acid content (very bitter) and pleasant aromatic qualities

Descriptors: Citrus, grapefruit, resinous, piney, fruity, and spicy

Knowing what hops are will make ordering your next pint at breweries along the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail easier (and drinking it more pleasant!). How hoppy do you like your beer? What are your favorite brews? Share in the comments below.

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