In the 1970s and 80s, the United States was falling behind in the world of ales and lagers. Most of the top hops and beers in the world were being created in Germany and other parts of Europe. As a result, America needed to get serious about the hops they were growing and the beer they were making. That’s where Crystal Hops came into play. Crystal was (and still is) America’s best impression of the original noble German hops, specifically Hallertau Mittelfruh.
If you’re curious about Crystal hops and how to use them in your brews, you’ve come to the right place.
History and Origin of Crystal Hops
Crystal was first created in 1983 at Oregon State University by crossing a tetraploid Hallertauer mittelfrueh and a male hop designated USDA 21381M. It’s a close relative and often used in conjunction with Liberty, Mount Hood, Ultra, and others. Despite being a relatively old-school hop, Crystal continues to be a best-seller in the U.S.
Crystal contains a relatively low alpha acid content and is mainly used for adding flavor and aroma rather than bitterness. It’s often regarded as mild, sweet, and even delicate, much like the noble hops it was created to emulate. It’s generally added in the late stages of the boiling process.
Flavor & Aroma Profile
Crystal has a flavor and aroma profile that can only be defined as sweet and spicy. It often imparts a combination of woody, floral, fruity, and spicy with cinnamon and nutmeg, but not in a festive sense. However, the more Crystal you use, the more intense it becomes. It often gives off notes of lemongrass, lemon, and orange peel.
Brewing Values of Crystal Hops
Here are the brewing values that are typical of Crystal hops. Keep in mind that every harvest and harvester has different methods that result in different values. However, these are the brewing values based on the average of most crops.
- Alpha Acid % – 2.8-6.0%
Alpha acid is where a brew gets its bitterness from. The higher the percentage of Alpha, the greater its bitterness.
- Beta Acid % – 4.5-8.45%
Beta acid contributes flavor and aroma rather than bitterness to a brew.
- Alpha Beta Ratio – 0:1 – 1:1
Higher ratios of Alpha to Beta will yield brews with more bitterness and less citrus or floral flavors.
- Hop Storage Index – 30% (Good)
The hop storage index indicates what percent of the acids are lost or ruined after being stored for six months at room temperature.
- Co-Humulone as % of Alpha – 20-26%
Low levels of co-humulone will result in a smooth bitterness as opposed to if you use higher amounts of co-humulone.
- Total Oils 0.8-2.3 ml
Oils are added in the late stages of brewing to add flavor and aroma. The later you add oils during the boiling process, the more flavor they add. Here are the oils typically used with Crystal Hops.
- Myrcene – 30-55%
- Humulene – 20-30%
- Caryophyllene – 5-12%
- Farnesene – 0-1%
- All Others 2-45%
Beer Styles That Use Crystal Hops
There’s no shortage of beer styles that use Crystal Hops as one of their ingredients. Lager, Kolsch, ESB, Pilsner, IPA, Belgian Ale, and Pale Ale all use Crystal in many of their brews.
Beers That You Can Buy That Use Crystal Hops
Along with the vast amount of beer types that use Crystal, there are plenty of specific beers you can purchase that contain Crystal Hops. If you’re thirsty for a sample, here are some of the options available to you.
- The Marble Brewing Company makes Wildflower Wheat and Double White, both of which are excellent options
- Be sure to try Mountain Sun Brewing Company’s Annapurna Amber that uses only Crystal hops
- You should also check out Crystal Hero which is brewed by Revolution Brewing Company
- For one of the best British options, try Crystal by the Fuzzy Duck Brewery in the UK
Aside from these beers that use only Crystal, there are also lots of others that use Crystal alongside other hop varieties.
Common Substitutions For Crystal Hops
Crystal is usually available at most brewing stores. However, it’s also very popular, which means that it might be sold out. If that’s the case, here are some other hops that you can substitute for Crystal.
- Mount Hood
How to Grow Your Own Crystal Hops
Growing your own Crystal Hops is a challenge that requires patience and resilience. Hops take several years to develop and produce. However, once they start producing, they can continue to do so for 25 to 50 years. Here’s what you need to know about growing Crystal Hops.
Crystal Hops plants require plenty of water to be fruitful, but not to the point of flooding the plant. You should be able to stick your finger 1 to 2 inches into the soil around your plant and feel moisture.
As your plant matures, the need for water is less but still necessary. The first two years are the most important to developing your hop plant.
Crystal requires 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Full sun is ideal unless you live in warmer climates with high temperatures. Where the temperature is consistently in the 80s and 90s, your plant will need a mixture of sun and shade.
Slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 6 and 7 is ideal for growing Crystal. The soil should also be well-drained and a mixture of sand and loam. Adding fertilizer that contains phosphate, potassium, and nitrogen will significantly increase Crystal’s production.
Crystal is a strong and resilient hop plant that can grow in hardiness zones 3 through 8. However, it’s a good idea to wait to plant your hops until after the last frost of the season. Nothing kills hops faster than a night of frost and freezing temperatures.
Like all hops plants, Crystal should be grown outdoors with plenty of room above and around it. Hops can grow as tall as 30 feet when adequately supported. You must have a trellis system of some sort set up to provide support for your hops.
Where To Purchase Crystal Hops
Crystal hops are readily available at most brewing stores. For the sake of convenience, however, you can also purchase a bag of Crystal pellets on Amazon.
Final Thoughts on Crystal Hops
For years, Crystal was an answer to the prayers of homebrewers and beermakers across the country. It was the closest hop variety to the German noble hops, and it’s held up incredibly well through the years. If you’re interested in brewing with one of the classics, Crystal Hops is the plant for you.