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Let's Go to the Hops

There was a time, in not-too-distant memory, where American beers had less flavor variation than store-bought snack cakes.

Your beer choices were pretty much limited to “light beer or regular.” A bottle of Rolling Rock seemed like an exotic. But that was before we began to appreciate hops.

Hops are the cone-shaped flowers of a certain vine-growing plant that thrives in similar conditions to grapes. They’ve been long used to add bitter components to beers; without hops, all beers would taste sweet and malty. Hops, even in small amounts, give beer much of its variety and mystery. Beer flavor is largely determined by the quantity, quality and kind of hops it contains.

When craft beers really began to boom five or six years ago, the United States suddenly faced a hop shortage, particularly after corporate breweries began to buy American-grown hops in larger batches to keep up with demand. But the supply chain caught up and then some. Where there were once only 10 to 15 varieties of American hops, most of them rarely used, suddenly there are now hundreds.

We’re at a point where brewers are working directly with farmers, ordering very specific kinds of hops for very specific kinds of beers. Mad brewers and agronomists have created hop hybrids and then hybrids of hybrids. Small-batch beers are being named specifically after their hops. The really indie brewers are naming them after particular crop yields of a particular hop. It is mania.

Below you’ll find listed a few important hops, from old-school traditional ones to some of the new fruits of the hop vine. Listed below each hop is a beer that features that hop variety. This will help you fit in with the snobs at your local craft brewery. Or maybe just enjoy many hoppy pints of beer.

Amarillo

A relatively new hop, gaining in popularity. Floral and fruity.

Featured in: Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale

Cascade

The granddaddy of American hop varieties, very popular in IPAs. Moderately bitter and fragrant.

Featured in: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Centennial

Often known as “Super Cascade.” Fewer citrus notes and pleasantly bitter.

Featured in: Founders Centennial IPA

Citra

The hop of choice for those who drink and brew fruity IPAs. As the name indicates, its flavor is almost pure citrus.

Featured in: Otter Creek Citra Mantra

Fuggle

A British hop, not in any way related to Harry Potter. Many classic British bitters use this variety. Has been cultivated since the 1860s.

Featured in: Shipyard Brewing Fuggles IPA

Golding

A family of hops grown in the vicinity of Kent. There are many varietals of Golding, but they’re all spicy and refined, and vital to creating British-style ales.

Featured in: Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter

Hallertau

A popular “noble hops” variety. The baseline hop for European-style lagers. Adds a nice floral, spicy component.

Featured in: Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager

Mosaic

The current “it” hop in American beers, popping up in microbrewed pale ales from coast to coast. Really hoppy, sharp-tasting beers are deploying Mosaic or one of its many relatives. Contains hints of Mediterranean spice.

Featured in: Bluepoint Mosaic IPA

Saaz

The hop most traditionally used in European pilsner beers. It’s bitter, as hops should be, but also has a mellow background. Clean and spicy.

Featured in: Sam Adams Noble Pils

Simcoe

The hop from which the ultra-popular Mosaic was bred. A key hop involved in the start of the American craft-beer explosion. Bitter and bred in Washington State.

Featured in: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

Sorachi Ace

Originally developed in Japan in the 1970s, this hop is often used in wheat beers. It tastes intensely lemony. Other flavors reported include jasmine, bubble gum and dust. Delicious!

Featured in: Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace

Look for these or similar beers at many Whole Foods Market stores. Team members stock our beer aisles with lots of local and regional favorites. They’re happy to make recommendations!

Unfortunately we are prohibited by law from selling alcohol in some of our stores. Here’s our list of stores that do not sell alcohol.

Do hops make you happy? Tell us your favorite or share your latest beer find in the comments below.