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All About Hops

When it comes to beer, there’s a lot of talk about hops. Read on to learn more about these sometimes-bitter botanicals, and why hop-forward Ontario craft beers are made for spring sipping.

Hop-forward brews have bright, clean flavours that makes them perfect spring sippers with everything from herbaceous salads to barbecue. Take a taste of one of our local hopped-up craft ales and you’ll see what we mean.

Like grapes, hops come in dramatically different varietals, but they all have one thing in common: they’re the ultimate foil for beer’s malty sweetness. Over centuries of beer-making, hops beat out all other plants to become the favoured ingredient to keep sweetness in check. The resinous flowers add refreshing bitterness to a beer and imbue it with botanical flavours and aromas. 


A World of Flavour 

Old World, or “noble” hops from Germany, England and the Czech Republic share a soft bitterness and lightly earthy, floral and grassy qualities. New World hops, grown in North America, Australia and New Zealand are bolder in flavour, have notes of citrus, pine and tropical fruit, and tend to be more bitter. 

Bitterness can be a scary word, but don’t fear. These days, even in hop-forward styles like American and India Pale Ales, craft brewers are treading lightly by adding hops very late in the brewing process — called “dry-hopping” — to showcase the flower’s bright aromas and flavours, and play down its bitterness. 


Ready to Taste?

The best way to learn which hops you like best is to compare:  

— You can’t taste the bitterness in every beer style. In light Lagers, classic wheat beers, Scotch Ales, and English-style Stouts, hops are almost undetectable. 

— In Pilsners, Saisons, and Belgian and English Pale Ales, hops are light and zippy. 

— You can’t miss the bold hops in American and India Pale Ales and dry-hopped beers! 


The Big Cs

Right now, Ontario craft beers are bursting with some of the hottest hop varietals in the world. In your next sip, seek out the bold flavours of the “Big Cs,” four of the most common North American hops.


Cascade: The original Big C hop debuted in America in the mid-1970s and features spicy floral and bright grapefruit notes. Taste it in Nickel Brook’s Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale.


Centennial: Nicknamed “Super Cascade,” this amped-up hop showcases plenty of spicy florals with a light citrusy kick. Try to pick it out in Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA.


Chinook: Prized for its mesmerizing herbal, slightly smoky character, Chinook is a staple in American-style pale ales. See if you can nose the herbal flavours in Muskoka Twice as Mad Tom IPA, and pick out Chinook’s smoky qualities in Lake of Bays Ten Point IPA.


Citra: This highly aromatic hop, released in 2009, has an exotic bouquet of gooseberry, orange, lemon, tropical fruit, lychee and blackcurrant. Smell it in Great Lakes Crazy Canuck Pale Ale.


IBUs Explained

Want to gauge how bitter your beer will taste? Check the label for an IBU level, short for international bittering units. IBU levels generally range from 5 to 10 in a sweet golden lager, 15 to 25 in a crisp Pilsner, 25 to 40 in a Pale Ale, 45 and 75 in the average IPA, and 60 to 110 in a double IPA.