Beer has four ingredients. Sometimes more, never less. They are: grain, water, yeast and spice. Nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine times out of a thousand, that spice is hops.
Hops serve two basic functions when it comes to making beer: the bitterness balances the sweetness from the malt (germinated and kilned grain) and the essential oils add aroma and flavor. When hops are added early in the beer making process and boiled, they impart bitterness. Added later, during or after fermentation, the hops impart aroma.
Back before refrigeration, hops served an important third function: preserving beer with to their antibacterial properties. That’s part of the reason hops won the honor of becoming the preferred beer spice.
Here are seven hops along with a few easy-to-find beers that feature them so you can try the hops out for yourself. Read, drink, enjoy. Cheers.
Bred in the 50s by the USDA Hops Breeding Program at Oregon State University, Cascade was the Pacific Northwest’s top hop by acreage for five years running (until Citra bumped it from the top spot last year).
When NorCal brewery Sierra Nevada changed the world of craft beer world with its seminal Pale Ale, it was Cascade hops, and only Cascade hops they used (and still use). So if you consider yourself a fan of hoppy craft brews, Cascade is the hop you’ll address your thank you letter to.
Cascade hops are: A good balance between citrus and floral aromas. A bright, clean hop flavor. Notes of grapefruit and gardenias.
Beers brewed with Cascade hops
- Sierra Nevada: Pale Ale
- Anchor Brewing: Liberty Ale
- Santa Fe Brewing: Pale Ale
- Summit Brewing: Extra Pale Ale
Officially, it’s Simcoe ® Brand YCR 14. Patented by Yakima Chief Ranches (YCR), it’s one of a growing number of proprietary hops (meaning YCR owns the variety and decides which hop farms are allowed to grow it). They also control how its grown, harvested, and kilned. Currently they’ve got 42 hop farmers growing their hop brands (which also include Citra, Loral, and Mosaic). Whether that’s creepy and authoritarian, or a reliable way for brewers to get a consistent product is up to you to decide.
The Simcoe offers up a “dank” weed-like character (representing that confirmed familial association between Humulus lupulus and Cannabis sativa) and is used in resinous IPAs.
Simcoe hops are: Earthy, resinous, piney. “Dank” and earthy. High alpha (bittering) acids make it a popular bittering hop.
Beers brewed with Simcoe hops
- Founders Brewing reDANKulous
- Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder
- Deschutes Brewery Fresh Haze IPA
- New Belgium Ranger IPA
Here’s another Yakima Chief proprietary hop and the hop that last year toppled Cascade, the former queen of PNW hop farms. Released in 2007, Citra is, like its name suggests, a hop with loads of citrusy aroma. It imparts a bright, juicy flavor making it popular in NEIPAs or juicy IPAs. It’s generally a later-stage hop used for flavor and aroma, not bittering.
On the more expensive end of the hop spectrum, brewers will often use Citra in a single hop brew, or otherwise highlight the usage of the hop. If you’re gonna spend the dollar bills, might as well let people know about it.
Citra hops are: Juicy, fruity, citrusy. Notes of lime, pine, and tropical fruit. Big aroma.
Beers brewed with Citra hops
- Santa Fe Brewing: Happy Camper IPA
- Anchor Brewing: Brewer’s Pale Ale
- Lagunitas: Super Cluster
- 3 Floyds: Zombie Dust
- Sierra Nevada: Torpedo IPA
The great ancestor hop, grown since the middle ages, Saaz is one of the four “noble hops.” Currently grown in just about all hop-growing regions, it’s originally from the city of Žatec in what was Bohemia and it’s still the most-grown hop in the Czech Republic.
Lacking the flashy new qualities of giant aromas and big fruit, Saaz is an herbal, woody hop with a crisp, zippy flavor and hints of lemon aroma. It’s a go-to choice for pilsners and features in both Pilsner Urquell and Stella Artois.
Saaz hops are: Crisp, tangy, lemony. Woody with a hint of spice. A classic “beer” aroma. The traditional pilsner hop.
Beers brewed with Saaz hops
- Lagunitas: PILS
- Pilsner Urquell
- Stella Artois
- Sierra Nevada: Summerfest
- Santa Fe Brewing: Freestyle Pilsner
- Goose Island: Summertime
Developed by the German Hop Research Institute in Huell, Magnum is a German hop (grown worldwide) with a high alpha content (such hops are generally used for bittering). Magnum in particular makes a good bittering hop as the bitterness it imparts is clean and the low aroma keeps it from interfering with the qualities of the hops brewers add later for aroma and flavor.
Magnum hops are: Clean bittering. Neutral aroma with a bit of spice.
Beers brewed with Magnum hops
- Stone Brewing: Stone IPA
- Sierra Nevada: Hop Bullet Double IPA
- Marble Brewing: Oatmeal Stout
- Coast Brewing: Blackbeerd Imperial Stout
Hops have been called the “grapes of beer.” Sure, that makes no sense. Basically it means: like the terroir in grapes — wherein one can taste the soil composition, sea breezes, sunshine, et cetera in wine — hops are also altered and influenced by where they’re grown.
Goldings are an example of that influence. The original Golding, the East Kent Golding comes from, well, East Kent and has been grown there since the 1700s. It’s a mild, smooth hop with a spicy, herbal quality and a bit of honey sweetness. US Goldings, while similar, are a little less spicy and take on notes of fruit and citrus. Both are classically English and show up often in English bitters, barleywines and stouts.
Goldings hops are: Mildly bitter. Gentle smooth aroma with notes of herbal tea. A bit of honey. A little floral.
Beers brewed with Goldings hops
- Deschutes Brewery: Jubelale (Winter Ale)
- Brooklyn Brewery: Brooklyn East IPA
- Second Street Brewery: ESB
- Left Hand Brewing: Sawtooth Ale
- Odell Brewing: Cutthroat Porter
Australia and New Zealand are steadily gaining in their share of hop production. Hops don’t grow well everywhere — but Oceania is turning into a prime region. A proprietary hop, Galaxy was developed for nine years and released in 2009 by Hop Products Australia. Only grown in Australia (but used in beers worldwide) Galaxy takes the aromatic, fruity hop to the extreme. Intense tropical and stone fruit aromas — especially pineapple and peach — make it more suited to late and dry hopping where the essential oils are left to do their thing.
Galaxy hops are: Fruity. They’ve got fruit, fruit and more fruit. Passionfruit, black currant, pineapple, peach.
* Another hop from the southern hemisphere getting a good amount of attention these days is Motueka, a hop bred specifically to capitalize on the juicy, fruity hop craze and increase New Zealand’s hop sales.
Beers brewed with Galaxy hops
- Stone Brewing: Ripper
- Alaskan Brewing Co: SMaSH Galaxy IPA (single malt, single hop)
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: Southern Hemisphere IPA
- Rogue: Combat Wombat