Hop Bitterness vs. Hop Flavor

Hop Bitterness vs. Hop Flavor

With the introduction of DuVig’s first IPA, it seems like an appropriate time to write about hops.  Hops, which are an important ingredient in beer, are a frequent conversation piece in the DuVig tasting room.  Quite often, the discussion of hops will turn into hop flavor versus hop bitterness.  It has become a common phrase in the craft beer world to describe certain beers as; ‘this beer is hoppy’, or ‘this beer is not too hoppy’.  The phraseology has an error point that is worth discussing because the natural tendency is to use these phrases to explain that you, the beer drinker, taste the beer as bitter, or not too bitter.  Hops provide a great deal of flavor to the beer that is not bitter, so the issue arises when a beer drinker states that a beer is hoppy to explain the level of bitterness.

DuVig uses Citra hops (which was developed by the Hop Breeding Company in 2007) in several of the beers brewed.  Citra is an extremely strong and flavorful hop that has the following official description: Strong citrus and tropical tones of grapefruit, melon, lime, gooseberry, passion fruit and lychee.  These flavors are produced by oils (Co-Humulone, Myrcene, Caryophyllene, Humulene, farnesene) that naturally occur in the plant and then released in the boil during the brewing process through isomerization of the oils.  Another major component of hops that is extremely important to the brewer is the Alpha Acid level.  The alpha acid level predicts the amount of bitterness, measured in International Bittering Units (IBU), the final beer will have based on the alpha acid amount and the length of time the hops are in the boil.  Citra has an alpha acid level of 11-13% which indicates a relatively high alpha acid level that has the potential to create of highly bitter beer.  When DuVig brews the Pale Ale, Citra hops are used in the process.

DuVig has made a decision to brew the Pale Ale with a great deal of hops flavor without a high level of bitterness.  This is accomplished by introducing the hops later in the boil so more of the flavors remain in the beer with less bitterness.  The flavors in the DuVig Pale Ale come from the hops used, including Citra; melon, fruit, citrus, etc.  At the DuVig tasting room we describe the Pale Ale as hoppy, without a lot of bitterness.  It is appropriate to describe the beer as hoppy since all the most pronounced flavors come from the hops.  DuVig understands that the common lexicon of craft beer drinkers is to say a beer is hoppy when it has a strong level of bitterness; but, DuVig is attempting a tiny step in changing this terminology to account for hoppy flavors that are not bitter.  If you hear someone in the DuVig tasting room talk about the ‘hoppy Pale Ale’ they are describing hop flavors, not hop bitterness.

Next Up: Understanding Bitterness and IBUs