arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

Hop to It

An introduction to understanding hops

Hops, a San Diego Beer staple, are as varied as the spices or flavorings in a well-stocked kitchen and help local brewers achieve award-winning results.

By: Bruce Glassman; Author, The San Diego Brewery Guide

If you're a "hop-head" - a true lover of bitter beers with big citrus, pine, and tropical aromas and flavors - then you probably have a sense of the many great things that hops can do for beer. But, if you're like most beer drinkers (even experienced ones) you're most likely not fully aware of how hops are actually used by brewers. Hops are, in fact, as varied as the spices or flavorings in a well-stocked kitchen, and - depending on how and when they are used - they will help a brewer achieve many very different results.

What to Know about Hops

The first things to know about hops are the basics of how they are used in making beer. Hops are used for three distinct purposes in brewing: for bittering, for flavoring, and for aroma. Once the wort is created (that's the sugary liquid you get when you steep grains like malted barley in hot water for while), the sweet liquid is transferred to a kettle where it's brought to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, a brewer will add a dose of hops. These hops, added first, are for the purpose of creating bitterness in the beer. While "bitterness" on its own doesn't always sound so appealing, it's actually critical in creating nearly every kind of beer. We notice the bitterness of IPAs and pale ales the most because those are characteristics beer drinkers like front and center in those styles, but even the maltiest beers (stouts, porters, barley wines, browns) need the right balance of hop bitterness to prevent them from tasting flat, sweet, and boring, like watery maple syrup.

Hop Varieties

There are literally hundreds of varieties of hops. Each variety has its own unique character and chemical make-up. Some hops (those with high alpha acid content) are better suited for use as bittering hops. Others, with a medium balance between alpha acid and aroma, are often used mid-boil (typically once the wort has been boiling for 30 minutes or so). Other varieties, with big bright aromas and lower acids, are often best used as aroma hops. These sorts of hops will traditionally be added at the very end of the boil (commonly about 60 minutes long in total) and also for dry-hopping (typically done once the beer has been in a fermentation tank).

New hop varieties are constantly being bred by hop growers, and brewers are constantly playing with samples of new hops in order to see exactly how best they can be used. Recently, a number of varieties have been developed that can be used as "single hop" varietals; that is to say, they are hops that can do it all - they can be used for bittering, for flavor, and for aroma, all depending on how and when a given brewer utilizes them.

Most beer drinkers can't distinguish between different kinds of bitterness in a beer, so bittering hops tend to play a quiet, supporting role in the finished product. What we do notice is flavor and aroma. Those components, inextricably linked, are what make us like or dislike a particular brew. So what are the hop ingredients or "spices" that brewers commonly have at their disposal? Here is an abridged listing of a few of the most commonly used hop varieties employed for flavor and aroma:

Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Galaxy, Summit, Hull Melon, and Citra

These are some of the favored hops for imparting big floral, fruity, tropical, grassy, and citrus flavors and aromas.

Chinook, Simcoe, Comet, Eureka, Mosaic

These hops tend to lend piney, woody, and grassy notes (though Mosaic is commonly used for single-hop beers because it also has great citrus and floral qualities).

Crystal, Hallertau, Liberty, Nugget, Saaz

These are some of the more "Old World" style hops; they're spicy, fruity, and earthy; classically used more in German lagers and similar styles.

Taste the Hops

Now that you have a better understanding of hops and what they do, venture out to a few breweries or craft beer bars to taste test some of San Diego's best single-hop IPAs. These beers are made - from start to finish - with only one hop variety. In other words, the same hop is used for bittering, flavoring, and for aroma. There are, of course, dozens of other great IPAs (Sculpin, West Coast, Hoppy Birthday, Stone IPA, AleSmith IPA), but these are made from a blend of many hops to create a certain flavor profile. For the best illustration of how a single hop is expressed in a beer, the awesome single-hop IPAs are the way to go.

Single-Hop IPAs to Try

Karl Strauss Mosaic Session IPA
A great example of a single-hop beer, this offers the perfect overview of how Mosaic can do it all. It has bitterness (but not too much) along with great flavors and aromas of citrus, tropical fruit, pine and fresh-cut grass.

Green Flash "Hop Odyssey" Series
Pacific Gem (look for a burst of fresh pine and grapefruit); Styrian Golding (a native of Austria and Slovenia, it's a great earthy-spicy aroma hop); and Nugget (spicy and fruity).

Societe's The Bachelor Single-Hop IPA
This is a great single-hop beer, but each batch features a different hop. Previous releases have included Chinook, Cascade, Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and many more. Basically, if it's a great hop, Societe will use it at least once for a batch of Bachelor.

Mission Brewery Citra Session IPA
A light, crisp, and super refreshing IPA that provides all the juicy citrus and floral components brewers love in good aroma hops.

Two-Hop IPAs to Try

For great examples of two-hop IPAs, try these (they'll show you how two varieties work together to create a balance):

Alpine Duet IPA
Piney Simcoe and floral, citrusy Amarillo make beautiful music together.

Lost Abbey's Hop Concept IPAs
Hull Melon & Hallertau Blanc IPA (fruity meets spicy); Galaxy & Comet IPA (a pair of great citrus, grassy, and fruity varieties); Eureka & Mosaic IPA (great duo of pine and fruit); Citra & Azacca IPA (two great citrus-tropical hops combined).

Mother Earth Boo Koo IPA
The big fruity citrus character of Mosaic blended perfectly with the woody, piney notes of Simcoe.

There are so many other examples of great hop-centric beers in San Diego that even a partial list would overload the server that this document is housed on. Basically, no matter where you go for a beer in this town, you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least one or two excellent choices where the deliciousness of hops are front and center. So, hop to it! Get out there and taste!

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you

Accommodation

Have Vaccine, Will Travel!

Grande Colonial Hotel
Valid: Mar 19 - ongoing

You’ve been compliant with masking and social distancing. You’ve stayed close to home inside your bubble.  You haven’t eaten out in months!  But you’ve received your...

Accommodation

Third Night Free in San Diego

Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina
Valid: Mar 2 - ongoing

Book two nights in San Diego and get the third night on us.  Enjoy stunning bay or city views from every room, private balconies, and a sparking private marina to enjoy water activities or...

Accommodation

Seaside Spa Retreat

Hotel del Coronado
Valid: Mar 24 - ongoing

Treat yourself to a seaside spa getaway at Hotel del Coronado or Beach Village at The Del. The  Seaside Spa Retreat  includes: • A $100 Spa & Salon Credit •...

Events to check out

Event

Pure Balboa Park 2nd Anniversary

Pure Project Balboa Park
Aug 6 - Aug 8, 2021

Pure Balboa Park is turning two! We wouldn't be where we are today without your incredible support. Thank you! To celebrate our second anniversary, we've got some Tiki-Luau themed festivities...

Event

Pupologie Cardiff Dog Days of Summer

Aug 8, 2021

The Pupologie Cardiff Dog Days of Summer is presented by Cardiff 101 Main Street and the City of Encinitas. This free event features numerous dog-related vendors, rescue groups, pet adoption agencies,...

Event

Pure Project Quadruple Release

Pure Project Balboa Park
Aug 5, 2021

Our next release features a little something for everyone. For the first time ever, we are releasing bottles, cans, and coffee—all at the same time! We've got the third in our brand new series...

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China FlagChinaGermany FlagGermanyGreat Britain FlagGreat BritainJapan FlagJapanMexico FlagMexicoKorea FlagKoreaSwitzerland FlagSwitzerlandBrazil FlagBrazilFrance FlagFranceAustralia FlagAustraliaCanada FlagCanada USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Español Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish