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Hops are becoming more and more popular for beer drinkers to inform themselves with. Not only is it interesting to know what hops are in the beer you’re consuming, but it’s also a fun indicator to use when you’re choosing your next brew. Knowing what hops you like takes away a big part of the risk factor in choosing your beers. In this spirit, many beer drinkers nowadays are drawn to different styles than they normally would be trying because the beer features a hop the consumer already knows they enjoy.
Today, it seems there are more and more hops to choose from — and that couldn’t be more true. People are cross-breeding hops and even experimenting with new techniques like Cryo hops in order to create fresh, exciting, and tasty beers. So yes, the world of hops is big, and yes, the world of hops is growing!
So let’s take a moment to hone in on one of the rising stars of today’s hop market: the Comet hop.
Interestingly enough, Comet hops are not new hops. They are man-made hops created from cross-breeding American hops and English Sunshine hops in the early 1960s. They are most directly related to the famous and lovable Citra hop. Before we get into our full Comet hops guide, let’s look at the history of Comet hops and where they come from.
Comet Hop History 101
As I said before, Comet hops are not new, they were created from American hops, and English Sunshine hops. This happened in England in 1961, but the hops were not used until 1974 once it was approved by the USDA.
Comet hops were originally very popular during their early years. They have a high alpha acid content, which used to mean that the hop was reserved as a bittering agent, nothing more.
Back in the day, Comet hops were most often used in Lagers but fell out of popularity until their recent revival in the surge of Pale Ales, Wild Ales, IPAs, Lagers, and more. Comet hops not only weren’t being brewed with, but they also weren’t even being grown until recently!
When Comet hops hit the scene in the mid-70s, they were added to Lagers to make them more bitter and give them that signature Lager floral nose. But the grassy and grapefruit flavors from Comet hops make it a desirable element for many other styles of beers too. This fact, combined with the fact that higher acid hops are no longer simply used to simply bitter a beer, is what has led us to the Comet hop revival we are currently experiencing.
Today, you see Comet hops being advertised on the labels of many dry-hopped IPAs, Pale Ales, Lagers, and IPAs alike. It truly is experiencing a well-deserved resurgence! Now let’s talk about why.
Comet Hop Tasting Profile
Comet hops are earthy and grassy with zesty citrus notes. While the key citrus note in a Comet hop is grapefruit, they also have hints of tangerine, lemongrass, and even eucalyptus. That range is what makes them so desirable today. You really can use a Comet hop for a variety of reasons in the beer you’re brewing. Whether it’s to bring a bright, juicy, citrus punch or simply to act as a bittering agent in the beer, Comet hops can deliver. Furthermore, they work well with other hops. This isn’t a hop you’re going to have to worry about overtaking a flavor profile.
As I said, most notably, the grapefruit citrus flavors come forward in a beer that contains Comet hops. They also deliver a floral aroma similar to a Saaz hop, but they have more fruit notes, more citrus notes specifically than the Saaz hop. This makes the overall smell and taste veer off in a completely different direction from Saaz hops.
The ‘wild’ or earthy tastes of the Comet hop make it a great hop for Wild Ales and funky IPAs alike. So this citrus-forward hop does more than add zest; it adds an interesting, earthy funk! You may also see it described as “dank,” especially when tropical fruit flavors are present.
I’m sure that you’re beginning to see how this hop has an enormous amount of potential!
Growing Your Own Comet Hops
First, let’s do a quick brush-up on some hop and hop plant terminology!
Hop plants are called hop bines. You are reading that correctly. Hop bines, not vines. Vines grow wines, bines grow hops.
Hops are the buds that the hop bine produces. Those buds are also referred to as cones and flowers. The bines themselves are not used in the brewing process. Their job is to produce those beautiful little cones, nothing more.
If you want to grow your own Comet hops, you need the time and energy to monitor and care for it, well-drained soil, plenty of sunlight, and a sturdy trellis or structure for the hop bine to grow up. If you don’t have these things, your hop bine won’t thrive, and it might not even survive. All in all, this is not one of the more difficult hop bines to grow. In fact, it is relatively easy.
All the elements for growing a Comet hop plant are important for their own reasons. You don’t want your Comet hop to drown, so well-drained soil is necessary. All hop plants need a lot of sunlight, so good exposure is also extremely important. And finally, sturdy structures for the hop plant are imperative as the plant will grow up towards the sun.
Fun fact: the Comet hop starts off more yellowly, which can sometimes fool people into thinking it’s getting too much sun or dying. As it gets closer to harvest time, though, the bine becomes more and more green. This is a trait inherited from one of its parents, the English Sunshine hop.
Back to growing! So you have all these things you need to grow a Comet hop successfully. You plant your bines, you tend them. They flourish! Good for you! They’ve grown beautiful cones, now what?
