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Stop and Smell the Hops ... Before You Use Them

Having a sensory panel to regularly evaluate your beer is good practice—but what about one to evaluate your hops? Brewers and hop-sensory experts share their best tips on starting up a specialized panel—and careful hop evaluation is something that even the smallest breweries can do.

Stan Hieronymus Dec 26, 2023 - 10 min read

 Stop and Smell the Hops ... Before You Use Them Primary Image

Brewers rubbing hops in Žatec, Czechia. Photo: Joe Stange.

Every Wednesday at Creature Comforts in Athens, Georgia, members of a trained sensory panel evaluate lots of hops that have just arrived, been in storage, or are ready to be added to beer.

Hops, says quality director Daniel LePage, “are one of the biggest investments we make, and we have to use them for a whole year. They change. Just last week we had a lot of Mosaic that had fallen off. Three months ago, it was great; a month ago, okay. It became muted.” Rather than use that Mosaic for dry hopping, they designated that lot for the hot side.

Creature Comforts is one of the few breweries in the country that has a separate sensory panel devoted to hops; Georgetown in Seattle is another. They use considerably more hops than most breweries—Creatures Comforts used about 180,000 pounds of hops in 75,000 barrels of beer in 2023; Georgetown used about 450,000 pounds of hops in about 125,000 barrels of beer.

Yet the same concept can be useful for breweries that operate at a smaller scale and with fewer resources. Hop suppliers can help, too. It doesn’t need to be complicated.

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