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What Are Hops? A Beginner’s Guide


Back when everybody still drank light and fizzy lagers, before craft beer became ubiquitous, you couldn’t really taste hops. Even if some drinkers understood that they were one of the four critical ingredients in beer—along with water, malt and yeast—very few could pinpoint what this plant actually did. 

This would quickly change with the craft beer revolution. Those who sipped an Anchor Liberty ale (first on the market in 1975) or Sierra Nevada pale ale (1980) would instantly realize some ingredient was creating its citrusy aroma, piney flavor profile and, most importantly, a bitterness that was a heck of a lot different from the grainy, corny and slightly sweet Budweiser and Coors Banquet that dominated the market at the time.  

“For some folks, the bitterness, flavor and aroma was just too much to handle,” says Jeremy Moynier, senior manager of brewing and innovation at Stone Brewing in San Diego “But as they started to catch on, the people who liked these beers were super excited and vocal about it and this passion [for hops] is what basically ignited craft beer.”  

Whether you’re a die-hard hops lover or a beer beginner, here’s a primer on everything you need to know.