Humulone vs. Humulene: Understanding the Differences in Hops Compounds for Better Beer
For hops there’s two essential yet sometimes confusing compounds, mostly because of the name similarity: humulone and humulene. These compounds play a crucial role in determining the flavor, aroma, and quality of our favorite brews. Here’s a quick look at their differences, and the roles they play in our beer.
Hops are the magical little flowers that give beer its distinct flavor and aroma. They’re packed with a variety of compounds, but two of the most important are humulone and humulene. While they might sound similar, each bring unique characteristics to the brewing process.
Humulone: Bitterness Supreme
First up, let’s talk about humulone. This compound is responsible for the bitterness in our beer, which is often measured in International Bitterness Units (IBUs). Its part of a collection of components called alpha acids (the others being cohumulone and adhumulone). When hops are added to boiling wort (the sweet liquid extracted from malted grains), humulone isomerizes, meaning it changes its structure. This process creates iso-alpha acids, which are the source of that bitter kick we all love in our IPAs and other hop-forward beers.
The amount of humulone in different hop varieties varies greatly. Some hops, like Columbus or Magnum, are high in humulone, making them ideal for brewing bitter beers. On the other hand, hops with lower humulone levels, such as Fuggle or Golding, contribute a more subtle bitterness. As brewers, we’ll need to consider the humulone content of the hops we’re using to achieve the desired bitterness in our final product.
Humulene: Aromatherapy for Beer Lovers
Now let’s move on to humulene. This compound is one of the primary components responsible for the aroma of hops. When we take a deep whiff of our favorite hoppy beer, we’re experiencing the power of humulene. This compound contributes to the earthy, herbal, and sometimes spicy aromas that make hops so appealing.
Unlike humulone, humulene is quite volatile, meaning it evaporates easily. When hops are added to boiling wort, much of the humulene is lost in the steam. To preserve and accentuate the hop aroma in our beer, we often add more hops later in the brewing process, during the “whirlpool” or “hop stand.” This technique helps us capture the delicate aroma compounds, like humulene, that would otherwise be lost in the boil.
Another popular method for showcasing humulene is dry hopping, which involves adding hops to the beer after the wort has cooled and during fermentation. This process extracts the aromatic oils without adding any additional bitterness. It’s a popular technique for creating those deliciously fragrant and hoppy IPAs we all know and love.
A Balancing Act
When it comes to brewing beer, understanding the roles of humulone and humulene is essential. These two compounds work in harmony to create the perfect balance of bitterness and aroma. As a brewers, we need to carefully choose our hops and brewing techniques to make the most of these two key players.
Understanding the differences between humulone and humulene will help us craft beers with a more refined and intentional flavor profile. The next time we’re enjoying a delicious, hoppy brew, take a moment to appreciate the intricate dance of humulone and humulene that makes it all possible.
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Credits and Links
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby! If you’re into computer programming, you might want to check out my programming site, DeegeU.com.