American vs. European Hops: A Thorough Comparison Guide

Want to know the differences between American and European hop varieties? We break it all down and cover the more popular varieties

BREWING INGREDIENTS

Brewpedia

8/29/20235 min read

a hand holding some hops
a hand holding some hops

American vs. European Hops: A Thorough Comparison Guide

One of the most frequently asked questions among craft brewers involves the difference between American and European hop varieties. While both produce quality brewing hops, American and European hops do have some distinct characteristics.

Understanding how these two growing regions typically differ allows brewers to make informed hop selections tailored to their brewing goals and beer styles.

This in-depth guide delves into the unique qualities of American and European hop varieties and growing conditions. Read on to learn how Old World and New World hops compare and contrast.

American Hops Overview

The American hop industry emerged from the experimental breeding work of early settlers. Hops were first cultivated along the Eastern seaboard in Virginia, New York, and New England for brewing the English-style ales popular at the time.

But a turning point arrived in the form of the Cluster hop. Released in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s, Cluster was a hybrid crossbred to thrive in America’s temperate growing regions. It lent unique citrus and floral characteristics.

This first native American hop initiated a new breeding focus on hops with bold aromas and higher alpha acid contents well-suited for bitter American-style lagers and eventually IPAs.

Washington state's Yakima Valley became and remains the nation's primary hop production centre, followed by Oregon and Idaho. Together they grow most hops for the entire U.S. brewing industry.

Since Cluster's debut, American hops evolved from derivatives like Cascade, Centennial and Chinook in the 1970s to the fruit-forward mosaic of modern proprietary varieties today like Citra, Galaxy, Vic Secret, and El Dorado.

Common traits of American hops include:

  • Higher alpha acids - Many American cultivars register over 10% AA for very efficient bittering.

  • Tropical, citrus, stone fruit aromas - Intense aromas ranging from mango and pineapple to peach and melon.

  • Less subtlety - American hops aim for full-on fruit flavour compared to delicate spice or herbal European varieties. When combined, American hops can taste almost juicy.

  • New crosses every year - The competitive U.S. market incentivises continuous new variety development and seasonal offerings.

From the clean bittering of early high alpha varieties to the fruit punch quality of newer proprietary crosses, American hops offer brewers intense boldness.

European Hops Overview

European brewers cultivated hops for many centuries before American cultivars emerged. Growing conditions, cultural styles and goals differed from America’s hop industry:

Origins

  • Germany began centralised breeding efforts in the early 1900s. England, Czechia, Slovenia and Poland also developed regional hops.

Growing Regions

  • Germany's Hallertau region remains the largest European hop supplier, along with Slovenia, Czechia, Poland and the UK.

Propagation

  • More traditional open pollination instead of hybridization produced heirloom hops still used, like Czech Saaz, English Fuggle, and German Hallertauser.

Flavour Contributions

  • European hops favour herbal, spicy, floral and earthy notes instead of fruit. Aromas tend to be more subtle.

  • Bittering levels are restrained. More hops required to achieve American-level bitterness.

Usage

  • Noble hops like Hallertauer used for lagers. English hops flavour traditional ales. Aroma hops add complexity to Belgian beers.

The longer history and cultural styles of the continent allowed refined regional hop varieties to develop across brewing areas of Europe. Traditional landraces still serve as base hops for classic beer styles today.

Comparing American vs. European Hops

While high quality hops reach brewers from both growing regions, American and European hops do differ in some general ways:

Alpha Acid Levels

  • American hops feature alpha acid levels generally ranging between 4-18%. Many sit above 10%.

  • European hops tend to have alpha acid levels of 2-9%. Most German and Czech hops are under 7%. Noble hops sit around 4-6%.

The higher aa% of American varieties means efficient bittering from lower hop additions. Brewers use more European hops by weight to achieve equivalent bitterness.

Aroma Intensity

  • American hops zero in on intense, overt fruit and citrus aromas. Mango, pineapple, grapefruit and other bold scents dominate.

  • European hops have more subtle floral, herbal, spicy aromas. Noble varieties feature reserved, almost minty aromas. English hops add delicate earthiness.

Cost Differences

  • American hops are often priced lower by weight due to high yields. Mass production brings down costs.

