In recent years, hops have taken on a life of their own in the craft beer world. As more and more brewers and growers have shifted their focus to the unique qualities that different varieties and treatments of hops can bring to a brew, the variety beer offerings has exploded. Hops testing allows beer makers to make the most of these qualities.
At a basic level, hops are a critical part of a beer. They provide the characteristic bitterness and aroma necessary to balance the sweetness of the brew. Ensuring optimal characteristics of hops helps ensure a brewer achieves its desired flavor and quality. For more advanced brewers, knowing the chemical makeup of hops allows a brewer to make decisions and adjustments to reach a certain desired flavor.
Varieties of hops
The rounded cone-shaped hop flower that has become a recognizable symbol of beer making is the female flower from the humulus lupulus plant. There are more than 44,000 acres of hops growing in the United States, making up 42% of the World hop production.
Hops are surprisingly complex. There are dozens of different varieties and a number of factors influence the different varieties’ hop profiles. Factors include:
- Differences in chemical makeup of each of the varieties of plants
- Regions in which they are grown
- Growing conditions
- Timing of harvest
According to Hop Growers of America, the most popularly grown varieties of hops in the country are:
- Super Galena
Processing hops for desired flavor
Hops are generally harvested annually between mid-August and mid-September but the exact timing can affect how the plant impacts the flavor and aroma of the beer. The processing and packaging that hops undergo before sale also affect the end product and its concentration of hop oil. Brewers and hop growers therefore need to have the information that allows educated decisions about what to plant, when to harvest, and how to handle hops.
The brewing process also modifies the characteristics of the hops so accurate readings in the hop profile allow a beer maker to make adjustments. Generally, when hops are added to the boiling stage of a brew, a resulting release of hops alpha acid adds aroma and bitter flavor. Later in the process, hops beta acid further adds to the aroma. Dry hopping takes advantage of the way boiling affects the release of acid by adding hops after the wort has cooled.
Hop Profile & Analysis
A comprehensive chemical analysis of the hop components that affect a brew gives both hops growers and brewers an understanding of the ingredients they are working with. Not only does this allow a brewer to adjust a recipe or process but it offers the grower information about how its harvest affects values.
Our hop profile and analysis includes those values that drive beer making decisions including:
- Analysis of oils content, including the percentage alpha acids and beta acids
- Region from which the plaint hails
- Best use such as bittering, finishing, or dual
- Characteristics such as aroma, types of brews the variety is mainly used for, and possible substitutes
Hop Oil Content
The oils in hops play a key role in producing aroma. The non-bitter flavors and scents in hops come from the essential oils – volatile organic compounds which evaporate when boiled. The effect of these essential oils can be intensified by the brewing method. Testing the oil content of a hops sample can also indicate the quality of that sample or batch in relation to that variety’s typical reading.
Our test for oil content follows the methods set forth by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) and provides a calculation of the total volume of oil in a sample. For a more detailed analysis, consider upgrading to our Alpha and Beta Acid Content test.
Hops Alpha & Beta Acid Content
Alpha acids, derived from the resin glands of the flowers on hop plants, are responsible for the bitterness in beer. When heated during the boiling process, alpha acids can be isomerized into iso-alpha acids. Generally, hops with a higher alpha acid percentage will produce a more bitter beer. Alpha acid percentage is affected by:
- Hop variety
- Growing conditions
- Age of the crop
- Method of drying
The type of alpha acids prevalent in a variety affect the overall flavor. For example, hops higher in humulone tend to have a milder flavor than varieties higher in cohumulone. The iso-alpha acids are also responsible for an anti-bacterial property that prevents spoilage in beer.
Beta acids also have a bittering effect but in a different way than alpha acids. Beta acids gradually break down during fermentation and storage and add bitterness as they oxidize. Since alpha acids affect bitterness during the boil and beta acids change the bitterness over time, choosing a hop in certain ratios will affect the consistency of bitterness over time.
For a detailed analysis of the specific oils in a sample of hops, choose our Alpha and Beta Acid Content test. In accordance with ASBC methodology, it breaks down which of the 300+ VOCs are present to affect the flavor.
Dry Hops Moisture Content
Depending on the variety, a hop variety will increase in moisture over time. Hop cones that have above-ideal moisture will degrade more quickly but if the moisture is too low, they will suffer due to oxidation. Knowing the dry hop moisture content allows growers to time their harvest so that the cones reach full maturity but do not begin to break down, losing quality.
There are generic formulas available to calculate how long it takes dry hops to increase in moisture but this is imprecise because the rate is different for each variety. Instead, rely on our dry hops moisture content analysis for a fast and accurate moisture reading.
Hops testing by Phoslab
Phoslab Environmental Services is a state-of-the-art laboratory offering comprehensive testing and reporting for your beer brewing needs. Call (863)617-743 to speak with one of or professionals.