Hop bundles!

John ShearlockFeb 14, '24
We’ve been delving into the wild world of hops of late and trying to focus on individual strains through single hop beers.

However, let’s face it, hops are typically served in a fruit salad style, layered on top of each other in an attempt to maximise complexity and balance bitterness versus flavour. In fact, there are a few key hops that basically come bundled together, and when they do, they drive styles and even offer a glimpse of the notion of terroir (oh no - I’ve gone and mentioned the T word again!).

I’m thinking of the English ale hops, the noble hops of Bavarian/Bohemian lagers and the three Cs of the American IPA.

Traditional English pale ales are typically hopped with Fuggles and Goldings (in various guises). These hops have been around for yonks with Golding’s use in brewing dating back to at least the 1790s. The more recently bred Target and Challenger also play key supporting roles and together they offer famously earthy, herbal notes with touches of spice that marry well with full flavoured British barley such as Maris Otter, and balance handsomely against the fruity esters of top fermentation. Voila - the English Ale.

Another group with a long history are the Bavarian/Bohemian noble hops. These go by the name of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnang, Spalt and the one we’ve all probably heard of - Saaz. Their designations come from the centres in which they were cultivated, some of them over hundreds of years, and they are thought to express true terroir to a greater degree than recent hop cultivars. These regal hops are responsible for the signature flavours of continental lager styles as exemplified by the Pilsner. This style originated in the town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic which is only an hour’s drive from Žatec which is home to, you’ve guessed it, the Saaz hop.

Our last hop bundle goes by the name of the ‘Three Cs’ and you would have met these three whilst sipping on an American IPA. They are Cascade, Centennial and Columbus and have certainly played a fundamental role in American craft brewing. These Cs are a heady combo - we’re not talking about the subtlety of the noble hops here, that’s for sure. Cascade boasts a hefty myrcene content of 45-60% - that’s the pungent resinous oil also found in thyme and marijuana. Centennial offers heavy bittering and similar citrus and pine notes to Cascade, whilst Columbus forms an earthy herbal counterpoint to the top notes of the previous two. Boom.

There we go… some lovely contrasting styles to play with in your next Beer Cellar order. Line them up of an evening starting with a Pilsner, moving to an English ale and finishing on something big from the West Coast and you’re palate will be taken on the most wonderful hop voyage. Enjoy.