British and English Hops – Brewing Hop Groups

This week I take a look at the English hop group and what makes these hops unique for English ales.

English Hop Growing

The British hops group consists of hop varieties grown in Great Britain. These hops were first grown in the South-East counties of Suffolk, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. A short time later the West Midlands also started growing hops including the counties of Herfordshire and Worchestershire. Today, approximately half of the hops is grown in the Midlands and half in the South East. (source: British Hop Association).

British Hop Varieties and Flavor

The traditional English hop varieties include classics like East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, Willamette (a Fuggles derivative), Northdown, Northern Brewer, Goldings, First Gold, Phoenix, Pilgrim, Challenger and Progress, Pallisade, and Bramling Cross. In addition British growers grow some US derivative hops like Cascade (UK) as well as newer varieties like Jester, Mystic and Archer.

For me, East Kent Goldings is perhaps a definitive example of English hops, though Fuggles and Northern Brewer are also consider distinctive classics. Northern Brewer was, for example, the hops used in the now defunct Anchor Steam Beer which was one of the very first US craft beers.

The flavors of British yeast tend to be more complex and less clean than Continental or even US hops. Major flavors include spicy, earthy, herbal, woody, grassy, green and tangy. Some varieties like Fuggles can produce vegetal or green grass notes.

The complexity and earthy/woody notes are at the heart of British hops and at the core of many English and British beer styles. These are not the clean ethereal lagers brewed on the Continent. English ales are rich in flavor that varies from fruity to earthy, woody and grassy. What would be considered an off-flavor in a Continental lager is an important component of many English styles.

British Hops in Beer Styles

Not surprisingly, British hops are closely associated with traditional English and Scottish beer styles. These include English Ale, Mild, Bitter, English Strong Ale, Old Ale, English IPAs, Brown Ale, Porter, Barley Wine, and Stout. While many of these styles are only moderately hopped, the earthy flavors of British hops play an important role in creating the overall style.

In the early days of the recent American Craft Beer revolution, British hops were used by many small breweries to recreate British styles. While over time, many of these styles such as IPA were “Americanized” using hops from the Pacific Northwest and cleaner American yeast, the British varieties are still used in some American ales commercially.

English hops are some of my favorite varieties to brew with. I hope you enjoyed this week’s article on hop groups. Please subscribe for regular weekly delivery, and don’t hesitate to retweet, link, like or mention any of my articles on social media.

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