Once you have your cones, you harvest them. Harvesting a hop bine depends on the region you’re growing in. You must harvest your cones during the hottest time of year for your particular region. For many, that’s late summer, so you will see a lot of websites just saying “late summer,” however, you need to pay attention to your own climate. Do what makes sense for where you are in the world.
Next, you dry out your hops before adding them to your future beer. Drying the hops shouldn’t take you longer than three days, and you have different options for how you can do that at home. A food dehydrator is the easiest way, but you can also use your oven.
Keep the temperature at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or less, and monitor the hops very closely and very often. Another easy method is to simply leave the hops in a well-ventilated area near a window so that they dry naturally through airflow and sun. A fan pointed right on them can also help speed along this process. The trick is that using this process, they must not sit for more than three days.
The term “wet-hopped” means that a hop is added to the beer before it is completely devoid of moisture. It is, therefore, a little greener, a little fresher, and it adds different nuances. You can certainly try making a wet-hopped beer at home. Just make sure you look up all the differences between brewing wet-hopped and brewing with dry hops. This does not mean you’re brewing dry-hopped, however!
Confusingly, the term “dry-hopped” does not mean that the hops are added when completely dry. This term refers to the time in the fermentation process when the hops are added. If something is “dry-hopped,” that means that the hops are added later on when the beer is actually cold. Again, this changes the nuances of the flavor profile in the beer.
Pros and Cons of Comet Hops:
- Versatile: they can be citrusy fruit bombs or subtle bitter agents.
- Works well with others! This hop works well alongside plenty of other hops!
- Not super challenging to grow, though it still needs time and attention.
- Recent resurgence means it’s in a lot of beers right now.
- Potential to make a variety of beers.
- Very light and mild on its own, making it hard to find a beer that is only brewed with Comet hops.
Comet Hop Beers You Can’t-Miss
- Allagash Hoppy Table Beer out of Maine was made to be light in alcohol and heavy on taste. This grapefruit-forward little refresher contains Comet hops but was also dry-hopped with Comet hops. It’s a great representation of what Comet hops do to a beer!
- Collective Arts out of Ontario, Canada, is one of my favorite breweries. I really love everything that they do! Their Surround Sound: Azacca features Comet hops alongside Azacca and Amarillo hops. This beer is a Double IPA, or DIPA, which is a style of beer that can often just be about bitter, bitter, bitter. However, the Collective Arts Surround Sound: Azacca is a fruit bomb with tropical fruit and citrus. It’s definitely worth trying but consider yourself warned: this is a rotating selection of hops so get it while you can; they will feature different hops soon!
- Other Half Brewing is a difficult brewery to not mention right now. They’re making waves with their gorgeous brews out of two different locations in Brooklyn, New York, one in the Finger Lakes region of New York and one in Washington, DC! Their Quiet Cosmos is an Imperial IPA that features both Galaxy and Comet hops. Once again, in a style of beer that often destroys your palate with bitterness, Other Half succeeds in bringing more flavor than a bitter bomb, thanks to those beautiful hops they use!
Comet Hop FAQs
Question: Are Comet hops ever brewed alone in a beer?
Answer: There’s no reason they can’t be. From my research, it appears that their flavors can be so mild that Comet hops are generally used to enhance the flavors of the hops they’re working with though.
Question: What made Comet hops fall out of favor until recently?
Answer: It’s hard to say exactly, but I’m inclined to say that as the craft beer movement surged in America, the resurgence of a lot of under-utilized hops and techniques did too. Comet hops have a high alpha acid content, which traditionally meant that brewers used them for bittering beers, nothing else. When they didn’t need a bittering hop, they didn’t need Comet hops anymore. Their reintroduction to the American market is simply a reflection of the fun, craft beer time of experimenting that we are in. Why not enjoy it?
Question: Are Comet hops popular in other countries since they were created in England?
Answer: Comet hops are more popular in America — for now!
Question: If I can’t find Comet hops to brew with, what do you recommend?
Answer: Columbus and Centennial hops have been recommended as worthy Comet hop substitutes. Remember too that the Comet hop’s closest relative is the Citra hop!
Comet Hop Final Thoughts
When it comes to hops, there’s always more to learn. Like grape varietals with wine, the hop world is already huge, but with the craft beer movement showing no sign of slowing down, the hop world is growing and evolving.
Comet hops are just one of the many hops that are shining bright on the American craft beer market these days. If you like them, I encourage you to try more citrus-forward, wild, earthy, and funky beers. You never know if you’re going to find your next favorite hop!
In the end, the experience of learning about hops should be fun! Tasting any product and learning about what makes them taste the way they do, is always a rewarding experience. I encourage you to try new things and do what you can to remember what you like. This will make your next adventure a little more “controlled” when you choose the beer you’re going to drink.
So cheers to Comet hops and its resurgence! And cheers to the next hop and the next, and the next…