A little Hops 101, an introduction to 10 hop varieties that define North American craft beer.

Article originally published by Popular Mechanics on May 26, 2010

At the close of the 1970s, there were 44 brewing companies in the United States that all made nearly identical beers. Light, easy-drinking and largely tasteless lagers were the American beer du jour—unless, of course, you bought imported beers. Since then, American craft brewers have changed the landscape completely. Today there are over 1500 craft breweries in the United States, many of which make a dizzying variety of beer styles packed with big, intense flavors. American beer culture is now one of the most diverse on the planet.

Brewers engineered this craft revolution by embracing the best and most flavorful ingredients they could find. This means finding high-quality barley malt, the right yeast, fresh and appropriate water and, of course, the finest hops.

Hops added early in the beer’s boiling stage have most of their flavor and aroma boiled off, but contribute to beer’s signature bitterness. Hops added late in the boil have less of a bittering effect and preserve more of their flavor and aroma. Brewers take great care to select the perfect strain for each role.

While well-selected hops are nothing new, strains grown in the Pacific Northwest carry big flavor and pungent aromas. Without distinct hops, we can safely say, American beers would not be the envy of the world. Here are 10 varieties that show what it means to be an American hop.


Cascade is the hop strain that put American beer culture on the map. Primarily added late in the boil to preserve their flavor and aroma, Cascade hops impart distinctive citrus and grapefruit flavors. The most famous commercial example of the Cascade hop flavor comes in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.


This new hop variety is catching on quickly at craft breweries due to its strong bittering qualities as well as its tropical fruit flavors and aromas. Sierra Nevada showcases Citra’s unique aroma by adding it alongside Magnum and Crystal Hops to their Torpedo IPA after the beer has fermented in a technique known as dry hopping.


Sometimes referred to as supercharged Cascade, Centennial packs a similar flavor and a higher alpha acid content, which lends more bitterness to the beer. Centennial can be found alongside Columbus hops in Stone Ruination IPA.


This high-alpha-acid hop is used primarily as a bittering hop, but can also be used to impart herbal and even smoky characteristics. Smuttynose uses it in their Shoal’s Pale Ale alongside Cascade hops.


A high-alpha-acid hop, Nugget is known for its smooth bittering properties as well as its delicate floral aroma. Troeg’s makes use of Nugget hops in both their Hopback Amber Ale, alongside Cascade and Willamette, and their Nugget Nectar, alongside Warrior, Tomahawk, Simcoe and Palisade hops.

Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus

Proprietary naming rights sometimes have identical or nearly identical strains being sold under multiple names. Columbus, Tomahawk and Zeus, or the CTZ hops, are the most famous example of this phenomenon. CTZ hops are known as super-alpha hops due to the extremely high percentage of alpha acids they contain, making them ideal bittering additions. Columbus hops can be found alongside Centennial hops in Stone Ruination IPA or in Saranac’s Brown Ale.


When used late in the boil or during fermentation, Simcoe hops impart a big resiny or piney flavor and aroma. “We love the Simcoe strain and use it liberally in many of our core beers, especially the Bengali Tiger and Righteous Ale,” says Shane Welch, the president and brewmaster of Sixpoint Craft Ales. “Simcoe has undoubtedly one of the most unique aroma profiles of any hop, and also works well as a flavor and bittering addition. It is the ultimate utility hop.”


The most popular hop strain in the craft brewing industry, Crystal hops are primarily used as aroma hops due to their spicy floral qualities, but they also see some use in bittering additions. Rogue puts Crystal Hops at center stage in their Brutal IPA.


This popular American aroma hop descends from the classic British Fuggle strain and provides mild earthy flavors along with a slight woodiness. Brookyn Brewery makes it a standby in many of their beers, including the Brown Ale, Black Chocolate Stout and Winter Ale.


Warrior is used most frequently as a bittering hop early in the boil. Its high alpha-acid content and low cohumulone content give it a sharp, but not crushing bitterniess. Troeg’s uses it in their Nugget Nectar along with Tomahawk, Simcoe and Palisade hops.