Beer Blog

Beer 101 - Hops

Hops, latin name Humulus lupulus, are in many ways the lifeblood of the beer. Barley gives beer it's backbone, yeast provides a dose of magic by turning sugar into alcohol, but hops account for flavor, aroma, and stability in beer. The piney, citrusy, woody, fruity, flowery, and bitter flavors and aromas in beer come from the hops used to brew that beer. Hops are also a natural preservative and antibiotic. It's the hops that keep the beer drinkable over extended periods of time and also keep it safe to drink.

Hops have also increasingly become a hotbed of plant genetics as farms, universities, and laboratories work to create newer varieties of hops to impart specific flavors, aromas, or properties. Beers using these newer hop varieties are well worth checking out. For the most part however, hops fall into some basic categories and there are a few hop varieties that you'll encounter over and over again.

Hops have a bitterness that's measured by alpha acid units some breweries will give the AAU of a beer but a more common measurement for a beer's bitterness is IBUs or International Bitterness Units. Hop varieties are still measured in AAUs however. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer/hops.

American Hops


(AAU range: 8% to 11%) One of my favorite hop varieties, Amarillo, official name VGXP01 c.v., was created, patented, and is exclusively grown by Virgil Gamache Farms out of Toppenish, WA in 2000. It's an increasingly popular hop in craft brewing and has what I would consider a unique fruity flavor that is just a touch sweeter than most citrus hops. It's used most often in pale ales or IPAs and is a dual-purpous hop which means it's used for both aroma and bittering (flavor).

Where to find it in Ballard: Reuben's Amarillo Fresh Hop Pale, NW Peak's Amarillo Fresh Hop IPA

(sadly both of these are seasonal and may have been one time only beers)

What to look for: Aroma: citrus, grapefruit Flavor: sweet citrus, orange, tangerine


(AAU range: 4.5% - 6%) Arguably the most american of hop varieties. It was developed back in 1971 by the US Department of Agriculture at their hop breeding program at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It was the first commercial hop from the program and has been used heavily since the start of the craft brewing movement for both aroma and bittering. It is used most often in pale ales and IPAs.

Where to find it in Ballard: Reuben's Robust Porter, Maritime Imperial Pale Ale, Hilliard's 12th Can

What to look for: Aroma: flowery, spicy, citrus, grapefruit Flavor: citrus, grapefruit


(AAU range 9% - 12%) Centennial is often refered to as a "Super Cascade" hop due to the fact that it has a similar flavor profile but is slightly more bitter (notice the higher AAUs). But confusingly, while it's more bitter, the flavors are less pronounced. It's still a flowery, grapefruity aroma and flavor, but it will be a bit more subtle. Just as with Cascade you'll find this in pale ales and IPAs for both flavor and aroma.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: flowery, spicy, citrus, grapefruit Flavor: citrus, grapefruit


(AAU range: 12% - 14%) A great example of a Washington hop, Chinook is a dual-purpose hop that was developed by the USDA's hop breeding program in Prosser, Washington and is grown primarily around Yakima. It's a fairly bitter hop with some great herbal spice and pine characteristics. One of the original hop varieties it was created with was a wild hop variety found in Utah. It makes a great hop for Pale Ales where the malt profile lets the characteristics of Chinook shine.

Where to find it in Ballard: Stoup IPA (Dry Hopped)

What to look for: Aroma: pine, spice, woody Flavor: pine, spice


(AAU range: 11% - 13%) Citra is a relatively new hop having been released only in 2009 by the Hop Breeding Company. It's increasingly popular in craft brewing because of the unique flavor and aroma it gives the beer. Instead of the traditional citrus notes, Citra has a tropical slant to it and you'll get mango and pineapple flavors in beers that use Citra. The combination that came together to make Citra includes hops from the USA, Germany, and the UK, and the worldly combination works best in IPAs and pale ales.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: mango, tropical fruit, citrus Flavor: mango, lychee, tropical fruit, citrus


(AAU range: 14% - 16%) Sometimes called CTZ, Columbus is a wide-ranging, popular hop that is known for it's bittering properties. Another one of the distinctly American hops, it's often used in conjunction with other hops, so it's tough to pull out individually. It tends to have a very herbal, or earthy aroma and imparts the same flavors to beers that use it. You'll often find Columbus in IPAs, pale ales, Imperial Stouts, or any other beer that wants a very bitter edge.

