What are the Three Cs of Hops?
We’re continuing our exploration of hops this month with a look at the three hops that have come to define the American Pale Ale and IPA. They are commonly referred to as the “Three Cs” and are Cascade, Centennial and Columbus hops.
All three of these hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest and are the young American upstarts in the hop world. They have only been around since the early 1950s. Compare this to Hallertau, a staple of German brewing, and Goldings, used in many English ales, which have been around for centuries. But without these three hops, we may never have had the distinctive flavors and styles that gave rise to American craft brewing.
Cascade was the hop heard around the world. It was developed at Oregon State University and was approved for cultivation in 1972. It is now one of the most used hops by American craft brewers. Cascade is what you taste in the typical West Coast IPA. It has a citrusy, floral and almost grapefruity character. It’s low in alpha acid content, so it is used more for aroma and flavor than for bittering. When you stick your nose in an IPA and get a burst of flowers and grapefruit, that’s Cascade. A good example of Cascade hopping can be found in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Centennial hops is the more bitter big brother of Cascade and is sometimes called a Super Cascade. It’s named after the Centennial festival in Washington State and has a similar flavor and aroma profile to Cascade. But Centennial tends to be a little more bitter and not as citrusy. It has almost double the amount of alpha acid content of Cascade and is often used as a bittering hops as well as an aroma hops. Bear Republic’s Red Rocket is a good example of the Centennial hops profile.
Columbus hops, also called Tomahawk and Zeus, is quite different from the two above. It has a more earthy, spicy, herbal flavor and aroma not too unlike marijuana and is a dual purpose hops. It has an even higher alpha acid content than Centennial and works well with both Centennial and Cascade to balance them out. Columbus can be very potent when used in dry-hopping (adding hops to the fermenter). If your beer smells like the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert, it’s probably hopped with Columbus. Green Flash West Coast IPA has a good Columbus hops profile.
It’s difficult sometimes to nail down the hops that a brewer is using unless they tell you as many of these flavor and aroma notes can change slightly during the brewing process. But if you pick up a hint of grapefruit, or it smells a little like your “friends” dorm in college, there’s a good chance the brewer was using one or more of the Three Cs.