Beer 101: Hops

So I wanted to do a beer education series. Not because I thought that my readership is ignorant, but because I thought I could maybe impart a piece or two of new information. I also figure that along the way I will learn a few things too. That seems to happen in the course of writing one of these pieces.

Humulus lupulus. But we aren’t that formal here; so we will just call it hops.

Citra Brand Hops – Select Botanicals Group

Hops have become the most popular or at least the most talked about ingredient of beer. In some ways they are the most controversial component of beer as well. There has become somewhat of a cult following of hops, creating hopheads. I am not sure if the term hophead is derogatory or not. I am going with NOT, since most hopheads are proud to proclaim that title.

This community of hopheads has lead to an ever increasing market for hoppy beers, and has also put a lot of pressure on hop farms to keep up with increasing demand. This has created multiple hop shortages over the past decade, and with the continual growth of craft beer there will likely be more in the future.

The Business of Hops and lack thereof

Hop shortages are good and bad. It can be bad because brewers have few options when brewing a hoppy beer during a hop shortage.

  • Change the recipe
  • Change the amount brewed
  • Choose not to brew
  • Buy from other brewers at high cost and raise prices

As you can see a hop shortage can create quite a quandary for a brewer. If they change the recipe they are taking on a huge risk. Especially if the brewer doesn’t inform consumers. There are ways to do it though. Lagunitas is famous for improvising when faced with similar situations. While not a hops shortage, they ran into a manufacturing problem a few years ago.

To abbreviate this story, they were trying to keep up with demand while in the process of expanding. So they made the decision they wouldn’t make one of the seasonal favorites, Brown Shugga. So to make it up to the consumer they stated they would brew a special beer in its place. This beer would be called Lagunitas Sucks. Of course this self-deprecating name, and the fact it was a really good beer made it a huge success. Lagunitas Sucks has now become a regular part of their lineup. I could write a whole blog on the interesting business practices of attitudes of Lagunitas. So this is just an example of what could be done. A little off topic, but I think I was able to convey a way around this.

How changing the amount brewed is a little more obvious in its function. But you will need to decide whether you send very little to your distribution footprint, or do you reduce the distribution markets. Either one can create an artificial demand, which can fuel grey market sales and store pricing gouging – which brewers hate.

Choosing not to brew is probably the most virtuous to some. Making the statement, if we can’t make it the way we want, we aren’t going to do it. Risks are obvious, but I can understand this position.

Select Botanicals Group Hop Farm
Select Botanicals Group Hop Farm

Finally brewers often will by hops or other hard to find ingredients from other brewers who are flush with whatever ingredient it is. This can be very pricey, and time consuming. And it will inevitably lead to the cost increase being passed to the consumer. This isn’t attractive, because the price of craft beer has risen about 20 percent in the past five years.

This is the downside of the popularity of hops. There is a silver lining.

Not only is there a silver lining, but the silver lining is pretty significant. Hop farms are thriving. This creates jobs. Maybe not a huge number, but jobs from labor to scientists.

The science of hops has been a huge growth area. New breeds of hops are being released every year that contain new attributes. Select Botanicals Group has been a leader in creating some of the most popular hop varieties in recent years. To give you an idea of their contributions in the past few years they have developed the follow hop varieties: Simcoe, Ahtanum, Palisade, Warrior, Citra and Mosaic.


That is an impressive list. Unfortunately the science of growing creates an interest situation. Not dissimilar to prescription drug makers, hop makers hold a tight rein on how these types of hops are produced. These hops can only be grown by licensed farmers, which in turn reduce production volumes and increases costs. And hops like Citra and Simcoe are some of the most popular varieties.

How hops are used in brewing

Maybe I should have lead with this, but I don’t like to write in a traditional manner. Hops give beer balance. What is balance? Balance is when a beer as equal sweetness and bitterness. This isn’t an exact science, and not all styles of beer have the same balance goals.

During the brew cycle hops are added for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. This might be an over simplification, but that is the basic premise. How much bitterness is imparted depends on two primary factors. Alpha Acid percentage and length of boil.


So to break down the formula it is Weight in Ounces X Utilization percentage X Alpha Acid Percentage. This is the Jackie Rager Equation, and it one of a few popular methods for calculating bitterness in brewing. The two other popular equations are Daniel’s Equation and Tinseth’s Equation. Tinseth’s is the equation that I generally use for brewing.

Generally speaking the boiling of the wort destroys most of the flavor and aroma. Aroma is the most fragile so to provide the most hop aroma it should be added late in the boil or directly to the fermenter, called dry hopping. Flavor is the next to go, so to it is usually added in the middle of the boil. And hops that are added at the beginning of a boil primarily just add bitterness.

Some of the newer hops like Citra for example are extremely versatile. It used to be that you would need to use different hops for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. But with hops like Citra which is up to 13% Alpha acid and up to 65% Myrcene Oil can be used as a bittering, flavor, and aroma hop.

So I have spoken about Myrcene Oil before in my blog. This is one of the 4 essential oils of hops. Myrcene, Caryophyllene, Humulene, and Farnesene are the four essential oils. Getting into how each of the oils effect the final product is getting a little too detailed for this venue. But I can say that I find personally that I like hops that have a high Myrcene content. At least in IPAs and Double IPAs.

This was a pretty high level view. So please understand this was just supposed to be something that would say enough to make you interested in learning more.

What now?

I like hops. I would even call myself a hophead. Although, I also love beer styles that aren’t hoppy too. Hops and how much hops is a personal thing. Some people love hoppy beers, some people hate them. Some people love certain types of hops, and some like certain methods of hop delivery. Whether it be boil hops, aroma hops, dry hops, torpedoed hops, randallized hops or even hop candy. The science of hops is really just beginning. We can expect some really exciting things from the cutting edge suppliers like Select Botanicals Group and Hop Breeding Company.

Lastly I will give you my balance tip for buying IPAs and Double IPAs. I prefer my IPAs to have a 10:1 ratio of IBU to ABV. A 6% ABV beer should be about 60 IBU, a 9% ABV beer should be about 90 IBU etc. That is my guide. Then the hop bomb category of IPA/DIPAs would be about a 12:1 ratio or more. I would recommend some experimentation to see what is right for you.

I would imagine if you are reading this you have had some experience with hoppy beers. But if you haven’t I will recommend a couple that I find wonderful.

Firestone Walker Union Jack – My favorite of all IPAs. Strong grapefruit and citrus. Crisp and refreshing. Deceptively strong.

Flying Dog Single Hop – So there are many of these that are released throughout the year. The most recent being Single Hop Citra. These are beers that only use a single hop for bittering, flavor, and aroma. A great way to understand hops without brewing your own. They also have a Sorachi Ace, Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy, El Dorado, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook. The next release is Sorachi Ace in July and Simcoe in October.

Mikkeller also has a line of single hop IPAs that are great for education or experimentation. A good bottle shop may have multiple of these in stock however they are likely a little old by now so the hop flavors will be muted. They also at one time created a nuclear hop bomb called 1000 IBU. Well beyond what a person can perceive.

Then you need to try at least one hop bomb. Here I would recommend either Stone Ruination or Green Flash Palate Wrecker. Both are really enjoyable, but your palate will take some hits from either. Your Wit will taste like sugar water after one of these.