comparing hops

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What flavors do hops add to beer? The dozens of varieties of hops taste a little different from one to the next. Here’s how to tell them apart, whether you’re a brewer or just want to understand what you’re reading on the label.

Try them

Obviously, the best way to learn what hops taste like is to try them. In the last year or two some breweries have been releasing single hop beers. These give you a chance to isolate the nature each hop variety. The most well known, from Mikkeller, totaled 19 different single-hop IPAs (They’re all listed here, search for “hop series”). Unfortunately, with import costs, it can be hard to swallow the small fortune you have to pay to buy one of each.

At least, that’s how I felt, so I was happy to find a domestic series from Hermitage Brewing Company for very reasonable prices at Bevmo. So far, I’ve tried the five in the photo above, and boy are they different from each other, from the big piney bitterness of Columbus hops to the flowery smell and nutty, spicy flavor of Amarillo. I won’t bore you with all the adjectives I cooked up while drinking these beers.

Read up

For a list of all the characters of different hops tastes, flavors, and scents, a good place to start is this seemingly exhaustive list at Bear Flavored, and the list of hops varieties at Wikipedia.

Use a chart

There are also a couple of infographics that compare the main characteristics of each variety of hops–taste, smell, bitterness. My favorite is this rundown of 40 varieties by Zeke Shore, from the bracingly bitter hops of the Pacific Northwest to the mildly bitter, high-aroma noble hops of central Europe. The chart is huge, so here’s a snippet. Click through for the whole thing.

Hops taste, aroma, and bitterness for 40 varieties--snippet

And Sixpoint Brewery runs down 12 of the most popular varieties. Click for the big version:
Hops taste, aroma, and bitterness for 12 varieties

I’ve been brewing with a few at a time to get a hang for them. Kind of like learning which spices are good together in soup.