Aromatic Hops 101
I’m a passionate hophead—I’ll never turn down a strong IPA—and even though I have my go-to beers, I’m always on the lookout for something new. A growing trend within the craft-beer industry these days is to accentuate or highlight a single hop variety, which can be a transcendent experience for beer enthusiasts who love that particular hop but a disappointing discovery for those who don’t. To ensure that your hoppy beer discoveries are only pleasurable, we sought the counsel of Chris Quinn, the owner of the Beer Temple in Chicago and also a master of beer styles and evaluation. He highlighted for us the most popular hops on the market, explaining just what flavors and aromas they’ll add to a brew.
Up until the late 1960s, prevailing beliefs within the beer-making industry cemented European hops as a superior ingredient to their U.S.-grown counterparts. In 1971, however, the USDA Aroma Hop Program unveiled Cascade hops, which served as the catalyst for the American craft-beer movement. “It’s the classic, American, grapefruity hop profile,” says Quinn. “The first beer to highlight it was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. A lot of growers before that thought of it as an inferior hop and used it more as a bittering agent. Sierra Nevada was the first to change that.” Today, most beers include some presence of Cascade hops, but that doesn’t mean it is the defining aromatic ingredient for those beers.
Centennial is another hop variety currently enjoying its time in the spotlight. As Quinn explains, many breweries, especially those in the Midwest, are releasing beers molded solely around Centennial hops. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Founder’s Centennial IPA are the most prominent. “It’s known for being really orange and floral,” he says, though strong pine-resin and grapefruit aromas also come through.
As for other hop varieties at the forefront of the U.S. craft-beer movement, Citra might be the most popular. “Citra just exploded on the beer scene,” Quinn says. “It’s beyond citrus and into big, tropical fruit. I always get mango out of it. It’s really rich and deep.” The 3 Floyds brewery in Munster, Ind., produces an intensely hopped IPA called Zombie Dust, which is, according to Quinn, brewed using only Citra hops. Some double IPAs, like Victory’s DirtWolf, prominently feature Citra hops, though Victory also balances it with Chinook, Simcoe, and Mosaic—a hop that delivers bold, ripe berry flavors. According to Quinn, Chillwave, a double IPA brewed by the Great Lakes Brewing Company, was the first beer to highlight Mosaic hops on a large scale; however, the beer is balanced with Nugget hops, as well. “People are now starting to blend these bigger hops,” he says, “to see how they can play together.”