Brew With Us ESSENTIALS – British and European hops

Posted on 23rd June 2022

Old World, fresh hops

Our tour of hop growing areas begins with Britain and Europe.

These historic regions are home to traditional and heritage varieties – and some surprising new flavours.

Have you ever been in a pub with old, yellowing bunches of flowers hung from the ceiling? Those are hops!

Hop bines in UK

The hop plant is a flowering climbing plant. Hops are the flowers themselves, which grow high on long, straggly bines up to 10 meters tall. Hop growing has a very long tradition in Britain, and you can see large hop farms in the West Midlands and Kent, with tall poles holding up wires that the plants grow along.

Kent gives its name to one of the signature British hop varieties: East Kent Goldings (or EKG for short). Goldings is actually the variety here, with those grown in Kent traditionally said to have the best flavour. EKG is a classic expression of “British” hops: delicate floral aromas with an earthy, spicy layer beneath it, and a smooth, almost honeyed bitterness.

Another classic British hop is Fuggles, which grows very well and so has become the parent variety of many other famous hops like Cascade. Fuggles has a gently minty, grassy aroma, more herbal than EKG but still in that British style. Between just Fuggles and EKG, you’ve got the traditional taste of British ale.

A Fuggle by any other name would taste as… fuggle-y?

Fuggles are grown in many other regions, where they’ve acquired different names. Styrian Goldings (from Europe) are actually Fuggles – at the time the plants were exported, Fuggles were thought to be a type of Golding.

Meanwhile, the US variety Willamette is bred from two different Fuggles – it’s a sterile form of the same plant. Some pure Fuggles are also sold under the name “US Tettnanger”.

Interestingly, all of these hops taste different to each other, some subtly and others more obviously so. It goes to show how much different the growing region makes to the character of a hop!

EKG and Fuggles both have relatively low alpha acid percentages, so many newer British varieties are bred for higher AA% but with similar, classic flavours. Good examples of these are Challenger, Admiral, and Boadicea. There are also some exciting new varieties that boast big citrus and tropical aromas in addition to some of that signature British character – check out Harlequin, Mystic, and Olicana.

Europe

European hops tend to have similar floral aromas to British hops, but combined with a strong herbal note – think sweet basil and eucalyptus. The traditional hops used in European lagers like pilsner and helles are often called “noble hops”, and they are typically low in AA% but high in these herbal aromas.

One major growing area is Žatec in the Czech Republic, which is home to the signature Saaz variety – a classic “noble hop”. Saaz is a core ingredient in authentic pilsner, but is also used in many Belgian beers. Along with the noble hop character, Saaz has a gentle spiciness.

Another important area is Hallertau in Bavaria (Germany), and many hops from this region are named after it: Hallertau Mittelfrüh, Hallertau Hersbrucker, and so on. These two are also “noble hops”, with similar herbal flavours: Hersbrucker is a little more citrusy, and Mittelfrüh a little spicier.

Hop bines in Bavaria
Hop bines in Bavaria. Image credit: wikimedia

Another noble hop grown here is Tettnang, which is closely related to Saaz, with a little more citrus and less spice. Another variety found here is Magnum, which is less glamorous than the aromatic noble hops, but very useful for its super clean bittering capability.

There are also new flavours to be found in European hop fields. Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria both add a big lift of citrus and tropical flavours to the noble hop template, while Möst has a surprising combination of berry and citrus.

Hot side, meet cold side

Hops are happy in the boil – but why stop there?

We’ll take a rest stop from our tour to stand in a whirlpool, and find out why dry hops aren’t really dry…

All content © The Malt Miller 2022

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