A Beer-Fueled Guide to Hops

Eno Sarris, September 22, 2016

One of the best ways to get to know what hops taste like is to drink single-hops beers and take note of the name of the hop and the smells and tastes like. Unfortunately, not every market is saturated with single-hop options. And maybe you've already had some of these beers and have done the research, you just didn't know it. 

So here's a quick guide to a few of the most popular hops today, with some description of the taste and a few beers that feature the hops, hopefully from disparate markets. Then you can go drink these beers and know what hops is fueling that distinctive taste. 

Hop: Mosaic
Tastes Like: Peaches, mangoes, onions, vegetables, cat piss
Famous Beers: Lone Pint Yellow Rose, Knee Deep/Kern Lupulin River, Founders Mosaic Promise, Clown Shoes Space Cake, Great Lakes Chillwave, Crux Fermentation Half Hitch, Tree House Bright, Victory Dirt Wolf, Pipeworks Lizard King

At one point, this was my favorite hop. When it's done right, it's all stone fruit and wonder. But I've noticed since that there can be a vegetable pungency, which some call cat piss, and that turns me off a bit on some beers. I think the best Mosaic beers use it in the dry hop, so that you get the stone fruit smell without the vegetable body. 

Hop: Citra
Tastes Like: Melon, guava, lychee, mango
Famous Beers: Three Floyds Zombie Dust, Surly Abrasive, Toppling Goliath PseudoSue, Kern River Citra, Noble Citra Showers, Thirsty Dog Citra Dog, Knee Deep Citra, Against the Grain Citra Ass Down, Cellarmaker Dobis, Drake's Aroma Coma, COAST Boy King

One of the Original Gangster hops on this list, citra is everywhere. But some beers feature that melon and mango brightness more than others. As you can see from the list, it's a popular hops and it makes some of our nation's best craft beers sing. You actually might be able to find Citra single-hopped beers easiest of all, because brewers love to feature that melon. 

Hop: Nelson
Tastes Like: Peach, melon, gooseberry, grape, passionfruit
Famous Beers: Alpine Nelson, Prairie 'Merica, Almanac Tropical Platypus, Societe The Pupil, Shady Oak Barrel House Funkatronic, Tree House Eureka, Thornbridge Wild Raven, Modern Times Blazing World, Drakes War Pigeon, SanTan Moon Juice IPA, Blue Jacket Spectre

My second new favorite. I switched from Mosaic to Nelson because the latter doesn't have the cat piss problem. The only problem with my love of Alpine Nelson? Everyone loved it so much that there were hops shortages, particularly with Nelson, and now even Alpine can't afford to keep making their Nelson beers. Still, some of the best beers in the world are made with this hops. 

Hop: Simcoe
Tastes Like: Grapefruit, pine, sweet onion, musky wood
Famous Beers: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Surly Darkness, Firestone Walker Double Jack, Fat Heads' Head Hunter, Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, Alpine Duet, Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Collective Arts Rhyme and Reason, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Iron Springs Casey Jones

Yesterday's new hop, Simcoe powered some of our first favorite beers. Those piney, grapefruit west coast IPAs featured simcoe heavily, and we may see a return to this hops with Nelson (and the similar Galaxy hops) hard to get these days. Returning to the days of 60 Minute would be okay with me. 

Hop: Amarillo
Tastes Like: Orange blossoms, citrus, grapefruit, tangerine
Famous Beers: Three Floyd's Gumballhead, Surly Furious, Lagunitas Lucky 13, Kern River Just Outstanding, Alpine Duet, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, Knee Deep Hoparillo, Ballast Point Sculpin, Founders Red Rye IPA, Green Flash Hop Head Red, Drake's 1500 Pale Ale, Karbach Hopadillo

Here's a hop that doesn't get the national love, isn't a single-hop featured beer as often, and isn't the genius behind beers on the first page of our leaderboard. But it's an amazing hop, because it can really impart sweetness and citrus without being as bitter as other hops. This hops goes really well with rye, so many of your favorite red or red rye IPAs have Amarillo in them. 

Hop: Summit
Tastes Like: onions, pungent citrus, garlic 
Famous Beers: Oskar Blues Gubna, Green Flash Imperial IPA, Beachwood Laurel IPA, Deep Ellum IPA, Full Sail Slipknot, Alaskan Icy Bay, Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale, Austin Beer Works Fire Eagle, Clown Shoes Clementine, Hop City Hop Bot, Founders Devil Dancer, Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree

Probably my least favorite hops, summit does provide body to many of our favorite beers. But, particularly in the case of Gubna, overuse of the hops leads to a onion, bread, garlic, vegetable thing that really turns off many drinkers. [Maybe this has changed in recent Gubna?] There are those that love it, though, so consider at least trying a sip of Gubna or these beers. You may be one the savory hops enthusiasts. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you may know a little bit more about some of the most relevant hops on the market today. Perhaps, in the comments, you can suggest a few more hops for a followup!