Reading Hop Profiles

Most brewers choose hops solely by looking at two things… the name of the hop and the Alpha Acid percentage (AA%).

I did that for a while, but then I learned about the different components of hops and realized that you can improve the quality of your beers if you do actually read further than AA%…

The most practical approach to read a hop profile is to first have a goal in mind… ask yourself: What purpose hop am I looking for? Bittering? Flavor? Aroma?…

Once you have determined the purpose of the hop, then you can pay attention to what matters within the hop profile…

One thing about reading hop profiles, choosing hops and brewing with them as far as home brewing goes is that we are for the most part estimating… making precise calculations is unnecessary…

Reading Hop Profiles When Looking At Fresh Bittering Hops

When brewing with recently harvested and properly stored hops you want to pay close attention to AA% and humulone…

AA% is the total amount of alpha acids: humulone, adhumulone, and cohumulone (you may see these listed as iso-alpha acids: iso-humulone, iso-adhumulone, and iso-cohumulone)

In other words…

Humulone + Adhumulone + Cohumulone = Total AA%

Humulone is the primary alpha acid in most hops and what gives beers the most desirable bitterness profile… unfortunately, getting the humulone percentage is hard…

Most growers only list the percentage of cohumulone… and since adhumulone is usually found in low concentrations, we can estimate that amount of humulone in hops to be almost the same as:

Total AA% – Cohumulone = Humulone

So if I’m brewing with 10% alpha acid hops, and if 30% of total alpha acids consist of cohumulone, then humulone levels will be somewhere in the 70% or high 60% if you account for adhumulone…

What really matters here is that cohumulone is not as desired as humulone…

The mistake most brewers make when looking at cohumulone leves is to only look at the percentage of cohumulone and ignore the total AA%

Remember that when you read 10% AA, it means that 10% of the hop is made up of alpha acids…

One ounce of hops will have .1 oz of alpha acids…

If 30% of the total alpha acids consists of cohumulone, then it has roughly .03 oz of cohumulone…

Compare that with a hop made up of 40% cohumulone, but only 5% AA…

One ounce of 5% AA hop will have .05 oz of total alpha acids… 40% of cohumulone means it will have roughly .02 oz of cohumulone.

So even though it has a higher percentage of cohumulone, it has less total cohumulone per ounce… Keep that in mind…

Reading Hop Profiles When Looking To Age Bittering Hops

When hops are harvested, the Alpha Acids which provide most of the bittering and the oils which provide the aroma in fresh hops begins to decline. The Beta acids however begin to oxidize and become bitter.

The use of oxidized hops in brewing beer is not a common practice other than with wild brews like Lambic brewing. I have also found some references that German brewers prefer using aged hops.

What scares most home brewers and keeps them from using aged hops is the famous ‘cheesy’ hop flavor that develops when aging hops…

In order to learn how to read a hop profile when looking to age bittering hops we need to understand one simple thing. When alpha acids begin to age, they produce the ‘cheesy’ aroma brewers refer to.

For this reason, the best hops to age are those with lower levels of AA%, typically under 5%.

Noble hops should be the primary choice, though with all the new breeds coming out, I want to leave room for exploration as brewers understand more the use of aged hops.

What I look for in a hop profile is the Alpha to Beta Acid Ratio.

When I am looking to age hops I don’t want hops that have more than a 2:1 Alpha to Beta Acid ratio.

Noble hops have a 1:1 ratio and are therefore a better choice, but not the only ones. Crytal hops for example, also have a 1:1 Alpha to Beta Acid ratio and typically have under 5% AA.

Oils are ignored since these will degrade and we don’t use aged hops for aroma hops.

Reading Hop Profiles When Looking At Fresh Flavor or Aroma Hops

Hop aroma and flavor come primarily from the oils of hops. Total hop oil content is usually given in an actual number as opposed to a percentage of the total hop composition. However, individual oils which provide different aromas are given as a percentage of total hop oil.

When reading different hop profiles looking at oils, you want to do a little math to get a better idea of how much of an individual oil you are really using.

If you have a hop with 1 mL of total oil and 40% of the total oils is made up of myrcene, then that hop has about .4 mL of myrcene.

Compare that with a hop variety that has 2 mL of total oils and 40% of the total oils consists of myrcene, then that hop has .8 mL of myrcene, which is double than the first example.