Anyone who has enjoyed a frosty mug of beer has the hop plant to thank for its clean, crisp, slightly bitter taste. Hops are herbaceous perennials that produce annual vines. These are grown commercially for their female flower cones, which contain a resin called lupulin. This resin is the ingredient that produces beer's distinctive bitter flavor and aroma. Identifying a hop plant is relatively easy. Recognizing the different varieties of hop plants is a bit more challenging.
Familiarize yourself with different hop plants. Each variety of hop plant has characteristics that are unique to the plant. Also take into consideration the area you are in. Commercial hop production often focuses on growing specific varieties in certain areas.
Examine the plant itself. Hops are vines that grow from 15 to 25 feet long. Look for leaves with three to five lobes that are coarsely serrated along the edges. Check the plant for greenish female flowers that resemble small pine cones. Open one of the flowers when ripe, and look for the tiny, orange lupulin glands within.
Examine the characteristics of the female flower cones. Different hop varieties produce flowers that appear distinctly different from each other. For example, Cascade hops flowers are generally long, slender, bright green and fairly tight. On the other hand, Kent Goldings tend to have shorter, more open cones, with a yellowish cast to them.
Rub the flower cones between your hands to release the aroma of the hops and smell them. Each variety has a distinctive fragrance. For instance, Cascade hops tend to be more floral, while Chinook hops can have a grapefruit scent and the aroma of Tettnanger hops possesses a spicy quality.