Five hop varieties all beer drinkers should know

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood 3 July 2021

Ever heard of Sauvin? You have now. Here are five types of hop that you'll be grateful to know about

Barley, water, yeast and hops. The list of ingredients needed to make beer is a small one. But while all four ingredients each play a significant role in the outcome of the beer’s flavour, it’s usually the hops that take the most credittheir names often featuring prominently on packaging designs with brewers showing off about how carefully each one has been selected.

Despite their celebrated status, many beer drinkers don’t know much about these varieties beyond the name. To shine some more light on the hops' varying qualities we’ve picked out five popular varieties and discover their importance in a little more detail…

Saaz

Two beers in Prague

Each year, the town of Zatec in the Cech Republic holds a hop harvest festival where people gather to drink beer and celebrate the locally grown Saaz hop, which has been used to flavour Czech beers for 700 years.

Saaz is one of four varieties that are known as ‘noble hops’, the others being Hallertau, Spalt and Tettnang, that were first cultivated hundreds of years ago for German and Czech lagers.

They are generally floral and spicy, imparting a slight bitterness to beers. Saaz has a particularly delicate flavour, with subtle earthy and herbal notes that are an essential part of Czech Pilsners, the first lagers ever made.

"Saaz has a particularly delicate flavour, with subtle earthy and herbal notes"

Try this: Budweiser Budvar

Budweiser Budvar has been brewing its Czech lager since 1895 using local ingredients: Moravian malt, water drawn from beneath the brewery, its own heritage yeast and, of course, Zatec’s Saaz hops. Those subtle floral, earthy flavours help accentuate the clean, crisp character of this classic Pilsner lager.

East Kent Goldings

Kent is the hop capital of the UK and East Kent Goldings is one the most successful hops to come from the region. Like Saaz it has subtle floral, spicy and earthy characteristics and is much appreciated by brewers for its versatility, being used to add flavour, aroma and bitterness to just about any British beer style including bitters, IPAs, porters and milds. It was first developed in the 1700s and, besides originating in Kent, is now also grown in Oregon.

"Kent is the hop capital of the UK"

Try this: Hop Back Summer Lightning

In the late 1980s Salisbury’s Hop Back Brewery started brewing Summer Lightning, a golden beer produced, as the name implies, for summertime sipping. The hop chosen to flavour this beer was East Kent Goldings, with its floral, honeyed aroma and long lasting, intense bitterness making it a refreshing, highly drinkable beer. Summer Lightning started to earn countless awards and soon these golden ales were the among the most popular styles around, with many of them – and subsequent hoppier IPAs – using East Kent Goldings.

Cascade

When the American craft brewing craze took off, brewers initially looked to British beers styles for inspiration, and in particular the hoppy IPA, using them as a showcase for their much more intensely flavoured, citrussy hops. Three classic American varieties rapidly became hugely popular, often all used together, and became known as ‘the three Cs’ –  Cascade, Centennial and Columbus (other hops including Citra and Chinook joined them on the ‘C’ theme). Of these, Cascade is seen as the quintessential American hop, first released as an ‘aroma’ hop in 1971, lending strong grapefruit notes and a pithy bitterness to the style that became known as APA (American Pale Ale).

Try this: Anchor Liberty Ale

In 1975 the Anchor Brewery, known for its Anchor Steam ale, decided to produce a new dry-hopped pale ale and chose Cascade as the hop to take the starring role. The first American craft beer to adopt this style, it helped to signal Cascade’s arrival on the American brewing scene with its sweet grapefruit and citrus flavours shining alongside a piney, resinous bitterness.

Admiral

As the craft beer craze swept from America to the rest of the world, bitter hops with citrus flavours were much in demand. In 1998 hop breeders from Wye College in England released Admiral, a hop that delivers a mighty bitter kick. It was lapped up by brewers who wanted extra bitterness in their IPAs and ESBs (Extra Special Bitters) but didn’t want to lose the smooth, resinous characteristics of the popular American ales. 

Try this: Harvey’s Star of Eastbourne

Sussex brewery Harvey’s is known for its archetypal English ales and Star of Eastbourne, first brewed in 2004, is a strong beer in the East India Ale style. Admiral hops give this beer a dry, bitter finish while the marmalade and citrus notes help it appeal to modern tastes.

Nelson Sauvin

Hops are now grown in several countries around the world, with New Zealand emerging as one of the key players in the market. One of its most successful varieties is Nelson Sauvin, first released in 2000, which is named for its apparent flavour similarity to the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It is considered quite an awkward, unpredictable hop to work with, but that hasn’t stopped it being used in abundance, where its smooth bittering and multi-layered, fruity flavours are used in many modern styles, from pale ales to sours.

"Hops are now grown in several countries around the world, with New Zealand emerging as one of the key players in the market"

Try this: Stroud Brewery, Nelson

Stroud Brewery has created a modern organic beer that has teased all manner of floral and zesty aromas and flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hop. It’s bright and full of life, as befits a thoroughly modern pale ale.

Read more: A comprehensive guide to lager

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