Educational article: Hops…. What are hops and how are they used?

We all love them, aromatic flavorful hoppy beers, packed to the rim with all kind of hops from all over the world. But what are hops? And how do brewers use them? This Mikkeller exclusive article focuses on the little green pinecone flower we all love and cherish, you might have guessed it - hops!

Hops are a vine like plant known as Humulus lupulus. It’s only the female variety of the plant, which produces a small green pinecone, which we call hops.


Fun fact: Hops happen to be a close cousin to cannabis – hops also produce a sticky resin but hop plants cant produce THC oil. An old hippie myth said that you could graft Hops and Cannabis together, thereby create a hop cone with THC oils – but this is a busted hippie myth!

Ok enough about hippies, on with the post! Hop cones produce a powder called lupulin, which contain certain acids, which provide much needed flavor and balance to beer.

Beer has been a known beverage for about 4000 years, but hops are a relatively new addition in beer production, having only been used for maybe the last 500 years. Prior to using hops, people used all sorts of spices and fruits mixed together called a “Gruit” - Herbs like Wormwood, Juniper, Tea, Aniseed, Sage and Rosemary was often used in the Gruit, to balance beer’s aroma and flavor, but nothing has the aroma and flavor versatility like hops do.

Fun Fact! Hops are a natural preservative and has antimicrobial properties – which was a great quality way back when the IPA was invented – long story short, (I)ndia (P)ale (A)Le was a beer shipped from England to India, which contained a great amount of hops, thereby making sure that the beer had enough preservative properties so it would not spoil on the long voyage.

Like wine grapes, the flavor and aroma of hops are highly based on where the hops are grown. The strong, citrus fruity and piney hops are often grown on America’s West Coast, which also gave rise to the West Coast IPA.

Regardless of where a hop is grown, the one thing almost all hops are to be counted on, is to give beer some spice and balance out the sweetness of the malt.

Types of Hops

There exists a dozens of varietals of different hops available to brewers. Hops of different strains and from different growing regions bring different flavors, aromas, and bittering capabilities to the table.

First of, all hops differ in their alpha acid and essential oil levels. Hops with high amounts of alpha acids are especially useful for adding sharp, bitterness to a finished beer – these hops are called Bittering hops. Hops with loads of essential oils contribute the most in terms of flavor and aroma- these hops are called Aroma hops. Some strains have sufficient levels of both to be appropriate for all three applications – these hops are called Dual purpose Hops.

In general, hops strains are categorized by their geography of origin. The three most prominent categories are Noble hops, which come from Germany and the Czech Republic; American hops from the United States; and English hops, from England. BUT in fact, there is a fourth region that has risen, and this is Australia! Lets go over the four categories one by one:

Noble Hops

Noble hops, which include hops like Saaz and Tettnanger, are considered the most classic hops. They are famous for giving German and Czech pilsners/lagers their characteristic flavor profiles. Noble hops tend to be particularly rich in the high-aroma essential oil and have low alpha acid levels.

American Hops

 American hops, including heavy hitters like the ” Three C Hops” – Cascade, Centennial, Colombus/CTZ, which tend to be bold, bright, and highly aromatic. In general, they have higher amounts of the essential oil, which gives them their characteristic citrus, piney, Dank and herbal notes. The C’s are what some would call the cornerstones of modern American craft brewing, and Americas answer to the European Noble hops.

English Hops

In contrast to American hop strains, English hops like Fuggle, East Kent Goldings, Target and so on have lower levels of essential oil, Thereby adding a more subtle aroma and flavor profile. The profiles of English hops, therefore, tend to be more delicate and mild with notes of earth, herbs and spice.

Australian Hops

The new kid on the block are the Australian hops varieties, full of alpha acids and essential oil ready to kick everyone’s butt with a full peddle to the metal flavor profile. Heavy hitters like Galaxy and VIC secret are really sought after, as the tend to outperform all other aroma and bittering hops – bringing bright notable tropical fruit notes, which all brewers want in their juicy IPAs and pale ales. The yield isn’t that big, so if you’re a brewer interested in Australian hops, you got to be quick! You snooze you loose!

With the four major players now mapped, let’s go over some of the ways hops make it into your beer!


Fun fact! When brewers select hops for their next beer, they often perform a “Hop Rub”. Brewers explore the aroma of the hops by rubbing a few cones vigorously in your hands and then taking some deep sniffs. The heat made by rubbing warms the resin, and allows smelling the notes that the hops can contribute – thereby making it a bit easier to select which hops goes into your beer!


