Today, hops are used in almost every style of beer. Hops, the female cones of the humulus lupulus plant are used to provide flavor, aromas, and bitterness. How much of each depends on what kind of beer is being made. A European lager for example will have a fairly minimal hop presence compared to an English bitter or India Pale Ale. Today, hops are used so extensively it’s hard to imagine a time when hops had no place in beer at all.
Initially, a variety of herbs and flowers were used to balance beer’s sweetness. Juniper, heather, pine needles, dandelion, and bog myrtle are among the plants commonly used in beer’s production. These herbs were gradually abandoned when brewers discovered that hops protected against spoilage. Hops made their way into beer first in Germany in the 13th century, followed by Holland around 1400. However, hops didn’t make their way to England until the early 1500s and it was a hundred years before they made their way here to the colonies.
Today, hops used in the brewing process can be divided into two categories bittering and aroma. Using hops in is all about extracting their oils during the boil before yeast is added to ferment the beer. The oils providing flavor and aroma are fairly volatile so those hops only get added during the last couple minutes of the boil. Any longer than that and they boil away. Bittering hops on the other hand need to be in the boil for 60-90 minutes to extract bitterness.
I’ve put together a list of bittering and finishing hops used commercially and by home brewers. If you want to use hops for flavor rather than aroma, use the finishing hops and put them in 5 minutes before the end of the boil rather than the 2-3 minutes if you’re using hops for aroma.
1) Brewer’s Gold
Grown in the UK and the U.S. Brewer’s offers poor aroma and sharp bitterness. Often used for ales. Brewer’s Gold has 8-9% Alpha acid. Substitute Bullion, Northern Brewer or Galena. Best used for bitterness rather than flavor and aroma.
Grown in the U.S. Centennial offers spicy, floral, citrus aromas and clean bitterness. Centennial can be used for bitterness or aroma. Centennial is often used for American IPAs. This variety of hop offers 9-11% alpha acid. If you can’t get Centennial, Cascade or Columbus can be used in its place.
A British hop offering strong, spicy aromas. Classic hop for use in English Bitters. Challenger also offers crisp, clean bitterness. As such Challenger can be used either to provide bitterness or aroma to your beer. Alpha acids come in at 6-8%. If you can’t find Challenger try Progress.
American hop with a heavily spicy aroma and strong bitterness. Chinook’s bitterness can be cloying if used in large quantities. Chinook can provide aroma but with 12-14% alpha acids you’re more likely to use it for bitterness. Chinook is also used to make American IPAs. Substitute Galena, Eroica, Brewer’s Gold, Nugget, or Bullion if you can’t find Chinook.
5) Northern Brewer
Grown mostly in the UK, U.S., Germany. Northern Brewer offers a fine, fragrant aroma with dry, clean bitterness. Northern Brewer can be used for bitterness or aroma. This hop can be used for many kinds of ale, sort of a general purpose bittering or aroma hop. Alpha acids come in around 7-8%.
Nugget is grown predominantly in the U.S. and offers heavy, spicy, herbal aroma. Because it has 12-14% alpha acids, Nugget is used mostly for bittering. However, it can be used as a finishing hop either on its own or with other varieties. Substitute Galena, Chinook, or Cluster.
Hailing from Germany and the U.S. Perle has a pleasant aroma. Bitterness is slightly spicy and according to some, almost minty. Perle is a general purpose hop used in many lagers. Alpha acids are 7-9%. Substitute Northern Brewer, Cluster, or Tettnanger.
8) East Kent Goldings
Grown in the UK, this hop offers spicy, floral, earthy, rounded, mild aromas and gently spicy flavors. Kent Goldings are used for bitterness, as a finishing hop and for dry hopping in many British styles. Alpha acids are at 4.5-7% so you may use this hop for aroma or bitterness. As a note for American home brewers, you’ll probably see hops listed just as Goldings when you go to the supply shop. These are what you’ll be looking for.
Fuggles are grown in many parts of the world but come mostly from Britain and the U.S. Aromas are mild, soft, and grassy. Because this variety only offers 3.5-5.5% alpha acids, Fuggles is used predominantly as a finishing hop for ales and lagers. Substitute Goldings, Willamette, or Styrian if you can’t find your Fuggle.
10) Hallertauer Mittelfruh
As you might guess from the name, this hop hails from Germany. It offers pleasant, spicy, noble, mild herbal aromas. Predominantly used as a finishing hop for lagers. Alpha acids are only 3-5% so you’re not likely to use it for bitterness. Substitute Hallertauer Hersbruck, Mt. Hood, Liberty, Crystal, or Ultra.
Northdown is similar to Northern Brewer. Northdown has better flavor and aromas, though. Northdown offers crisp, clean bitterness. With Alpha Acids coming in at 7-8% Northdown is a general purpose bittering hop. But with heavier ales, it can be used for flavor and aroma. If you can’t find Northdown use Target
12) Mt. Hood
An American hop from the Pacific Northwest, Mt. Hood is one of three hops first bred as replacements for Hallertauer Mittelfruh. Aroma is clean and mild. Alpha acid can range anywhere from 3-8%. Mt. Hood is used mostly as a finishing hop and goes nicely in German lagers. Substitute Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Hallertauer hersbrucker, Liberty,
Tettnang, or Ultra.