Hops are an essential part of every delicious beer. The oil from those small leafy cones deliver a spicy, fruity, and zesty bouquet of flavor to every sip. Not all hops are the same, though. Each variety has a different taste and aroma. Some of the most famous hop varieties are grown in the Pacific Northwest.
The heavy hitting hops in brews like India Pale Ales have recently surged in popularity, especially on the American craft beer scene. The Yakima and Willamette Valleys are a hop wonderland. Western Canada, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington feature expansive hop acreage.
Hops need specific weather patterns to flourish, and the Pacific Northwest happens to have perfect conditions. About 98% of American hops are grown there, meaning that just about any American beer you taste has the flavor of the Pacific Northwest.
Just as you’d read the ingredients on food packaging to guess about taste and quality, knowing what each hop variety brings to the beer is a great way to determine how each beer will taste.
These hops are well-balanced and deliver a very level amount of bitterness. They have a medium amount of alpha acid, giving them a well-balanced profile. Their spice and pine aromas are what make them distinct. They have a short growing season and are very productive.
The herbal aroma and flavor of Nugget hops have made it a popular choice for breweries large and small. As a duel purpose hop, it serves as the backbone for many of the most popular India Pale Ales and imperial ales. Another high alpha variety, it’s known for its woody bitterness. It gives an earthy flavor to beers across the spectrum.
This variety is categorized as a “super high alpha”, and brings heady grapefruit and citrus aromas and flavors. It has a high acid level, so it’s used in stronger offerings for its characteristic orange and pine flavors.
Fast growing and high yield, Willamette hops are the most widely grown hop in the United States. They’re mostly used for aroma due to their relatively low acid content. It has a characteristic spicy pepper aroma, making it an essential part of English style ales, porters, and pale ales.
The floral and citrus tones that are coming at you from that pale ale could be from Cascade hops. Craft brewers use Cascade hops to give their brews a bright, flowery aroma. Its grapefruit and citrus nose make it one of the most popular hops in American beer.
There are, of course, many more varieties of hops that put the power in your favorite brews. To really explore the background and subtleties of each brew, research the hops that make it unique.