Hoppy Vs Bitter (How Beer Gets Its Bitterness and Flavor!)

Hoppy versus bitter: are they the same? What makes a beer one or the other? Can a beer be both?

While some people may use the terms interchangeably, hoppy and bitter don’t mean the same thing. Bitterness comes from hops, but the timing makes a big difference. Bitter beers use hops early in the brewing process, while hoppy beers include the hops at the middle and end of the boil to balance out the bitterness with the hop aroma and flavor.

Keep scrolling to read more on hoppy versus bitter, how beer is made to be one or the other, and the most popular styles for each.

Does hoppy mean bitter?

Hoppiness and bitterness are two different terms with two different meanings. They often are used interchangeably when describing beers, but that’s not necessarily correct. It’s worth noting that, before we dive into the details, all beers contain some amount of hops. Whether they’re used for the flavor and aroma, or just for the preservative qualities, almost all beers have them.

With that being said, you can have a beer that is hoppy but not bitter. Or, you can have a beer that is bitter but not hoppy. These two characteristics are a product of the brewing recipe and process: they go hand in hand. 

In general, if you use a lot of hops in your recipe, you’ll make a hoppy beer. Again, this doesn’t mean it will be bitter. Since hops provide bitterness, it depends on how and how much you use, partnered with when you use them in the brewing process that will impart more or less bitterness into your beer.

In short, if you add a lot of hops early in the brewing process, you will have a bitter beer. If you spread out the additions of hops throughout the entire process, you will have a hoppy beer that is not bitter. Hoppy does not mean bitter.

Are hops bitter?

Do hops impart bitterness? Is it hops that make beer bitter?

Hops are not bitter until they are boiled. The amount of bitterness they give to beer depends on the amount used, the amount of time they’re boiled, and when they’re added to the boil. The non-bitter components of hops boil away in the wort, which confirms these factors.

Hops on their own are mildly bitter. It’s when they’re added to the brewing process that they become increasingly bitter.

How do hops add bitterness to beer?

The chemical makeup of hops is what adds bitterness to beer.

The chemical composition of hops imparts bitterness in beer almost as soon as the hop hits the boiling wort. The longer the hops boil, the more bitter your beer will be. Hops are bitter in that they give beers a more bitter taste the longer they physically remain in the boil.

More hops early in the brewing process mean a more bitter beer. This has to do with their alpha-acids.

What does it mean to say a beer is hoppy?

Hops are used in all beers. In India Pale Ales, hops are used for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. In other beers, they’re used almost solely for preserving the beer.

Hops were first used to preserve beer over long periods of time, like when the British were sailing to India and put hops in their beer barrels to preserve the beer’s quality. When the beer reached the subcontinent, though, the hops lost their fruity flavors and the beer became bitter.

This happened because the hops stayed in the beer for such a long time. Had the hops been in the beer barrels for a short trip – say, a 15-minute car ride – the beer would not have been as bitter.

To say that a beer is hoppy is saying that the hops are so present in the brewing process that you can taste them in the final product. Likely, though, depending on when the hops were introduced to the process, the beer won’t be bitter. Instead, it will be hoppy.

Hoppy beers are ones that still use a lot of hops, but the addition of them was spread out through the boiling process. The process for an IPA (the most notable “hoppy” beer) looks something like this: add hops at the start, add a little more in the middle, and then add more toward the end. The hops added at the middle and end will strip the final product of some of its bitterness, but it will still be hoppy.

What does a hoppy beer taste like?

So, what does a hoppy beer taste like? Hoppy beers have distinct flavors: at face value, they taste like hops.

A hoppy beer tastes like the hops used to make it. Different hops introduce anywhere from fruity, floral, citrusy, or resiny flavors and smells. The strength and presence of these tastes and aromas depend on how much of a hop you include in your recipe, as well as when you add it.

Fan of hoppy beer or not, these flavors and aromas are often so distinguishable that anyone can pick them out.

What is the opposite of a hoppy beer?

To pin the opposite of a hoppy beer can be difficult.

The opposite of a hoppy beer will be a malt-forward beer. All beers have at least a little bit of a malty flavor. Malt-forward beers are sweeter in taste because of the residual sugars left behind and are on the opposite side of the taste spectrum of beer.

The perfect example of this type of beer would be an Oktoberfest beer and, more broadly, many different styles of lagers.

What are the most common hoppy beer styles?

Are IPAs the only hoppy beer? Of course not.

Hoppy beers include:

  • Pale ales
  • IPAs
  • Double/Imperial IPAs
  • Triple IPAs
  • West-Coast style IPAs

Each of these styles introduces a hefty amount of hops at the beginning of the brewing process. All IPAs, including doubles and triples, use a lot of hops. This does not mean that they’re bitter. Although some are bitter because of their unique recipes and processes, the styles are characterized as hoppy. 

What does it mean to say a beer is bitter?

The ability to drink bitter beers is sometimes an acquired taste due to humanity’s evolutionary chain. This is likely why some people prefer different, “lighter” beer styles. However, a lot of us opt for bitter-tasting beer.

To say a beer is bitter does not mean it’s hoppy. It doesn’t have to be any type of pale ale, either. Bitterness is a flavor of beer, just like hoppiness. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t mean the same thing. There are different beer styles that are more bitter than they are hoppy, like English bitters.

Typically, when a beer is bitter, it means that lots of hops were added early in the brew. Their essential oils boiled away during the process and their flavors and aromas went along with them, leaving a bitter taste. 

A bitter beer doesn’t even have to come from hops. Orange zest, spruce tips, and other unique ingredients can be used instead of hops to make beer.

Experimenting in homebrew is a great way to make bitter beers, especially with or without hops. 

What is the opposite of a bitter beer?

What’s the opposite of a bitter beer? Sweet or hoppy? Light or dark?

The opposite of a bitter beer is a wheat beer. Wheat beers use 50% wheat to barley malt and have a unique flavor. Their flavors largely depend on the type of yeast used. These beers often sit close to 15 IBUs, a very low bitterness rating. They’re often fruity and light-tasting.

Wheat beers are a great place to start for people that don’t like bitter beers. A good place to start with wheat beers would be a Blue Moon; a Belgian-style witbier (wheat/white beer).

The most common bitter beer styles

The most common bitter beer styles include:

  • West-coast style IPAs
  • Triple IPAs
  • English bitters 
  • American Barley Wine

All of these styles are hop-forward styles. The way that the hops are used in these beers makes them bitter-tasting. They range in ABV but, at the same time, they’re all very bitter with high IBUs.

These styles are still flavorful and favored among many beer drinkers that prefer bitter beers to hoppy, citrusy, or wheat beers. They’re very complex and unique styles that are fun to experiment with in homebrewing and are a must-try at your local taproom or brewery.

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