Beer is traditionally brewed with just four simple ingredients; malt, yeast, hops and water. each of those four elements adds something to the flavor of the finished beer, and the brewer decides how to combine them. It’s quite common to hear people talk about how they prefer the taste of “hopped beers”, but sometimes it’s not clear exactly what they mean. Let’s take a closer look at what flavors hops add to craft beers and how breweries in Seattle use them.
what does a “hoppy beer” taste like?
history of hops
The hop plant is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt and was used as a salad plant. It is believed that it was first used to flavor a fermented beverage in medieval Germany, from where its cultivation spread throughout Europe. Ale, an unhopped beer, fell out of favor as the use of hops became more widespread. hops can be added to beer during or after fermentation. their primary purpose is to add bitterness to the brew, but they can also add a range of other flavor characteristics.
hops are added to the wort as it enters the boiling stage of the brewing process. the high temperatures to which the plant is exposed cause the release of isohumulone, which brings a bitter taste to the hot must. brewers prefer certain varieties of hops for this purpose. they tend to be high in alpha acids, which break down on boiling to produce isohumulone. Chinook, Galena, Cumbre, and Centennial are good examples of hops that are selected specifically for their bitterness.
chinook adds a medium bitterness and gives notes of grapefruit, pine resin and sometimes a bit of spice. This is an American hop that was originally developed in 1974 as a cross of Petham Golding and another unnamed hop known only by USDA reference number 63102M. Most Chinook is grown in Washington, with a small amount produced in Oregon.
Galena is a medium bitter hop that adds citrus elements. It is high in alpha acids and was developed in Idaho from Brewer’s Gold in 1968. It imparts a nice, smooth bitterness to the finished beer.
This is a very high alpha acid content hop, so it imparts a fantastic bitterness to the beer. it also gives off a certain earthy quality to the finished beer along with the incense and anise. It is a semi-dwarf variety that was developed in the United States.
centennial is a floral hop that provides a lot of perfume and a medium hoppy bitterness. expect floral and piney notes from this hop. is a more recently developed hop that was the cornerstone of the revolution in American craft brewing.
As their name suggests, aromatic hops impart complex aromas and flavors to a beer. they have a lower level of alpha acids than bitter hops. Because they contain delicate essential oils, these hops are added later in the brewing process so they are not exposed to high temperatures that can damage or destroy them. In a process called “dry-hopping,” hops are added late in the beer’s final fermentation, when most of the carbon dioxide bubbling has already stopped and the beer is conditioning. this helps preserve aromatic oils. aromatic hop varieties include cascade, czech saaz, and fuggles.
this was the first hop to come from the usda breeding program and is the basis of the flavor profile of most west coast ipas. It’s known for adding a delicious note of grapefruit, but also provides layers of spice and some floral notes.
This is considered one of the “noble” hop varieties because it has been grown in Europe for hundreds of years and is one of the things that gives classic lagers in Europe their distinctive flavor. it’s a bit spicy and adds interesting herbal qualities to the beer.
this is the classic hop used for aroma in england. gives floral, minty and earthy notes to a beer.
hops are sometimes added to a brew mid-boil to achieve a kind of compromise. typically, a lower alpha acid hop is chosen. some bitterness is released and not all of the delicate aromatic oils are destroyed, so lower levels of both bitterness and flavor are achieved. the final hops are similar, added just before the end of the boil to add a touch of bitterness and leave behind stronger aromatic qualities. As in all brewing, the key to success is balance.
One hop that is perfect for use as a flavor and finishing hop is simcoe. it can be detected in a beer where you can taste bubble gum or maybe berries and passion fruit. sometimes it can even give a more resinous pine flavor. the combination of fruity and earthy characteristics is quite unusual and probably explains why this hop has become so widely used. it’s popular with craft and home brewers alike.
which styles of beer use the most hops?
Beers that are most likely to be described as “hoppy” are those with the most bitter taste or those with fruity and floral aromas. dark beers, such as porters and stouts, are dominated by the flavor of the malt component, so they would never be described as “hoppy.” however, a West Coast ipa, for example, is likely to have a very high level of bitterness along with citrus flavors. both flavors come from the hops.
new england ipa
This style of ipa features very intense elements of grapefruit and tropical fruit. it has usually been dry-hopped so heavily that it will appear slightly fuzzy. Since neipa have a slightly fuller body, their bitterness is usually a bit lighter on the palate, making them very smooth to drink.
This hoppy lager is different from a lager because it’s brewed with ale yeast. British hops such as Fuggles and Goldings were traditionally used to produce a beer with a light malt character, balanced with delicate floral, earthy and spicy hop notes.
west coast ipa
Brewed with a lot of boiling hops, West Coast ipas are known for their high levels of bitterness. dry-hopping adds flavors of grapefruit and orange. West Coast ipa brewers often brew with hop varieties that add piney notes to their beers. New hop varieties are always being developed, so the kaleidoscope of flavors they can offer continues to grow and expand. however, as a general rule, hops add bitter flavors to beer along with a full spectrum of aromatic notes that can range from woody, spicy, and earthy to floral, citrus, and fruity. Hops are used in different parts of the brewing process to manage how you enjoy the aroma balance in the beer you drink at Seattle Breweries. stop by the tiny brewery to sample some of our beers, and we’ll be happy to point out the hoppiest one for you to enjoy!
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