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Hops: the Basics


Have you ever wondered what gives your beer flavour, what adds that slight bitterness and what increases its shelf life? It’s the Hops!

There are four main ingredients when making beer but only three of those are essential: barley, yeast and water. Without the fourth ingredient of hops however, it wouldn’t taste like the beer we know and love today!

What exactly are hops? 🤔

Hops come from the female hop plant, also called Humulus Lupulus, a member of the hemp family and native to Europe, North America, and Western Asia. Brewers utilise the oils and resins contained inside of these flowers for their mix. They come in many different presentations. The most common form is pellets, or dried flowers.

In France, some records place hops in the brewing process of beer in the 9th Century. Germany also has records of starting to use it as preservatives in the 12th Century – it is believed that it was around this time that it began expanding across Europe and the UK. The beer made before then is known as Gruit or Grut today.

What do they do for beer today?

The flower of the hop plant contains small glands in them, which has a sticky substance called lupulin. This substance has some essential oils and acids that are responsible for giving the beer its flavour, aroma, and bitterness. They are categorised into two different hops – alpha hops and aroma hops.

  • Flavour 

Alpha hops have a higher concentration of alpha acids – this adds the bitter taste in craft beers. Malt adds sweetness to the brew and hops provide a balance with the bitterness. They add flavours too; different varieties add distinct flavours like floral, piney, spicy, citrusy, fruity, etc.

  • Preservation

Hops contain properties that fight against unwanted bacteria, acting as a natural preservative!

  • Aroma

Aroma hops have a higher concentration of essential oils and lower amounts of alpha acids. This also differs between varieties of hops.

So why do hops taste different?

Hops mainly vary in flavour and aroma depending on where they grow – different weather conditions, soils for example – more importantly however is the number of alpha acids and essential oils inside each type of hops. Generally, the higher the alpha acid level, the more bitter they are!

There are lots of variety of hops, but the most popular fall under the following categories.

  • Noble Hops

Known for their fragrant floral, spice and herbal notes, this group of hops, which generally includes Saaz, Tettnanger, Hallertauer and Spalt among others, are primarily grown in Europe.

The Noble Hop varieties are most commonly associated with Pilsners and German Lagers.

  • English Hops

Known for their earthier woodland and pine characteristic English hops meld ideally with the hefty malt backbone that define the more classic British Pale Ales.

Some of the most prominent English hops are Fuggles, Northern Brewer and Kent Goldings.

  • American Hops

American Hops tend to be bolder and very aromatic. They have high levels of essential oil myrcene, which gives them a scent of pine and citrus.

You can find popular varieties such as the Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo in this particular type.

  • New Zealand Hops

New Zealand hops are the most sought after on the market right now. New Zealand hops are unique in their chemical composition, which is partly down to the New Zealand terroir, meaning that the individual essential oil and alpha acid composition cannot be replicated elsewhere in the world. They are coveted for their citrusy and floral notes and persistent fresh tropical fruit flavors, which span most of the varieties. This profile fits squarely within the new style of juicy, citrus-forward American IPAs. 

A few of the most popular hops in this variety are Nelson Sauvin, Rakau, Motueka, Wakatu and Pacific Jade. 


Check out the chart below to find out other hops' flavour profiles! 

Want to find out more about what goes into making beer? Why not check out our blog All About Malt!



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