The backbone of any beer is water, yeast, malt and hops. Sounds simple, and yet two of these components – malt and hops – are what change the level of beer flavor.
There are more than 100 different styles of hops, mostly in America and Europe (though there is one style from Japan.) These little cone-shaped green flowers bring a broad range of flavor - American style hops often are more piney and citrus while European hops that are more spicy and floral. Some hops can even have a woodsy or almost berry-like aspect to their flavors.
When I started out, if I heard a beer described as "hoppy" I immediately thought that the beer would taste bitter. That isn't always the case. It really depends on when the hops are added into the brewing process what level of bitterness it will give the end result.
That bitterness is definitely an essential piece to the brew because it creates a balance from the sugar released from the yeast. Some beers that are described as "hoppy" generally-speaking just mean they have a lot of the flavors – like a citrus tone, an earthy tone or a floral tone that some hops produce.
I personally like hops more in the citrus range. This can range from grapefruit to tropical fruit, sometimes even lemon or orange. This is not only on the taste of your tongue, but can be enjoyed in the aroma as well. Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Citra are the some of this style hops that I enjoy, all American hops.
Sorachi Ace, the only hop from Japan, also has a lemon-like taste. It is also the name of a great beer by Brooklyn Brewery - a saison aptly named after this auspicious hop.
As for floral or piney hops, try Nugget, Galena, Olympic from America. Just like citrusy hops, these have an aroma of floral or pine that carries into the taste. Not all hops can be clean cut one way or the other. Some of the English and German hops can have a citrus aroma but a floral taste. Many are just a nice spice flavor.
A great thing about hops is that you can take a couple of different kinds and blend them together. Brewers can have fun mixing recipes to create great and varied flavor profiles to entice beer drinkers and try to keep them guessing on what hops have been used.
India pale ales and pale ales are two kinds of beers I enjoy tasting for the different hop complexities. A good example is Fat Head's - Head Hunter IPA with three different hops in the brew. The aroma is reminiscent of pine, but the taste is more like grapefruit. The hop recipe for this beer was Columbus, Simcoe & Centennial hops. Columbus and Centennial help with the citrus flavor and Simcoe adds a bit of its own but also gives the beer the pine scent.
Another example of a mix of hops is Victory Brewing Co's - Hop Wallop. This beer contains a mixture of undisclosed American and English hops. When you drink it, you can smell and taste the differences with its floral nose and mixture of citrusy floral taste.
One of the best ways to learn more about hops and different flavors they bring visit your local brewery and talk to the brewers. They are great sources in breaking down different hops in the beer, and it's a perfect place to taste!
Kathleen Slauzis is a craft beer enthusiast from Indianapolis, IN. She has been learning the ins and outs of the beer and the brewing business for the past four years. You can also find her work on http://IndianaBeer.com/ where she focuses on local craft breweries and follow her on Twitter as @KJLSlauzis.
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