I get a lot of questions about hops and I always try to help people understand this indispensable brewing ingredient and how it affects the beer. Hops change the taste of the beer in two ways: bitterness and flavor. The two are not the same, and people often confuse them. Bitterness is just that, pure bitter taste. It is measured in IBUs, international bitterness units. A brewer uses bitterness to counterbalance the natural sweetness of the malt. Hop flavor, on the other hand, is much more than just bitter. A fresh IPA will be bitter, but also bursting with flavor from the hops: grapefruit, pine, orange, lemon, and many other tastes. Flavor hops are also called aroma hops because the taste they provide is very much tied to smell. Do yourself a favor and always pour a hoppy beer in a glass so the aroma reaches your nose.
How do you create hop bitterness and hop flavor? It’s simple. Take any hop and boil it in water. The longer you boil it, the more bitterness it will provide, and the less flavor. Conversely, boil it for a very short amount of time for maximum flavor and less bitterness.
A brewer uses this relationship to provide the beer with the necessary bitterness for balance and great hop flavor as well. A good hoppy beer will be more than just bitter, it will also have lots of hop flavor. Hop flavor fades quickly over time, so if you see a hoppy beer, drink it!