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Does the Type of Beer Hops Really Matter?

Aaron Jankowski

The short answer is yes!

Hops are a key component to a beer's bitterness and taste, so the type of hops can have a significant impact on the flavor of a beer. You can think of wine grapes and hops in similar ways. Just like a Pinot Noir and Merlot have different flavor profiles, two beers can have completely different tastes based on the hops used to brew them.

hop plant in a hop field

What are hops?

Hops are the flowers to the plant Humulus lupulus. Unless you’re a botanist, this likely doesn’t mean much to you, so allow me to explain what hops are within the context of what you really care about: beer.
Hops are a key component to beer that enhance its flavor profile, and have preserving properties that keep beer fresh for longer.

Does all beer have hops?

Yes, hops are present in all beer, but their taste is especially prevalent in certain beer types, such as IPAs.

While some beers are categorized as "hoppy," hops do not have one universal flavor. Different hops enhance beer in different ways, but understanding the general categorization of hops can help beer novices make an informed decision on which beer to try.

What kinds of hops are there?

Hops can be tricky to fully understand due to how many different varieties there are. There are over 100 different types of hops throughout the world, and that number is constantly growing. Each type of hops has a different purpose and array of flavors that it adds to the beer. Hops usually fall into one of two categories: aromatic hops and bittering hops.

a glass of beer with hop plants and hop cones on a wooden table

Aromatic Hops

Aromatic hops, as the name suggests, contribute a distinct aroma to the beer. Aroma hops have a lower alpha acid level, and therefore come across as less bitter, but have a more refined flavor.

Cascade hops are an example of a popular aromatic variety, known for notes of grapefruit, pines, and floral scents. This can be contrasted to Willamette hops, which is another aromatic hop variety known for aromas of incense and elderberry.

Bitter Hops

Bitter hops are utilized to establish a bitterness that contrasts the sweetness of the malt. Bitter hops have a higher alpha acid content and, as a result, taste more bitter.

Magnum hops are an example of a popular bitter hop, known for its subtle aroma of black pepper and nutmeg. The subtlety of magnum hops’ flavor and aroma is what makes it so good at bittering beer.

Can hops do both?

These categories are not black and white, as many hop varieties are utilized for both their aromatic and bittering properties. For example, the popular Galaxy hops are characterized by a combination of aromatic and bittering properties that are intended to enhance the beer-drinking experience with notes of various fruits. This is not uncommon, and our comprehensive list below will help guide you through which hops do what.

two different glasses of beer on a bar top

What hops are right for you?

With hundreds of hops to choose from, each individual variety offers unique properties that allow brewers to create beers with unique flavor and aroma profiles. While the untrained beer taster may not notice some of the distinctions between these hop varieties, a side-by-side comparison will unveil the differences between hoppy beers.

The best way to figure out which hops to seek out in your beer tasting ventures is to figure out what you like in a beer. Do you enjoy the bitterness of an Imperial IPA or do you prefer the citrusy flavor of a Hazy IPA? If you want something in between, look for something more subtle like a lager or wheat beer.

Luckily, if you receive regular shipments of our Craft Beer Club, you'll get a variety of beers that are made with all types of different hops! As we stated earlier, doing a side-by-side tasting with the beers in each delivery can be one of the most helpful ways to hone in on which hops you prefer, or even find brand new ones you love.

But at the end of the day, only you know what the best fit is for you. Don’t hesitate to ask your bartender or Cicerone (or shoot us a quick email!) what they recommend based on your preferences! After all, the best beer in the world is the beer you enjoy drinking the most.

Check out the graphic below for a categorized list to get you started...and (if you haven't already) make sure to sign up for the beer club and start tasting some of the best microbreweries in the country!

hops categorization infographic