Each hop type has its own aroma profile, revealing its unique blend of aromatic oils. This also varies by where the hops are produced, and changes slightly from year to year. Getting a good understanding on the detailed aroma profiles of the different varieties is a hard task for all brewers, made even trickier by the fact that our terminology for hops is basic and incomplete.
Brewers and breeders separate hops into three classes: those utilised for bittering and purchased on the basis of the quantity of alpha acid; premium low-alpha hops utilised only for their aroma; and hops which are deemed to be dual-use, providing pleasant aromas and moderate alpha levels. This system provides no information about their aromatic personalities. With the great numbers of hop breeds available, it is useful to split them into groups of similar characteristics. National source is one option for classifying, however, this doesn’t work so well seeing as some hop varieties are bred in one place precisely to taste like hops from another country. So a flavour-based classification system is better.
The exact ratio between the varieties of aromatic oils provides a precise, if very complex, amount of aromatic profile, but with over 100 different oils, it gets baffling very quickly. One particular oil, cohumulone, is a useful marker for a pungent character which is considered the antithesis of noble, and indeed low-cohumulone hops are clean and mellow in aroma, but current studies have shown that the “low-co” measurement may be overvalued.
We’ve split the hop varieties into neat, clear classes. But keep in mind that this is not a be all and end all guide and skims over some fine points of individual hop personalities.
Inside each class there is a development from top to bottom from one flavour characteristic to the next. Behind each hop name is a bar chart displaying relative bitterness in alpha acid percentage; the faded area indicates the extent of the minimum and maximum levels.
There are connections between the groups too. Some view Styriacs as just an extension of some English characteristics, or maybe a bridge to Continental “spicy” Saaz aromas. Bittering hops can all be categorised together, as you’re not attaining much character out of. Generally, with bittering hops you’re making sure they support, or at least get out of the way of your aroma hops. Hops with related aromas are close to one another on the list. If attempting to locate a substitute, go for hops located close to the hop you’re trying to replace. Notice the direction; do you want to go sharper or more classic? Move up or down the list respectively, and, of course, keep in mind the differences in bitterness and adjust quantities accordingly.
If you would like to learn more about the individual hops, take a look at our Hop Varieties in Detail guide.
This group characterises the band of Germanic hops, from the dry herbaceous, virtually minty aromas of the beauitful Hallertau Mittelfrüh and close varieties, through spicy types such as Hersbrucker and Spalt and their variations. They’re all usually low- to mid-alpha content, bred specifically for aroma.
This is a class of hops with Saaz as its homeland. The Saaz family is usually labelled with the vague term “spicy,” once you smell them, you’ll understand this term isn’t quite correct. The aroma is special and delightful, but delicate and delicate at the same time. Saaz defies attempts to reproduce its Czech character in other areas; however its relatives flourish in distant regions such as Poland, the United States, and Asia. As you get to the bottom of the chart, the aromas get less pure and Saazy, acquiring notes of fruit, lemongrass, and various complex aromas.
Traditional English hop aromas are challenging to describe, but are usually considered to be green, tangy, and slightly grassy, perhaps with slight spiciness too. This uniquely English profile is vital for pale ales and IPAs. East Kent arose as the English hop-growing area throughout the eighteenth century, and Goldings from that region were the considered to be the gold standard for the strong, pale, and very highly hopped October beers that would ultimately change into IPAs. Experimental breeding, particularly with dwarf varieties, has yielded great results. Attempts to create hops with this noticeable character outside of England have only been partly successful. As you drop down the list, the hops become increasingly fruity and sometimes even edgy, with varying degrees of earthiness. Near the very bottom, they calm down into a cool woodsiness which is particularly great in dark beers.
Styria is an area in Slovenia where a form of Fuggles has been produced for a century or more by the name Styrian Goldings. In this area, Fuggles are more ethereal and less earthy than in their original location, and are strong enough to stand alone in pale beers, they are particularly popular in Belgium because of this. On this chart, the classic type is found in the middle; higher, the hops become more bright and elegant; below it, slightly more earthy and spicy. All the hops in this class have beautiful aromatic profiles.
During the 1970s, classic Old World breeds crossed with New World wild hops formed new strains with pungent, floral, piney, and citrusy profiles. These developed into the heart and soul of the new American pale ales that emerged around 1980 with great beers such as Anchor Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
This is a somewhat unruly class of newer hops with a distinct personality, displaying aromas of apricot, passionfruit, wine grapes, and other fruits.
Generally, these hops are really only used for bittering. Lots of the older varieties were created as practical workhorses without much thought of elegance, as a result some of them can be pretty pungent, but as bittering hops, that particularly matter. Some brewers may elect to get some aroma out of them for historic or sentimental reasons; the majority of these hops are best used early in the boil, allowing other hops to fulfil aroma duties. At the top of the chart we find hops with neutral or delicate aromatic character that won’t get in the way of elegant aromas from noble varieties like Hallertau. Moving toward the bottom, the character becomes more resiny, citrusy, and earthy.