Hops in beer: Characteristics and properties


The first thing someone thinks when you mention the word “hops”  is, without a doubt, beer . However, we want to characterize it for its plant condition and, in truth, little is known about this crop with little ornamental characterization but with so much application in the world of beer.

Let’s catch up on hops. If we mention it right now, everyone imagines a fresh beer directs their thoughts to a common ingredient in this drink (as can also be yeast or malt). However, if we now ask people to imagine what the plant is like. Did we fail miserably?

Well, we solve it right now. The hop plant looks like this:

Photography: Dr. Hagen Graebner

Its growth characteristic includes it within the range of climbers. That said, we have to say that it does not have tendrils with which to increase its grip, but that this climbing power is achieved with a resistant and flexible stem that contains tiny trichomes (similar to hooks). In fact, if you look at any botanical illustration of the hop plant, you can see that some images are of the plant growing in a spiral on a wooden or metal pole.

Its growth is bulky if you have good growing and climatic conditions, and it reaches several meters in height if it can lean on a guide (like any other climbing plant).


Beer has always been attributed beneficial properties , as long as it is not overloaded. All of these benefits, in part, are provided by the hop extracts that are also added to this alcoholic beverage.

As for hops, it has more than 100 active ingredients of all kinds (serolidol, linioneno, geraniol, linolol, citral, etc.). One of these compounds that is found in good quantity in hops is humulem (which gives rise to the name of the plant, Humulus lupulus ). Anticancer properties are attributed to this compound (REAL ACADEMIA NACIONAL DE PHARMACIA, 2010) and a great antioxidant power.

However, not only this compound has this antitumor capacity, since 8-prenylnaringenin (isoflavones), also present in hops, is a powerful phytoestrogen with anticancer potential .


Hops is a crop that, when it comes to implanting it, needs an infrastructure that allows the support and growth of its stems. Being a climber, it is necessary to have a series of high-rise structures (hops can exceed 5 meters in height).

It would be something like what appears in the following image:

Starting with the soil, it is always interesting to improve soil organic matter levels , a factor that in the future will allow us to improve crop yield and production. We can perform a soil analysis to confirm the minerals that the soil naturally has, its pH and its texture. Based on this, we will make the appropriate corrections.

Even so, we once again insist on improving the soil with the contribution of organic nutrients .

The incorporation of the plant, once we have all the infrastructure assembled, can be done in the spring season, with the arrival of good weather (from March). Hop specimens can be obtained by cuttings (obtained from another plant depending on the variety chosen), or by staking, the first method being faster than the second.

We will take the greatest care of the hop plant at the beginning of the crop, ensuring a minimum supply of nutrients and moisture in the soil.

When the hops begin to grow and at the beginning of their climbing through the guides, they  will begin to carry out pruning tasks, controlling the exit of the new shoots and the direction they will take. Of course, we must always respect the weather conditions before performing this task, as it can greatly affect hops in frosty conditions.


The greatest needs of the plant appear (of course) when vegetative growth occurs . This results in the emergence of new hop sprouts. In this physiological stage, nitrogen is an essential element, in order to provide the basic energy for the new sprouting. A subscriber plan would be the following:

  • Nitrogen (divided into three times, 40%, 30%, 30%): up to 200 kg / ha N.
  • Phosphorus (P2O5): 150-200 kg / ha.
  • Potassium: 200-250 kg / ha.

However, these contributions will be conditioned, in greater or lesser dosage, by the initial conditions of the soil. This is what we have commented before, since in many cultivation protocols, having poor soil, up to 40,000 kg of manure are added per hectare.


Hop training

One of the most arduous and economically consuming tasks is guiding and monitoring all the new sprouts that come out each year. They are usually done in the spring stage, where the best stems are selected for staging, eliminating through pruning those that are considered unnecessary or that may affect other shoots.

What is collected are the flowers, by means of cuts at the base of the stem and their subsequent drying. The work after the harvest consists of separating the flowers from the rest of the plant material (leaves, stems, etc.). An important determining factor in the cultivation of hops is that its flowers are quite sensitive to the dryness provided by cutting, so the transformation process must go immediately after harvesting.

Once the flowers are clean, the excess water must be eliminated, up to values ​​of around 8-10%. This process can be carried out in a modern way using hot air dryers.

Later, and with the arrival of spring , the cultivation of hops continues its normal rhythm, with the production of new shoots, new stakes and new collections.


Beer is a world-renowned liquid element, it has provided an interesting potential to all its ingredients. With regard to hops, many different varieties have come out to convey a different flavor to beer, depending on production needs.

  • Ahtanum : a variety of American origin, quite aromatic and widely cultivated.
  • Centennial : a fairly recent hop variety on the market that provides a fruity flavor to beer.
  • Galena : this variety has managed to displace other more classic ones. It gives beer a slightly bitter and balanced taste.
  • Northdown : a fairly balanced hop that provides very smooth and light flavors to the beer. It is especially suitable for very malted beers that do not need to add more bitterness with the hops.
  • Strisselspalt : this variety of hops of French origin, quite classic among producers, provides a balanced and neutral taste to the beer, so its hops are used for Lager-type beers.

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