Beer School

Hoppy vs. Bitter — What’s the Difference?

Many beers are described as hoppy and bitter, but are there actual differences between the two terms? Continue reading to find out…

Hoppy vs. Bitter — What’s the Difference?

In the craft beer industry, there are many terms that describe the flavours, aromas, and appearances of beer. The terms “hoppy” and “bitter” are often used to describe the taste of a beer. It is not uncommon to believe that if a beer is described as “hoppy”, it also means that the beer tastes “bitter”. This is not always the case. Continue reading to learn what these overused popular beer terms really mean and the differences between them so that you can impress your beer snob friends next time you’re describing a beer.


Understanding hops & what they do to beer:

Before we get into the term “hoppy” and what it really means when describing your beer, it is important to understand what the purpose of hops in beer is. Here are two important notes to remember about hops:

1. Every beer contains hops.
Hops are one of the main 4 ingredients used to brew beer. Just because a beer doesn’t taste “hoppy”, the beer was still brewed with hops. When thinking about hoppy beers, your mind probably goes straight to IPAs but Hefeweizens contain hops too, Sour Ales also contain hops, even Saisons have hops. Ok, you get the point.

2. Hops can add bitterness, but that’s not all they do.
Hops do provide bitterness to beer. The level of bitterness in a beer can vary exponentially depending on the type of hop, and the amount of hops being used in the brewing process. Hops don’t always create bitterness. Hops can contribute different characteristics to your beer like aroma, flavour, etc. Without hops in your beer, the taste would be overly sweet. Hops help balance the sweetness and bitterness to create the perfect beer.

To learn more about hops, how they are used in the brewing process, and what they do to our beer, watch this video below!

Video: What are hops? – The Craft Beer Channel


What Does “Hoppy Beer” Really Mean?

Simply put, the term “hoppy” just means that you can taste, smell, or recognize the characteristics of the hops in your beer. Different hops can be earthy and piney, flowery, citrusy, fruity, etc. While some types of hops can give a bitter sense, it is not always the case. Hops in beer provide a flavour and those flavours can vary from beer to beer.

Lately, a new trend in the craft beer industry is disconnecting hops to the term “bitter”. Brewers are creating different brewing techniques, like adding large doses of hops late in the brewing process, a.k.a. “post-boil”, that purposely prevents hops from adding a bitter flavour to their beer.


What Does “Bitter Beer” Actually Mean?

“Bitter” simply means bitter. Bitter flavours in the same beer can vary between different people. It all depends on each person’s tastes and their sensitivity to bitter flavours. Bitterness in beer comes from an acid released from the hops, called Isohumulone. Isohumulone is a chemical compound that helps balance the sweetness from the malts and grains used in the brewing process.

While Keystone’s bitter beer commercial, made us think bitter beer was a bad thing, bitter beers are actually one of the modern craft beer industry’s biggest trends. Although not always 100% accurate, you can usually tell the bitterness of your beer even before you drink it! Check out the International Bitterness Units (IBU) number that is usually located on the beer bottle label or can. Can’t find it? Check out the brewer’s website or look it up right here on JustBeer. The IBU number determines how bitter a beer is. The lower the number, the less bitter the beer will be (and vice versa).


Check out these links to learn more about beer, its ingredients, characteristics, and more!

Beer Ingredients Part 2: Hops
What Are Adjunct Beers?
Macro Brewery vs. Micro Brewery vs. Craft Brewery
What Makes A Beer Sessionable?

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