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Preparing Hops & Beer
Preparing Hops & Beer

Hops aroma & flavor challenge

Bottles ready for hopping
Bottles ready for hopping

Ever wondered what different types of hops smell and taste like so you can better understand which ones to use in your home brewed beers? Maybe you want to learn how to recognize a particular hop within a commercial beer? We were intrigued so decided to try an experiment…


First of all we needed to find a neutral tasting beer with low IBU’s/hopping levels and a relatively low alcohol content. This was not difficult with many Light American Lagers to choose from so our choice was Michelob Ultra which is 4.2% ABV and definitely light in flavor and hops.

Hops infusing into the beers
Hops infusing into the beers

First of all the 12-pack of beers were chilled in the fridge and 12 varieties of pellet hops were chosen:

  • Cascade
  • Centennial
  • Chinook
  • Hallertau
  • Kent Goldings
  • Liberty
  • Magnum
  • Mt. Hood
  • Styrian Golding
  • US Fuggle
  • US Tettnang
  • Willamette
Cooler full of hopped beers
Cooler full of hopped beers

A spreadsheet was then created which had the list of hops down the side and across the top were a range of descriptors taken from the hop packets, these included:

  • Citrus
  • Delicate
  • Floral
  • Flowery
  • Fruity
  • Grapefruit
  • Medium intensity
  • Mild
  • Piney
  • Pleasant
  • Pungent
  • Spicy
  • Woody

Hopping the beer

Tasting glasses at the ready
Tasting glasses at the ready

The 12oz bottles of Michelob Ultra were all opened and 2-3 pellets were added to each beer then new sanitized caps were placed back onto the bottles. This was a slight mistake with our process as some of the coarse pellets started to foam out of the bottles by the time we got round to capping them due to the coarseness of some of the pellets.

A better approach would have been to uncap a bottle, add the pellets, then recap it before moving onto the next one. This would have avoided a few bottles being partially full and exposing the beer to oxygen.

Busy beer sampling
Busy beer sampling

The bottles were each labeled with which hop was contained inside together with the associated alpha acid, and beta acid percentages. The alpha and beta acids are the chemical compounds within hops that contribute the bitterness, flavor and aroma from within a hop. The hopped bottles of beer were then placed back in the fridge and left for 3 weeks to allow the hop aromas and flavors infuse into the beers.

Aroma & Flavor challenge

Completed tasting notes
Completed tasting notes

A group of us took our places on the deck one summer’s evening along with a cooler of the hopped beers, some non-hopped beers to use as control samples, a copy of the spreadsheet each, and plenty of water for rinsing glasses and cleansing our palettes.

The aim of the challenge was to sniff the aroma of each beer and then taste the flavor and pick the descriptor(s) that we felt best applied to each sample.

The hops ranged from low alpha acid noble hops to high alpha acid US hops so we anticipated a large variance in aromas and flavors. The outcome surprised us in that the aromas and flavors were actually very subtle.

Empty hop challenge bottles
Empty hop challenge bottles

It was interesting and some what difficult trying to pick out the differences and attempting to choose the appropriate descriptors. Some hops were easier to describe, such as Cascade and Centennial due to their distinctive west coast citrus and grapefruit characteristics, but the noble hops were far more subtle and harder to pick up.

If we were to repeat the exercise we would improve it by using fresh whole flower hops and putting 3-4 cones in each bottle to make the aromas and flavors much stronger and therefore easier to detect.

If you have undertaken a similar experiment or have any questions or comments on this article, please feel free to comment below.

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