HOPS GUIDE - What makes a good beer ?



Hops for Flavour


The world of wine has, since the 1990s, put great emphasis on the different flavours offered by each grape variety. This is because wine marketers believe that knowing what to expect from a grape variety is easier for a consumer to understand than attempting to know what to expect from a wine region or a country.


To be scurrilous, occassionally wine panels are asked to taste single grape varietal wines and then to write down which back label (i.e. tastes of blackcurrant and lemon over a bed of august elder flowers) refers to which wine. Invariably they get it wrong, which leads me to think that making taste claims for each hop variety is entirely legit.


Hops have just as many flavour profiles and beauty spots as grapes, but brewers in the 1970s and 80s used to blend hops together to achieve a consistent grist rather than asking just one hop to show its individual beauty and character.


It is not to claim that single hop beers are better. They are just different. But times have changed and there are now over 30 single hop varietal beers in Britain including award winners such as Fullers 1845 (Goldings); Hop Backs Summer Lightning (Goldings); Hogs Backs T.E.A (Goldings); Brakspears Coniston Bluebird (Challenger), Adnams Broadside (First Gold) and Caledonians Golden Promise (Target).


So what clues can you use to try to recognize each hop, in the knowledge that barley, yeast and water will do their best to influence the result?


The Fuggle was propagated in Kent in 1875 by Richard Fuggle It is very widely used traditional English ales and is frequently used alongside Goldings, for which it forms a perfect base. It has the advantage of being very low in alpha acids (c 50%) and yet it provides length, roundness and drinkability. Excellent in every style of ale, the Fuggle brings particular sensuality to porters and stouts. It is often used as a dry hop so as to bring together flavours and provide character. Flavours attributed to it are: earthy, grassy, sensuous, moreish. Single hop varietal examples are:-


Whitbread's Fuggles Imperial

Chiltern Brewery's John Hampden's Ale

George Gale's Prize Old Ale

McMullen's Gladstone bitter.


Goldings, first developed in the 1700's, consist of a group of traditional English hop varieties, including Amos' Early Bird, Cobbs, Canterbury, Eastwell, Golding, Bramling and Mathon. The Golding is often described as 'quintessentially English'. It is usefully low in alpha acid (c 5.5%) and very versatile. Historically, it has often been used in a blend with the Fuggle to which it often adds a delicate citrus edge. More recently, the Golding is being used increasingly for 'single hop varietal' beers and in some wheat beers. Adjectives used to describe it include citrus sweet, lemon, floral, violets, apricot. Used in greater concentration, or as a dry hop, it provides a rich orange, marmalade character. Single varietal beers include:-


Hop Back's Summer Lightning

Fuller's 1845

Fuller's India Pale Ale

Frederic Robinson's Frederic's Premium

JW Lee's Bitter

the Award-winning Hog's Back's T.E.A



First Gold is one of England's revolutionary new dwarf hop varieties. It is a cross between Whitbread's Golding variety and a dwarf male and has many of the Golding's flavour characteristics, but with a higher alpha acid (c 8.5%). The hop gives a rich, citrus character to beers, with orange peel and dried apricot. A very adaptable. all round hop for fruity bitters, ales, stronger flavoured summer beers and IPAs. Beers which use this hop assertively include:-


Adnam's bottled Broadside IPA

Young's First Gold

Freeminer's Gold Standard.


Bramling Cross, bred in 1927, is a cross between a Bramling (Golding) mother and a wild Manitoban male. The eccentricity of the Manitoban gives beers a blackcurrant and lemon quality which is exciting when carefully handled. Alternatively, Bramling Cross can provide a sweet creamy drinkability. This hop should be excellent for spiced beers, Christmas beer, fruit beers. curry beer, as well as having potential for winter and summer wheat beers. Very few overtly Bramling Cross beers yet exist.


The Target hop was bred by HRI-Wye in 1972 as a bittering hop, with alpha acid of around 11%. However its flavour characteristics have out performed expectations. Although many brewers regard it as a difficult hop, those who have persevered manage to obtain flavours ranging from orange, to marmalade, to peppery geranium. Target has been used as a single varietal in:-


Caledonian's award winning Golden Promise

Usher's Lal Toofan lager

Hardy and Hanson's prize winning Guzzling Goose Bitter which uses Target both in the copper and as a dry hop.



W G V (Whitbread Goldings Variety) Bred in 191I in Kent and first promoted in the I930s both for its flavour and disease resistance qualities This Goldings relation gives a citric, lightly fragrant aroma and flavour best suited to pale ales, light bitters and wheat beers, Used as a single varietal in McMullen's AK original.


The Progress hop was developed by HRI-Wye in 1951, a daughter of the Whitbread Golding Variety, to provide a wilt tolerant alternative to the Fuggle, It has alpha acid at c 6% and a slightly sweet sometimes lime fruit character. Excellent for pale ales, lighter bitters, wheat beers and porters. It has been used as a 100% varietal in:-


Hop Back's Thunderstorm

Wood Brewery's Hopping Mad



Wye Challenger and Wye Northdown: Both these hops are 'dual purpose' hops with alpha acid of about 8%. They give a full fruit palate and considerable breadth of flavour. Challenger in particular has produced award winning single varietal beers, Single varietal examples include:-


St Peter's Strong ale

Swale's Old Dick

Wychwood's Old Devil

B&T's Old Bat


and, the all-conquering Brakspear's Coniston Bluebird