Guide to hops for brewing beer

What is hops in a beer?

Beer is one of the most celebrated alcoholic beverages in the world. In fact, it is the second most popular drink in the world after tea. Compared to many other alcoholic beverages, beer is also low in alcohol, which allows people to drink in moderation. With some exceptions, of course, like the record-breaking world’s strongest beers. 

But what exactly is in this beloved beverage? Well, most of it is made out of water. Then grains and yeast are used. Finally, all beers have hops. But what exactly are hops?

If you are curious about what goes inside a beer or are even preparing to start homebrewing, then continue reading to get an idea of one of the main ingredients - hops. 


In this guide on hops in beer, we will talk about:  


  1. What are hops?
  2. History of hops
  3. Why are hops used in beer?
  4. Different types of hops
  5. Other benefits of hops


What are hops in beer?


Hops are flowering plants with the scientific name Humulus lupulus. It is a climbing plant that has cone-shaped flowers. Inside the flower, you can find yellow pods. Those tiny yellow pods are called lupulin, and they contain resins and essential oils. Lupulin is responsible for the aroma, bitterness, and flavour of the beer. 


History of hops in beer


Nowadays, we cannot imagine making beer without hops. Before the discovery of hops, other spices were used for flavouring and perseverance. The mix of spices used was called gruit. Gruit contained mugwort, heather, and other locally grown spices and herbs. In ancient times, even before hops were used in beer, it was used in traditional medicine. 

The first record of hops being used in commercial brewing dates back to 1079 in Germany. Some ancient documents also suggest that hops were already gathered for beer in 822 AD in a monastery in Germany. In the 13th century, Germans started to export their hoppy beers. Also, in the 13th century, other areas in Europe, like modern Belgium and Holland, started to cultivate hops. From then on, hop cultivation grew rapidly, and hops became a competition for gruit. 



Why are hops used in beer?


The craft beer brewers are after the lupulin in hops that contributes to the taste, aroma and bitterness of beer and balances out the sweetness of the malt. To alter the taste, bitterness and aroma, hops can be added during several points of the brewing process. For example, adding aroma hops early in the brewing process, most essential oils will boil away. Yet, if you add those hops later in the process, you can create a stronger hoppy smell.

Moreover, hops are not only important to the beer flavour and aroma. Hops protect the beer from bacteria and help it preserve longer. 


Different types of hops for brewing beer


Since hops became popular and essential for brewing beer, different varieties of hops have come to the market to allow even more experimenting with beer flavours. Hops are often divided into three categories. There are bitter hops generally used in the boiling process to extract bitterness. There are aroma hops mostly used as finishing hops. And finally, there are dual-purpose hops that are used for both aroma and bitterness.

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Here are some of the most common hops varieties used. These are also great to consider for homebrewing. 

  • Cascade hops

A hop that is often used in IPA’s, Pale Ales and Porters. It has a flowery, spicy and citrus-like quality.

  • Simcoe hops

Often used in Pale Ales, IPA and Double IPA’s, the Simcoe hops have an earthy, piney and citrus flavour profile.  

  • Chinook hops

This hop is very common in most beer styles. The recognizable flavours are pine forest, exotic spices and grapefruit. 

  • Citra hops

Citra hops are often used in American Ales, Amber beers and IPA. It adds tropical fruit and citrus characters to the beer.

  • Amarillo hops

Used in Ales and IPAs, the Amarillo hops have a flowery and citrus-like aroma with a medium level of bitterness.

  • Lambic hops

As the name suggests, lambic hops are used in lambics because of their low bitterness.

  • Saaz hops

Mostly used in lagers and pilsners, the Saaz hops have an aromatic blend, earthy flavours, and low bitterness.

  • Nugget hops

Nugget hops are common for Ales and Stouts. It was one of the primary bittering hops, but now has a lot of competition. 

  • Crystal hops

The Crystal hops are often used in German-style pilsners, lagers, Belgian Ales and Kölsch. The Crystal hop has a balanced blend of flowers and spice and has a low bittering value.

  • Mosaic hops

You can find this often in Brown Ales, Pale Ales and IPA. Mosaic is a complex hop with earthly, grassy, tropical and herbal characteristics.


Other benefits of hops


Research has shown that hops are not only useful to preserve or add taste to beer but there are also some health benefits. 

For instance, some substances in hops help slow down the formation of dental plaque. Therefore, some extracts are used in mouthwash or orally dissolving tablets. Another extract in hops slightly reduces the symptoms of menopause. Hops have even been used to fight against anxiety, depression and insomnia. Though there is no clinically confirmed data for this, some trials with combinations of other plants have shown mild but positive results. 


Further reading

How to make a beer.

Other important ingredient for making a beer: malt.

What are home brewing kits?


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