Where to find it in Ballard: Stoup NW Red, Urban Family Brewing Low Hanging Fruit IPA

What to look for: Aroma: orange, pine Flavor: herbal, woody


(AAU range: 12% - 14%) Another dual-purpose hop grown in the Yakima Valley (we live in a beautiful state), it's also relatively new having been released in 2000 by Yakima Chief Ranch. Brewers use Simcoe for both aroma and bittering. It has a very piney or wood aroma that contrasts nicely with a more citrus flavor in beers. You'll find it most often in IPAs and Double IPAs.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: pine, wood Flavor: citrus, grapefruit


Another hop created as part of the USDA program at Oregon State in 1976, Willamette is sort of an American answer to the English hop varieties. It's named after the Willamette river in southern Washington and northern Oregon. It is similar in characteristics to the Fuggle hop which means it has a softer, spice and earthy profile. It's a great hop for ales and lagers and is largely used for aroma.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: wood, earth, spice Flavor: wood, earth, flowers, spice

English Hops

East Kent Goldings

(AAU range 4% - 5.5%) One of the most traditional hop varieties, Goldings are the quintessential English hop. There are numerous members of the Goldings family (including some grown in the US), but those grown in East Kent in the UK are called East Kent Goldings. East Kent has been around since 1790 making it one of the older commercial hop varieties. I find East Kent hops to have a subtle earthy, flowery, and slightly spicy aroma with a similar flavor profile though East Kent Goldings are mostly an aroma hop. You'll often find them in lagers or ales like an ESB.

Where to find it Ballard: Hale's Ales Troll Porter, Reuben's Dry Stout (US Goldings), Hilliard's Saison (US Goldings)

What to look for: Aroma: earthy, floral, spice Flavor: sweet spice, earthy


(AAU range 5%) Another classic English hop, Fuggle is often used as a parent for other varieties including Willamette. It was introduced in 1875 by Richard Fuggle, which is where the hop derives its name. It has a very earthy profile and is slightly sweeter than East Kent Goldings. It's primary use is as an aroma hop and you'll most often find Fuggles in English ales.

Where to find it Ballard

What to look for: Aroma: earthy, spice Flavor sweet spice, earthy

Northern Brewer

(AAU range 9% - 12%) Northern Brewer was bred in England by a professor at Wye College in 1934 but one of the parents was an unnamed native American hop which gave Northern Brewer it's higher bitterness compared to other English varieties. It's primary use is as a bittering hop and it imparts a very nice woody, earthy, pine-mint flavor to beers that use it. Northern Brewer is a great hop for lager beers and English Ales. It's especially popular in the California Common style of beer.

Where to find it in Ballard: Reuben's California Lager

What to look for: Aroma: woody, earthy Flavor: pine, mint, earthy

Noble Hops

(AAU range 3.5% - 5.5%) The Noble Hops is the name that's come to mean some selected variety of old world hops, largely from Germany and the area around the Czech republic. As a group they tend to have similar crisp, floral aromas and flavors that you'll probably be familiar with from most Pilsner beers.


Like Goldings, Halleratu (sometimes Hallertauer) is actually a group of hops that have been subdivided. It's a German hop variety and has a very deep history in German brewing tradition. It's named for the Hallertau region in Germany, which is the world's largest hop growing region. In general the Hellertau hop family exhibits the same crisp, spicy aroma. There's a slight smooth bitterness flavor as well. You'll find this beer in German lagers or pilsner style beers.

Where to find it in Ballard: Hilliard's Opulator Doppelbock

What to look for: Aroma: spicy Flavor: mild bitterness


(AAU range 3% - 5%) Maybe the most famous hop variety in the world, Saaz is an aroma hop that's grown in the Zatec region of the Czech Republic. In fact, that's where it gets it's name (Zatec is Saaz in German). It has a very nice herbal, earthy aroma with a crisp spice that's easily recognizable once you know what you're looking for. In the beer it imparts the same crisp spicy bitterness. Saaz is most often found in pilsner beers.

Where to find it in Ballard: Hale's Ales Kolsch, Hilliard's Pils

What to look for: Aroma: herbal, earthy, cinnamon, spice Flavor: crisp spicy bitterness

Other Hops

Nelson Sauvin

(AAU range 13%) Nelson Sauvin is what I would consider a trendy hop. It hails from New Zealand, is an aroma hop, and became available in 2000. It was the result of research by the Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand and has already left its mark on the craft brewing scene. It has a tart tropical fruit nose and flavor to it that many people compare to a Sauvingnon Blanc wine (partly due to New Zealand's wine growing culture). It's a great hop for a variety of beers and you'll find it in IPAs, pale ales, seasonals and anywhere else the brewer wants to color outside the lines.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: tropical fruit, grapefruit, passionfruit Flavor: tart tropical fruit, wine like bitterness

Sorachi Ace

(AAU Range 12% - 13%) Another one of my favorite hops, Sorachi Ace was created by Dr. Yoshitada Mori of Sapporo Breweries in Japan. It was created back in the 1970s but wasn't available in the United States until 2006 and as a result is a relatively new hop for craft beers. It was named after the Sorachi subprefecture in Hokkaido, Japan. It has a very unique flavor and aroma that I associate with lemongrass but some people find tastes like bubble gum or dill pickle. It's considered a great hop for IPAs, saisons and wheat beers due to the lemon aroma and flavor.

Where to find it in Ballard:

What to look for: Aroma: Lemon, Lemongrass, dill pickle Flavor: lemon, more lemon, some say bubblegum