The whole range. From a subtle dry black tea presence sufficient to corner what cloy there is in an ordinary bitter all the way to the full on open your mouth and inject spray furniture polish of the imperial double India (and other parts of the empire) pale-ish ale.
Which makes is not all that useful below a high level of abstration.
Aroma more than bitterness.
When the balance of the beer is weighted towards hop characteristics. Aroma, flavor or bitterness, regardless of style.
To me ‘hoppy’ used to mean simply a beer brewed with lots of hops, comparared to other beers.
Now I take it to mean that a beer has noticeable late hop/ dry hop flavours e.g. fruity/spicy/floral, and that this is different to bitterness.
e.g. Some beers such as Coniston Bluebird are pretty hoppy, but not very bitter – others (e.g. some old-fashioned UK bitters) are bitter, but not hoppy, while West Coast IPAs are both.
Perhaps because its meaning is a little unclear, some beerwriters argue against the use of the term at all, but to me, within the craft beer world, it’s meaning is pretty well accepted.
I agree with Jay. Hoppy means aroma- citrusy, piny, spicy. Often that correlates with hop bitterness, but not always. My favorite IIPAs, both commercial (best example is Pliny) and homebrew are pretty bitter, but the intense hop flavor is what I’m looking for.
“Hoppy” is also a fairly relative term; a hoppy stout or brown ale has a LOT less hop flavor and aroma than a hoppy pale ale.
The simple answer is bugger all! Along with malty it’s the laziest phrase used by brewers to describe their beer to consumers – I’m on a one-woman crusade to wipe it off the back of beer bottles.
As you can see by the answers here it’s not a clear explanation of any beer’s relative merits – it is totally open to interpretation and I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve had someone look at me when tasting an IPA or pale ale and say tentatively: “I’d describe this as malty wouldn’t I?”
I have no idea why breweries put so much time and effort into making brilliant craft brews and then proceed to describe them as: “a malty beer with a bitter hoppy finish” you may as well say “just drink it and make up your own mind, but don’t ask us to entice you, we know it’s good, come on, why haven’t you bought it yet?!”
Hops can range from earthy to orangey and floral to tropical fruit – not to mention coconut, nettles, grass, piney and so on and so on!
To Melissa’s point, I use it as a relative descriptor:
- malty vs. hoppy (balance)
- somewhat hoppy vs. very hoppy (relative amount)
- hoppy aroma vs. hoppy flavor (nature of hop presence)
Sure, it’s a subjective assessment, but so are light/dark, sweet/sour, malty/balanced, etc. There are measurements for all of those attributes just as there is for hops (via alpha acids)—it may not take into account all the attributes of hops and when/how added, but it can help set expectations.
It depends who’s talking. If it’s the brewer, I’m with Melissa – it’s a meaningless marketing phrase. If it’s a hophead talking, I’ll walk away. If it’s my local, I’ll order something else (they know what I don’t like). However, if it’s in Bavaria, I’ll probably drink it – and enjoy it.
“What does hoppy mean? To you?”
I was going to go on about the characteristics of hops I often look for, but that really isn’t the question. And I agree with Melissa, I try to never use the terms “hoppy” or “malty” as descriptors for a beer’s flavor, they’re too general, but as mrmambo points out, they set expectations.
“Hoppy” to me is how I think of a beer that is balanced toward the hop characters and away from the malt characters — whether it’s over-the-top hoppy or just a little more hop forward.
As sfresh says, “Aroma, flavor or bitterness, regardless of style.”
Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is hoppy, as is the Big Foot. Paulaner Helles is not hoppy, as Salvator also is not.
Mike, where does Bavarian hophead fit in ;>)
If you can make sense of the question it is serious, because – I don’t have to tell you – some of the world’s most wonderful hops are grown in Bavaria.
@mrmambo the key word there is relative, how does a beer novice have anything to relate to? How does a consumer have any idea of what the baseline of malty is?
And hoppy aroma can range from catty to lychee – so how is hop aroma any more helpful? And even I’ll admit that when it comes to colour of beer brewers don’t limit themselves to light or dark, they generally at least manage straw, copper and black as minimum!
As for measurement via alpha acids that’s a guide for brewers at brewing point and EBUs/IBUs, or whatever scale you choose, are pretty much a false scale because they have little relevance to the way you experience the finished product; take two British beers as a great example.
Fuller’s London Pride, technically, has a much lower IBU rating than its barley wine counterpart Golden Pride.
