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The 9 Most Influential Hops of All Time

Hops form a vital role in today's diverse brewing industry, and hop varieties possess distinct personalities that range from floral German noble hops, to woody British strains, to pungent early American varietals, all the way to the citrusy, tropical fruit-like hybrids being developed for today's modern IPAs. This story spotlights nine of the most influential hops throughout brewing history.

During the turbulent Middle Ages, brewers across Europe began substituting hop flower cones for the bitter, pungent and sometimes toxic herbs and spices typically used in the production of ales. Hop flowers proved effective in warding off the microbial demons involved in souring and spoiling beer, and spicy, aromatic hop bitterness provided an ideal counterbalance to beer's sweet maltiness. Even though England's infamous King Henry VIII referred to hops as "a wicked and pernicious weed," most of England and Europe soon became enamored with hoppy brews.

Hops flowers sprout from tall, perennial, female vines of the humulus lupulus plant - a close family member of cannabis. Hop flowers sometimes possess similar aroma and flavor characteristics to cannabis, while lacking any THC. Hops provide the seasoning and spice in beer, and when hops are boiled in the brewing process for an hour or so, they produce a delightful bitterness. Spicy, floral, fruity aromatics and flavors emerge when hops are added near the end of the boil, and dry hops dosed directly into fermenters or kegs impart an even deeper bouquet.


In the 1970s, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. founder Ken Grossman dreamed of making a British-style pale ale using American hops. On a road trip to Yakima, Washington, Grossman talked a hop grower out of a few pounds of whole cone hop samples that included the under-appreciated Cascade variety. After a multitude of test batches, the pioneering, Cascade-focused Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was released in March of 1981… and the American hop palate would never be the same. Cascade offers succulent notes of flowers, citrus, pine and grapefruit that were scarce in European hop varieties.

"There wouldn't be craft beer as we know it without the Cascade hop,” said Mitch Steele, formerly with Stone Brewing Company and now owner/brewer of New Realm Brewing. “Before craft beer, citrusy American hops were snubbed by most of the world's brewers. The advent of American Pale Ale and American IPA with Cascade hops has changed the world's beer game forever."


Centennial hops hit the American brewery scene around 1990 and come from crosses of Fuggle, East Kent Golding, Brewers Gold and Bavarian varietals. As beer palates adjusted to the new-fangled hop character imparted by Cascade, American craft beer enthusiasts soon demanded more intensity. More is always better, right? Known as "Super Cascade," Centennial offers bold citrus notes, backed by impressive pine/floral character and crisp bitterness. Due to its disease-resistance, hardiness and role in the production of a wide range of beer styles, Centennial has now been embraced by craft brewers around the world.

Centennial hops offer bold citrus notes, backed by impressive pine/floral character and crisp bitterness. 
Photo Courtesy Flickr/mygalsalphotos


When American craft brewers asked for new hop strains that could provide stronger citrus, tropical and exotic fruit profiles, Citra was the answer. Usage of the Citra hop varietal began around 1990 with a cross between Hallertau Mittelfruh, Tettnang, Brewer's Gold, East Kent Golding and an unnamed American wild hop. Beers showcasing Citra boast complex hop personalities that appeal to modern craft beer brewers and drinkers, and Citra currently ranks as the most planted and popular craft hop by acreage. "Citra was one of the original tropical hops with big notes of mango, passion fruit and lime,” noted John Roberts, hop enthusiast and brewer at Atlanta's Max Lager's brewpub. “It was a revelation in flavor, aroma and intensity."


Throughout the latter part of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, pubs across England sold pints of cask-conditioned Porter hopped with Fuggle – an easygoing aroma hop with low bittering acids. In the mid-1900s, almost 80 percent of English-grown hops were Fuggle. The subtle aromatics and earthy flavors reminiscent of flowers and wood tannins made for a perfect marriage for malty Porters, Milds and English Bitters. Although Fuggle has begun to fall out of favor in modern U.K. craft brewing, the hop still holds a revered place in the hearts of many classic British brewers. John Keeling, master brewer for London's respected Fuller's Brewery, shared, "To me, Fuggle is the hop of Porter. At the heart of Fuggle's character is the understated balance given by the textured, subtle bitterness – the perfect counterpoint to Porter's roasted malt flavors."

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