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Everything to Know About Hops

Hops, also known as the alpha acid, are the cone-shaped flowers from the plant Humulus Lupulus that are used in brewing beer.

| Read Time: 6 minutes

A close look at a hop plant
Hops! | Photo by Markus Spiske

What are hops?

Humulus Lupulus is a species of plant in the Cannabaceae family. This plant is commonly grown in the United States, Europe, and New Zealand. Parts of England, Germany, and the Czech Republic feature strong hop growth as well. Fun fact (not really?), hops have a natural alpha acid content of 3.5% to 11% by weight.

The cone-shaped flowers are attached to the plant by a string-like stalk and the flowers are harvested and dried so that they can be added to the boiling wort in the brewing process.

› List of Hop Types

What do hops look like?

Hops are cone shaped and grow from bines with long leaves. The flowers grow in bunches called "strobiles" and are typically green in color.

How do you grow hops?

The plants are perennials and can be used for a variety of agricultural and horticultural purposes, but hops are most commonly used in the production of beer. Growers typically sow their hops between March and May, and they need to be watered every day.

Hops are a key ingredient in beer and other drinks, but they're also a popular garden plant. Typically grown on a trellis in a garden, hops are a good addition to any backyard space.

How long does it take to grow hops?

Growing hops at home is a fun project that can help a home brewer save money. Hops need a good amount of space, but they are not difficult to grow. The process usually takes about 2 years to grow hops.

Hops plants grow best in temperate climates with a lot of sun and rain. The average yield is about 4,000 pounds per acre.

A field of hops being farmed
Farmers gotta make money and hops are a cash crop these days. | Photo By Andre Klimke

How much money can you make on 1 acre growing hops?

Growing hops is a popular way to supplement income, especially for small farmers. The growing demand for craft beer has led to an increase in the number of hop farms in the United States. More hop farms means more hop growers, which in turn means higher incomes for hop workers.

The average annual income for a hop grower is $70,000, per PayScale.com. You may want to consider growing hops instead of brewing beer - especially since the annual salary range for a head brewer is $35,792 to $58,829.

When to harvest hops?

Hops are traditionally harvested in the fall to allow for time to dry and age before they are brewed into beer. They are best harvested when the cones have reached their maximum dryness and break apart when squeezed. Some growers may take the hops down earlier if they are worried about quality. Harvesting at the wrong time can lead to lower quality hops, and in turn, lower quality beer.

Hop bines being grown at Lost Nation brewing in Morrisville, Vermont
It's possible the beer we drank at Morrisville that day came from these hop plants

How to store hops

Hops are fragile, perishable goods that should be handled with care and stored in a cool, dark place. They should also be stored in an airtight container and kept away from light, heat, moisture, and oxygen. It is important to keep your hops sealed and unopened until you are ready to use them.

If you're unsure, try and find a book on brewing to help you figure out the best way to store hops.

What do hops smell like?

Hop plants are fast-growing vines that offer a fragrant harvest. They, the plants, produce a fragrant oil called lupulin, which is where the hop's bitter, tangy, floral, and citrus flavors come from. Lupulin gives off an earthy, piney aroma that is commonly compared to the smell of a pine forest. When you drink an IPA, you can taste the bitterness of the hops.

The smell of hops, however, is often described as piney and earthy, with some citrus mixed in. Different varieties of hops will have a different scent.

A brewer from Idaho's 10 Barrel Brewing holding some hops
A brewer at 10 Barrel Brewing Company holding hops | Photo by Elevate

What do hops taste like?

Flowery and bitter.

In the beers themselves, it all depends on the variety used. Cascade hops contain hints of grapefruit and pine. Same with chinook. On the flipside, Sabro hops feature coconut, pineapple, tangerine, and other tropics.

How are hops used in other foods?

In order to use hops in cooking, you can add them to a dish with the addition of a few drops of water. The water will activate the hop cones' oils and make them more fragrant.

Although hops are mainly used in cooking as an ingredient or an extract, they are also the main ingredient in many commercial products, such as hops butter, hops salt, and even hops-flavored soda.

Are hops safe for dogs to eat?

We know that a lot of breweries are dog friendly and enjoy keeping their puppers around the warehouse. We also know that a lot of craft beer lovers enjoy sipping a tasty IPA on the porch with ol' Fido. So, heed this word of caution.

While hops do not pose a risk for most pets, dogs are typically not allowed to eat hops because they have been known to result in low blood sugar levels, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, liver disease, and even death.

Where do you buy hops?

For home brewers, hops can be more difficult to find, but online retailers provide a number of options as well as your local homebrew supply store. As for the hops themselves, you can find them being sold in a variety of formats, like pellets, plugs, and whole cones.

Who do we recommend?

Check out Champlain Valley Hops.

Health Benefits and Uses of Hops

Hops are the female flower of hop plants and have many other uses than just brewing beer, including as a natural preservative and as an herbal remedy.

Types of things that hops may help with include:

We aren't doctors. Nor is Webmd. Check with yours if you're going to use hops for anything medically related.

Where are hops grown in the United States?

The United States produces hops in two different regions: the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast. While the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon, Washington, etc.) produce more hops than any other region in the country, the East Coast is home to the most diverse selection of hops, giving it a unique identity among all other regions in the United States. States like Michigan and Ohio also produce quality hops.

Availability varies depending on year.

Hops alongside 3 different varieties of craft beer
Which beer was made with these hops? | Photo by Missy Fant

How are hops used in Beer?

Hops have been used in brewing beer for centuries. In 1842, an Englishman named W.T. Brande published a list of hops that he recommended for brewing beer. They are typically added to beer as a flavoring agent, which provides bitterness and pungency.

In addition to flavoring, hops also help to stabilize the foam of a beer. They are similar to other spices in that they have a characteristic flavor that distinguishes one beer from another.

Photography Credit


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