Different Types of Hop Varieties for Brewing Beer

Explore the different varieties of hops used in beer brewing, and how you can impart new flavours using different types and processes.


Mat Stuckey

8/29/20235 min read

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green leaves in tilt shift lens

Different Types of Hop Varieties for Brewing Beer

One of the most critical elements in crafting unique, complex-tasting beers is understanding how to effectively utilise the vast array of hop varieties available in today's market. Hops serve multiple functions in the brewing process, contributing essential elements of bitterness, flavour, and aroma that distinguish one beer style from another.

While brewing recipes often specify when to add hops, the selection of the right hop variety for each stage is a nuanced process. It's a blend of both science and art, requiring a deep understanding of each hop's characteristics and how they interact with other ingredients.

This guide aims to provide you with an in-depth overview of popular hop types, their unique profiles, and how they lend themselves to various brewing applications. So, let's dive into the fascinating world of hops!

The Importance of Hop Terroir

Just as grapes for wine are influenced by their growing conditions or "terroir," hops too have their own terroir that impacts their aroma, flavour, and bittering qualities. Understanding hop terroir can give you an edge in selecting the perfect hops for your brew.

Factors Influencing Hop Terroir:

  • Soil Quality: The mineral content and pH levels of the soil can significantly affect the hop's growth and the concentration of its essential oils.

  • Climate: Temperature, rainfall, and humidity levels during the growing season can influence the hop's alpha and beta acid contents.

  • Geographical Location: Some hop varieties are best suited to specific regions. For example, Saaz hops thrive in the Czech Republic, while Cascade hops are well-suited for the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.

Benefits of Understanding Hop Terroir:

  • Flavour Complexity: Knowing the terroir can help you predict the hop's flavour profile more accurately, allowing for more complex and nuanced brews.

  • Sustainability: Local hops reduce the carbon footprint, making your brewing process more sustainable.

  • Unique Brews: Utilising hops from different terroirs can result in unique, one-of-a-kind beers that stand out in a crowded market.

Popular Regions and Their Signature Hops:

  • Pacific Northwest, U.S.: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook

  • Germany: Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt

  • United Kingdom: Fuggle, Golding, Challenger

Understanding the concept of hop terroir not only enriches your knowledge but also elevates your brewing skills, enabling you to craft beers that are both flavourful and unique.

Bittering Hop Varieties

Bittering hops play a crucial role in the brewing process, primarily serving to balance the sweetness imparted by the grains. These hops are usually added during the initial stages of boiling the wort. This process isomerises their alpha acids, transforming them into iso-alpha acids that offer a flavourful but non-fruity bitterness.

Desirable Traits for Clean Bittering Hops:

  • High Alpha Acid Content: A high percentage of alpha acids maximises the efficiency of the bittering process. This allows for smaller hop additions while still achieving the desired bitterness level. Essentially, high alpha acid hops give you more "bitter bang for your buck."

  • Coarse Flavours: These hops should have clean, neutrally dank or resiny flavours. This prevents any harsh or unwanted aftertastes in the finished brew.

  • Low Aroma: Bittering hops with minimal aromatic oils are ideal as they allow the aroma of other finishing hops to come through clearly.

Top Bittering Hop Choices:

  • Magnum

  • Northern Brewer

  • Nugget

  • Pacific Gem

  • Galena

  • Warrior

Insight: A single high-alpha hop like Magnum or Warrior can efficiently bitter full batches of IPA. However, don't shy away from exploring blending options to create a unique bitterness profile.

Dual Purpose Hop Varieties

Dual purpose hops offer the best of both worlds. They can be used both for bittering and for adding aroma and flavour. These hops are known for their versatility and are often used either early in the boil or later at flameout.

Desirable Traits for Dual Purpose Hops:

  • Moderate Alpha Acids: These hops have enough alpha acids to contribute some level of bitterness to the brew.

  • Robust Aromas: What sets dual purpose hops apart are their strong, fruity aromas. These aromas become more pronounced when the hops are used later in the brewing process or during dry hopping.

Top Dual Purpose Hop Choices:

  • Chinook

  • Columbus

  • Centennial

  • Simcoe

  • Cascade

Insight: Their bold profiles of orange, pine, and citrus make these hops a staple in American IPAs, especially when late or dry hopping is involved.

Finishing Hop Varieties

Finishing hops are added during the final minutes of the boil or during the whirlpool stage. They provide a balance to the malt flavours without adding grassy notes.

Desirable Traits for Finishing Hops:

  • Moderate Bitterness: These hops offer a balanced bitterness without any harshness.

  • Distinct Aromas: Finishing hops are known for their unique aromas, ranging from citrus to tropical and stone fruits.

  • Oil Retention: These hops have the ability to retain their aromatic oils even when subjected to brief boiling times.

Top Finishing Hop Choices:

  • Amarillo

  • Azacca

  • El Dorado

  • Idaho Gem

  • Mosaic

Insight: Blending a few different finishing hops can create a complex aroma profile that carries through to the final beer, making it more intriguing and enjoyable.

Dry Hop Varieties

Dry hopping is the process of adding hops during the fermentation or conditioning stages. This imparts a pure hop aroma without adding any bitterness to the beer.

Desirable Traits for Dry Hopping:

  • Intense Aroma: These hops contribute a strong, appealing aroma to the finished beers.

  • Low Cohumulone Levels: Lower levels of cohumulone help to limit any potential harshness in the beer.

  • Stability: These hops remain stable even during extended periods of dry hopping, ensuring a consistent aroma.

Top Dry Hop Choices:

  • Citra

  • Galaxy

  • Vic Secret

  • Sabro

  • Mandarina Bavaria

  • Nelson Sauvin

Insight: A single hop like Citra is perfect for hazy IPAs, but layering 2-3 different hops can create an irresistible fruit cocktail aroma.

Experimental Hops

For homebrewers, part of the excitement comes from experimenting with unique, limited-release hops. These are often introduced annually and offer a chance to create truly unique brews.

Top Experimental Hops:

  • Idaho 7

  • Strata

  • Triumph

  • EXP-331

  • BARI-11

Insight: Programs like Hopsteiner's breeding initiative introduce new hop crosses every year. This gives you the opportunity to experiment and perhaps discover a new favourite for your brewing repertoire.

Key Considerations When Selecting Brewing Hops

  • Activity - Alpha acid and oil percentages impact intensity

  • Timing - When added affects utilisation and flavour

  • Purpose - Match hops to bittering, flavour or aroma goals

  • Blending - Single hops or combining 2+ types

  • Variety - Hundreds to choose from!

  • Freshness - Brew with bright, dank, recently dried cones

With so many hops to choose from, the options may seem endless for creative brewers! To read more about leveraging different hop varieties in your homebrew recipes, check out the Brewpedia blog here:

The next batch you brew can take drinkers on a hop flavour journey when you thoughtfully match varieties to each addition. Just resist drinking the recipe potential away!

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