However no one ever picks Golden Pride as being the more bitter one because it has fair more underlying sweetness – ergo the IBU rating is a flawed scale when it comes to human experience; something that was brilliantly demonstrated in the 2009 GABF judges’ briefing.
To be a bit flippant brewers need to ‘use their words’ – we’ve been granted the gift of language and it’s about time the brewing industry (and everyone else who communicates about beer) used that gift to its full potential for the betterment of beer in general.
The wine producers did it 30 years ago and we’re still lagging behind…
I think Pilsener. If you said ‘bitter’ I think of Alt. Hefeweiss can also have a bitter taste, but not the hops.
Stan, as you well know, there are huge difference in the different sorts of hops. I’ll take a hoppy Bavarian kellerbier any day, but please keep those C-hops away from me.
And yes, I do agree that Bavarian hops (as well as some English) are wonderful.
Before defining “hoppiness”, can I ask what hops are being defined?
Velky Al – As you might have guessed I left the question open-ended for a reason. The thought has occurred to me I can write a book about hops without using the word hoppy except when I quote people.
But it’s such a nice word I’d like to be able to use it, if it has meaning, if I can make sure I make the context clear.
What got me thinking were some spider graphs from the German hop growers. Like this:
So comments are still open.
Like others, I treat ‘bitter’ and ‘hoppy’ differently. A beer can be bitter without being hoppy and hoppy without being bitter. For me, bitter is bitter while hoppy is aromatic.
“What got me thinking were some spider graphs from the German hop growers.”
Whoa — so this begs the question, how do they define “hoppy?” ‘Cause the other 4 adjectives are among those I use to define the character itself. Perhaps the term I use “earthy,” which I perceive in aroma from Goldings (both Styrian & Kent) and Fuggles, is synonymous with their “hoppy?”
Good question, Steve. I will ask them next time I see them – which I hope will be Sunday.
You’re not getting me to be fodder for your book. I can imagine the first two sentences: “Ask a beer drinker what the word ‘hoppy’ means to them, and they’ll give you an ignorant list of irrelevant adjectives. Take Jeff Alworth, a blogger from Oregon, who said …”
I will not fall into your spider web, Mr Hieronymus.
(Kidding, I hope, obviously.)
Given that you only told Stan that I’ll take your comments for my book thanks Jeff!!! I’ve got a whole section that deals with this issue so a personal quote would be really great!! (just kidding too!)
“…which I hope will be Sunday.”
Jealousy quickly rears its ugly head somewhere north of Chicago.
I’m not sure what Melissa is concerned about. 3 of the first 6 responders (and some others) take it to mean that a beer has a pronounced hop aroma but not necessarily bitterness. That’s generally what I take it to mean as well.
And frankly, my eyes are much more likely to glaze over if someone tells me that a beer has essences of “nettles and tropical fruit” than if they tell me it’s “hoppy”. Granted, I might expect a bit more descriptiveness from someone who’s writing about beer, but I generally have no problem with the term especially in conversation, or on a 15-word beer label.
Are there diagrams for American hops like the German one you show?
“3 of the first 6 responders (and some others) take it to mean that a beer has a pronounced hop aroma but not necessarily bitterness.”
I think it’s a common misconception that hoppiness has to always equal bitterness, and nothing more. While hops can certainly add bitterness to a beer’s profile, that doesn’t have to be the only contribution to flavor, let alone aroma.
Peter – Not exactly and certainly none I’ve seen from hop growers or hop brokers.
@Steve “hoppy but not bitter” is a phrase I have used probably dozens of times trying to clear up that distinction to new beer drinkers.
Flagon — do you usually get the tilted head of confusion as a response?
On a business trip to San Francisco some years ago a co-worker and I sat down for a sampler of the beer at Bridgeport Brewing. She told me that she did not like “bitter beer,” but then proceeded to rave over the IPA in our set (a moderately bitter IPA at that time).
I chuckled and asked which commercial beers she really didn’t like and she clarified her opinion by explaining that she thought Guinness was bitter — which it is, of course, just bitter in a different way.
The problem with such spider graphs is the range of possibilities within each of the five points there. Take “citrussy” for example, is that lemony, grapefruity, orangey or perhaps even like bergamot?
If someone says lemony then I start heading in the direction of Saaz and the German nobles, if grapefruit then Cascade and Amarillo is the obvious direction head. Oh and I am playing with the idea of a bergamot witbier, but that’s a different story.
I think though, the fact that people use the term “hoppy” is really a starting point for other descriptors.
