You hold coffee cuppings to learn about different coffee beans, so why not a hop cupping to learn about beer hops? Hops are responsible for the bitterness in beer, but they also add very delicate flavors and aromas — like fresh apricots, pine resin, passion fruit, black tea, and lemon peel. Each hop is unique, and learning them all is a challenge that beer buffs accept with glee. Here's how you can shortcut your own hop education and get ahead of the curve.
Hop oils are at their most aromatic when activated with a little warm water, so the idea is to make a light tea with a variety of hops and then smell each one individually. Pour some hot — not quite boiling — water into several cups of the same size and then add a half teaspoon or so of different hop pellets to each glass. (The hops will break up and look like mush as they absorb water. This is normal!) Let this steep for a few minutes and then lean in for a sniff. This should give you a good sense of what each hop smells like.
You can also strain out the hop solids and take a sip — although, without the beer malts to balance and act as a backdrop, the hop tea might be a bit too strong and astringent to be very palatable or get a good sense of flavor. If you have a bottle capper, another fun experiment is to add a few hop pellets to a bottle of very light beer (think: Bud Light or Miller Lite), recap the bottles, and let them sit for a few days to infuse. Strain the beers as you pour them and take a sip. Hop-tasting time!
You can find raw hop pellets at any homebrew store or online at places like Northern Brewer. Hop pellets are made of dried and compressed fresh hop flowers (like in the top-right picture), and are what most brewers use to flavor their beer.
If you're curious about hops and want to know more, definitely treat yourself to a hop cupping!
Has anyone ever done this? Have a favorite hop worth seeking out?