I don’t want this piece to be so inaccessible it is impossible to be helpful for the average enjoyer of beer. But some topics require you to get into the weeds a little bit to explain why something is significant. This topic is pretty deep into the hop fields, but trust me — it’s worth it.
As I have stated many times, beer consists of four things: water, hops, malted barley and yeast. There is an ancient law in Germany that dictates this is so. American brewers, and plenty elsewhere, have gotten pretty far away from these principles, but these four ingredients get us the foundations of this conversation.
Hops are the star of the show in American brewing. While I have discussed them before, something happened the other day I thought was funny enough to mention.
First, a primer. Hops are a flowering plant that grows on vines. In order to grow them, sort of like pole beans, you have to string these vines up and in rows in order to harvest them well. I recently read W. Somerset Maugham’s classic “Of Human Bondage,” and the main character, Philip Carey, goes through a life of travails to finally fall in love with the young Sally as they went together with her family to help pick the annual hop crop in England. This practice was a regular part of life it seems. Their romance culminates on a warm autumn evening in the hop yard, not too risqué though this was a book written more than 100 years ago.
The funny thing was I happened to be trying a few new beers with a friend, Derek Yarno, one evening recently. We sometimes get a few mixed six packs from The Open Bottle or Crafted and sample our way through them together. As we were idling away an afternoon, we reached a beer I reacted to quickly as it was an ultra-hoppy New England Style IPA that I didn’t care for. So, I looked at the can that lists the hops used and said, “Dang it; I don’t like Sabro hops.” It occurred to me at that moment having such a preference in such a narrow subject proved I was pretty deep into beer drinking.
Brickstone Brewing is on this trend as well. Its latest series of beers — the Haze-X series — features a rotation of different hops that are on this side of rare and experimental.
The conventional hop market consists of things such as your German noble hops, such as Hallertau, Saaz, Tettnang or Spalt; or your English hops, such as Fuggle, Brewer’s Gold, Northern Brewer or East Kent Goldings. Then, we get to the classic American hops, such as Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus or Willamette. Each of these hops have a particular set of flavor profiles they are known for, and the styles of beers that emerged from these regions largely were dictated by the availability of these hops.
So, if you are interested in trying your hand at recognizing what certain hops taste like, I want to start with some well known and mostly old school entries in the hop game:
Cascade Hop (my favorite hop): Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This is what Pale Ales taste like to me, whether IPA or APA, my gold standard for what a hoppy beer tastes like should be similar to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I love this beer.
Centennial Hop (not the one that stands out to me, but it is one of the top-selling hops): Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is the classic entry in the centennial hop game. Each one of these beers will feature different hops to give beer a balanced approach, but centennial in this one really stands out.
Saaz Hop (such as all of the domestic or macro lagers you are familiar with): Pilsner Urquell lets you know Saaz is the main hop it uses in its Original Pilsner. If you want to know you are dealing with straight Saaz hops, Pilsner Urquell is the beer to drink. Grab a four pack of 16-ounce cans for less than $7 usually; check the freshness date.
Citra Hop (this is the hop that led the way for the newest iteration of the hop craze that led to the hazy IPA trend): I could choose a million beers that feature citra prominently, such as 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and plenty of others, but Brickstone’s Permanent Vacation tastes like no other single-hop citra beer I have had.
East Kent Golding (what a pull this is, huh?): Orkney Skull Splitter Scotch Ale. Trust me — I looked high and low for where I could find an English beer that is single-hopped with an English hop.
Pale Ale from
ABV: 5.6 percent
Style: Pale Ale — American
Brewery’s notes: “Our most popular beer, Sierra Nevada is a delightful interpretation of a classic style. It has a deep amber color and an exceptionally full-bodied, complex characters. Generous quantities of premium Cascade hops give the Pale Ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor.”
Where to buy: You can find this beer almost everywhere — in six packs of 12-ounce bottles or cans for about $10.
Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewing
ABV: 7 percent
Style: IPA — American
Brewery’s notes: “Brewed with 100 percent Centennial hops from the Pacific Northwest and named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this IPA is bursting with hop aromas ranging from pine to grapefruit from massive hop additions in both the kettle and the fermenter.”
Where to buy: You can find this one all over as well in six packs of 12-ounce bottles, usually sometimes cans for about $12.
ABV: 4.4 percent
Style: Pilsner — Czech
Brewery’s notes: “Pilsner Urquell’s signature flavor balances from the triple-decocted malt and the bitterness from our Saaz hops. The thick head of dense wet foam adds smoothness and seals in flavor and aroma.”
Where to buy: You can find this a lot of places in four packs of 16-ounce cans or six packs of 12-ounce bottles for pretty cheap.
Permanent Vacation from Brickstone Brewing
ABV: 6 percent
Style: IPA — American
Brewery notes: “A Citra IPA brimming with delicious notes of pineapple and grapefruit. Perfect for those days where you want to leave work and not come back. As its name suggests, the beers in our Single Hop Series use a single hop in each brew to highlight the unique intricacies of that variety.”
Where to Buy: You can find this at places such as Jewel, Meijer and at the brewpub on draft in 16-ounce pours for about $6.
Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewing
ABV: 8.5 percent
Style: Scotch Ale
Brewery notes: “Skull Splitter is one of our strongest beers, named after Thorfinn Einarsson, the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney. It is a sophisticated, satiny smooth and full-flavored beer. It has a rich fruity wine-like complexity with flavours of fresh and dried fruits, warm exotic spice and mellow summer fruity notes.”
Where to Buy: You can find this one cold in bottles at Ryan’s Pier in 330-ml bottles for $5.75.