The obvious answer is that a “hoppy” beer is a beer that makes extensive use of hops in the recipe (there are even some objective measures of this, like IBUs). As Melissa noted earlier, IBU isn’t necessarily a good indicator by itself, but it’s almost never used to describe a beer by itself either, which is probably worth keeping in mind here.
There’s a general suite of flavors and aromas that I generally associate with hops, so when someone describes a beer as being “hoppy”, that’s where my mind generally goes. Of course, I never see reviews using that word as the sole description – there’s usually some context around it that will help narrow the flavors and aromas down further. That may seem obvious, but from the above discussion, it seems like we’re trying to examine the term in a vacuum.
A “beer novice” won’t have that initial base of flavors and aromas to work from, but then, are reviews really written for beer novices? Maybe they should be, but when I was a beer novice (not that long ago), I found most reviews (even and sometimes especially ones that didn’t use general terms like “malty” or “hoppy”) dreadfully obtuse and difficult to understand. As I’ve tried my hand at writing reviews, I think I’ve gained an appreciation for how difficult it is to really describe a beer to a novice. The best reviews are the ones that provide the most context. So “hoppy” might not be a good descriptor by itself, but that’s beside the point. It’s how it fits into the rest of the description that’s important.
Velky Al – For another presentation the German hop growers include black currant as one of the descriptors. Always low, which makes sense, given that muscat/black currant is a marker for Cascade, etc. I’ll have to ask why.
Two bits about spider graphs. a) the quality and training of the panel is so important given how “blind” so many people are to various aromas. b) I’m finding I like the ones with 7 descriptors. I’ve see some with 15 (included EKG) that made me squint.
Black currant from German hops? I’ve tasted that character in estery Ales before, but can’t say I’ve ever picked it out as a hops character.
Any examples? Maybe Aventinus? But again, I would have chalked that up to yeast and/or warm ferment.
Steve – That’s the strange part. He all get 0 (maybe there is one 1). Aventinus uses all Hallertau hops so that isn’t the hops, but yeast-chocolate malt-maybe a little oxidation.
I think to get around the IBU conundrum raised by Melissa it might be worthwhile to refer to the bitterness ratio rather than solely the IBUs. You could then pick ranges where you move from malty to balanced to hoppy (or preferably bitter).
From there, the components of hop flavor that don’t contribute to the bitterness (or IBUs depending on which calculations you use) but rather to the flavor or aroma could start to weigh on another aspect of the beer that we might describe as hoppy: think 5 minutes addition all the way through to dry hopping.
The comparison to wine lexicon worries me a bit, as in beer we have far more ingredients and therefore giving the beer recipe would perhaps be the best way to describe the beer. In wine that would do very little for you.
“Hoppy” can be vague when used to describe beer but is especially vague when used to describe hops.
I would love to see a similar spider graph for beer flavors that include attributes like malty, estery, phenolic… beery
This is sort of do-it-for-yourself version, but have you seen 33 Beers?
I hadn’t seen 33 Beer before. It looks like it would be great fun at a dinner party and/or beer tasting. I’ll just scritch out “linger” and write in “beery”.
Strisselspalt has a black currant thing going on, makes an interesting addition to witbier.
Velky Al – Now there’s an endangered species. We need to mount a “save Strisselspalt” campaign.
What’s the difference between Strisselspalt and your garden variety Spalt hop?
“Considered a good aroma hop with medium intensity and pleasant hoppiness similar to Hersbrucker, often preferred over it. Used for Pilsners, Lagers and Wheat beers.”
Hmm, not sure I want black currant in my Pils.
(pleasant “hoppiness”) Interesting choice of words at Midwest Homebrewing ;))
I use Strisselspalt in my Christmas spiced amber ale every year. Adds a lovely jamminess to the background. Save the Strisselspalt!
Does anyone know of any commercial beers that use Strisselspalt?
Sierra Nevada American Wheat (retired) used it. Michelob until recently.
Hoppy to me means happy with the best hops on the planet, the native hops of North America. Once you taste some,,you’ll be ruined for life. Given time, you’ll see. It begins. What the hell else is gonna be new in beer world from the raw material side? A new plant is what I say,,,time for the North American hop to take it’s true place in history,,,and in beer/ale/etc.
Noble, Aromatic, North American Hops,,,,don’t forget your NANAH!
By the way Stan,, I love the diagram. Thanks!!! I can draw you some cool pictures from different varieties we have. Citrus, flower, fruity,,,with hop spikes. Different picts,,,different hops.
By the way,,,it’s hop digging time. You want some this year?? Come visit?
Hey Todd – I plan to visit your hops up at the monastery.