  • European hops have smaller harvests overall. More hand selection also makes labour costs higher per pound. Especially true for noble hops.

Crop Reliability

  • American hops benefit from the very concentrated production area of the Pacific Northwest's optimal growing climate. This minimises crop variability.

  • European hops come from a broader growing range with more climate flux. Harvests and qualities fluctuate more year-to-year. Drought or floods disrupt yield consistency.

In general, American hops offer predictably bold, fruit-forward profiles at competitive prices, while European hops provide refined aromas with more vintage variability.

Popular American Hop Varieties

These American hops brewers frequently utilise include:

High Alpha Acid Hops

  • Chinook

  • Columbus

  • Simcoe

  • Centennial

  • Cascade

New Proprietary Flavour Hops

  • Citra

  • Mosaic

  • Galaxy

  • Vic Secret

  • Idaho 7

  • Sabro

  • Ekuanot

Experimental Hops

  • Strata

  • Azacca

  • Kohatu

  • Loral

  • Ariana

With hundreds of American cultivars now available from major growers like Yakima Chief and Hopsteiner, brewers enjoy astounding selection. Breeders compete intensely on releasing the next trendy hop each season.

Popular European Hops

These European hop staples remain classics:

Noble Hops

  • Hallertauer Mittelfrüh

  • Tettnanger

  • Spalt

  • Saaz

English Hops

  • Fuggle

  • Golding

  • Challenger

  • Bramling Cross

  • Target

Polish Hops

  • Lublin

  • Marynka

Slovenian Hops

  • Bobek

  • Styrian Golding

  • Styrian Celeia

Czech Hops

  • Saaz

  • Premiant

  • Vital

  • Bohemian

European brewing continues relying on these heirloom hops that lend tradition to timeless beer styles. Their more demure aromas balance with clean malt backbones.

Choosing Hops by Brewing Goal

If aiming for clean bittering with neutral flavour, either high alpha American or refined noble European hops will work well.

For distinctive flavour and aroma, American hops showcase citrus and tropical fruits while European hops contribute delicate spice and floral notes. Blend both regions for complexity.

For traditional beer styles, stick closely to expected hop profiles - noble hops for Pilsners, English hops for bitter ales, Saaz for Czech lagers, etc.

If cost is a concern, the higher yields and dense growth of American crops make them more affordable overall. Buy European hops in bulk when on sale.

For uniqueness, try annual experimental releases from American growers or rare heirloom European landraces like Slovenian Styrian Wolf or English Bramling Cross.

To stimulate interest and conversation, serve guests single-hopped beers using opposite varieties - an IPA with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh or English bitter with Chinook. Discuss impressions!

In the end, creativity and a willingness to sample many varieties helps discover your perfect hops. Both American and European regions offer fantastic brewing options.

Key Considerations When Selecting Hops

Whether utilising Old or New World hops, keep these factors in mind:

  • Purpose - Match to bittering, flavour additions or aroma/dry hopping

  • Beer style - Select hops suited to the expected profile

  • Alpha acid % - Impacts utilisation and bitterness perceptions

  • Timing - Boil times alter hop characteristics

  • Freshness - Use recently dried hops for optimal aroma

  • Personal taste - Your preferences and style goals ultimately matter most!

To dive deeper into how brewers can use the diverse array of American and European hops available today, check out this guide to hop varieties.

No matter which varieties you favour, always begin brewing with fresh, high quality hops stored cold until use. Handle these delicate cones with care!

Key Takeaways

  • American hops offer predictably bold, fruit-forward profiles while European hops provide refined aromas.

  • American hops contain higher alpha acid levels for efficient bittering compared to more mellow European hops.

  • Hundreds of proprietary American varieties focus on citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavours. Traditional European hops lend subtle floral, herbal and spicy notes.

  • Brewers worldwide utilise hops from both origins to achieve the precise flavour and aroma profiles they desire.

  • Understanding contrasts between American and European hop varieties helps brewers make informed selections tailored to their recipes and beer styles.

No matter your hop preference, embracing the diversity of aromas and flavours from both sides of the Atlantic will make you a better brewer and open new recipe possibilities!

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green leafed plant during daytime