Different Techniques of hopping your beer:

When it comes to brewing beer and having put in hop additions, there are quite a few different ways to do so, it all depends on what you want to achieve with the aroma and flavor of the beer. Traditionally, hops have been used to add bitterness the beer, more precisely to balance the sweetness of the malt – but this isn’t always the case anymore, as brewers today strive to innovate and push the boundaries as much as possibly.

Before going over the Techniques of hopping beer, here is a quick walkthrough of brewing beer, so you’ll understand all the words.


Step 1: “Mashing” In mashing, malted grains are soaked in hot water. In the process, the starch molecules in the grains are released and converted by enzymes, which is also released by the malt. The released enzymes chop the large starch molecules into smaller molecules of sugar. The main sugar produced in the process of mashing is maltose. Malt sugars from the mash are what fuel the yeast, and enable fermentation where sugar is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.


Step 2 “Boiling” (and Cooling): The solution of water, malt sugars and other substances from the malt is called wort (or unfermented beer). Before wort can be fermented, it should be boiled. Boiling sanitizes the wort and helps to make the finished beer a more stable product. During the boil, the hops are added to the wort and bitter compounds are extracted from The hops. After the boiling, the Whirlpool cycle begins (a common method used to separate hop pellets and trub after the wort boil. Essentially the wort is pumped into the whirlpool vessel at rapid velocity, usually about 15 feet per second, to cause the wort to start spinning like a whirlpool). Next up the wort is cooled and transferred to the fermentation tanks, so that yeast can be added.


Step 3 “Fermenting” (and Conditioning): Once the wort is cooled, the yeast is added and after a short time, fermentation begins. In Average strength ales, fermentation will last from a few days to a week. In Stronger beers or lagers, fermentation can take a longer time, up to months. After the beer has fully fermented (and sometimes conditioned for a while), it is ready to be bottled (or kegged) and served.

And that’s the basics of brewing, lets dive into a the wide range of hopping techniques!


The list is long, and here you go!

Mash Hopping: adding hops to the water the brewer mashes the grain in.

First Wort Hopping: adding hops pre-boil, during the wort collection process

Boil hopping: The longer hops are in the boil, the bitter the beer will become. This is where the IBU scale comes in handy.

Late-Boil Hopping: Adding the majority of a hop dose, near the finish of the boil is done because the brewer wants to add more aroma than bitterness.

Whirlpool Hopping: adding hops after the boil during the whirlpool cycle. This is also done for increased aroma.

Dry-hopping: Brewers add whole hops or hop pellets during parts of the fermentation. This is done to add a strong hoppy aroma and taste to the beer. Traditionally dry-hopping is done in Pale ales and India Pale Ale, but different styles also utilize this technique.


Usually adding hops contribute to the IBU, but in dry-hopping the hops aren’t boiled and therefore does not release any oils, which causes bitterness. There is a few ways, you can dry-hop and here are some of them.

Fermentation Dry Hopping: adding hops during vigorous fermentation – This is done because you want the yeast to eat the hop oils, and bio transform them into other aroma oils.

Pre-chill Dry Hopping: adding hops before we chill the finished beer to move to conditioning – This is also done for the purpose of aroma.

Conditioning Dry Hopping: adding hops to beer that is maturing. 

Wet-hopping: is principle the same as dry-hopping, The wet-hopping is the process of adding whole fresh hops during parts of the fermentation. The main difference in using fresh/wet vs. “dry hops” is that the wet fresh hops give a cleaner flavor and vibrant aroma.


I believe this covers all the aspects of hops, and usage of them. Let’s just sum it up. There you have it, now you know everything you have to know about hops! There is an enormous wide range of different hops with different properties, some showcasing large amounts of citrus, pine, and herbal notes where others showcase tropical fruits, spices and even berries. I hope my article will lend you a helping / guiding hand in the enormous universe of hops, and hopefully, expand your knowledge and love for all things beer!

Till next time HOPHEADS!


Ohh don’t go yet! I have some beer recommendations, if you want to delve into some high quality beers!

The Danish brewery Gamma is really worth mentioning, and also Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri makes delicious hoppy beers! Gamma has “Big Doink” and “It slaps” which I really love, and Ebeltoft has “Burnt Hand Bike Crasher”! I know that a lot of people speak about “You have to drink hoppy beers as fresh a possible, and I know this recommendation isn’t fresh – But chech out Omnipollo “Quadruple dry-hopped Fatamorgana IIIPA” – that is some seriously hoppy stuff.

Cheers guys, and remember to follow me on Instagram!


- HopSkull Out