Cheaper Cheater Hops: Potential Substitutes for Citra & Mosaic

Edit 7/30/2020 – You can download the survivables data here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JKRjKTGdNBSX-2KGAQ681IJGc7LTubMJ/view?usp=sharing

After optimizing a system of linear equations in an attempt to reverse engineer Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) TRI-2304CR cryo hops blend, I use the same process to find “cheaper” hop blends that closely resemble two popular “cheater” hops (Citra and Mosaic) in oil, acid and “survivables” compounds data from YCH.

I first read about the “Cheaper Hops Paradigm” on Michael Tonsmeire’s Mad Fermentationist blog in 2017. Tonsmeire’s goal was to find “cheaper” hops to emulate the background flavors of “cheater” hops, stretching Sapwood Cellars Brewery hop inventory and budget to maximize the number of batches of New England IPA. In his experiment, Tonsmeire found that a blend of Chinook/Nugget/Eureka did not emulate Citra/Galaxy in a New England IPA. Perhaps Tonsmeire’s failed experiment could be due to his focus on just three compounds (linalool, geraniol and 4-methyl-4-mercaptopentan-2-one [4MMP])? What if he had considered more? Luckily, hop research has come a long way since 2017 and there are many more compounds to consider today.

I combined the data from my Comprehensive Hop Acid/Oil Table with my “Survivables” Table to create a single, robust data set to work with. I researched and added any missing data from the YCH website. I excluded b-pinene, selinene and other compounds since the two former were absent for most varieties and the latter is vague. I removed the experimental Hop Breeding Company (HBC) varieties (#472, #520, #522, #630 and #692) since they are not (yet) widely available and I also removed organic Amarillo, organic Simcoe and Triumph since their data was unavailable.

When all was said and done, I analyzed 18 compounds across 23 varieties (Ahtanum, Amarillo, Bravo, Cascade, Cashmere, Chinook, Cluster, Comet, Crystal, Ekuanot, El Dorado, Idaho 7, Liberty, Loral, Millennium, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Palisade, Sabro, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, Warrior and Willamette). For compound context;

  • Butanoic acid, 3-methyl butyl ester = apricot/pear/banana
  • Methyl geranate = floral/green/fruit
  • 2-Methylbutyl isobutyrate (2MIB) = green apple/apricot
  • Linalool = floral/citrus
  • Geraniol = rose
  • 2-Nonanone = fruit/floral/herbaceous
  • 3-Mercaptohexanol (3MH) = grapefruit/gooseberry
  • Alpha acid = bitter
  • Co-humulone = harsh bitter
  • Beta acid = volatile aroma
  • Myrcene = spice/earth/musk
  • Caryophyllene = spice
  • Farnesene = wood/citrus/herbal
  • Humulene = spice/herbaceous/floral

Using the criteria above, I used Octave to optimized a system of linear equations to determine the constrained linear least-squares solution to Citra and Mosaic compounds. In other words, I found the combination of 23 varieties that most closely resembled Citra and Mosaic in 18 compounds.

Based on this criteria, a hop blend of 62% Mt. Hood and 38% Bravo is closest to resembling Citra while a hop blend of 65% Bravo, 30% Idaho 7 and 5% Comet is closest to resembling Mosaic.

While the average compounds of the hop blends are only 9% and 2% different from Citra and Mosaic, respectively, they are different. Therefore, I fully expect the aroma and flavor to be different as well. Ideally, these hop blends can be used to replace Citra or Mosaic entirely or at the very least, reduce Citra or Mosaic in recipes. This could result in a cost savings of up to 44%, or approximately $11 in a 5 gallon batch of Mountain IPA #5!

Despite sharing these hop blends, I have not yet tested them myself. Unfortunately, I only homebrew once or twice per month, so while I am eager to put these hop blends to the test, I will not have a chance to do so until later this summer. Once I eventually do, I will share the results. If you happen to test them before me, please leave a comment below with your experience!

The hop blends comparisons can be found in the tables below:

Citra62% Mt. Hood
38% Bravo
% Difference
$ / oz$1.44$0.81
Butanoic acid, 3-methyl butyl ester ppm67+ 13
Methyl geranate ppm195178– 9
2MIB ppm4572+ 60
Linalool ppm239218– 9
Geraniol ppm3338+ 15
2-Nonanone ppm117– 38
3MH ppm9278– 15
Total ppm621598– 4
Alpha acid %13.09.5– 27
Co-humulone %22.026.2+ 19
Beta acid %3.85.7+ 53
Total oil %2.31.9– 15
Myrcene %65.040.5– 38
Linalool %0.80.6– 17
Caryophyllene %6.510.7+ 65
Farnesene %1.00.8– 19
Humulene %9.519.1+ 101
Geraniol %0.40.5+ 23

Mosaic65% Bravo
30% Idaho 7
5% Comet
% Difference
$ / oz$1.44$0.95
Butanoic acid, 3-methyl butyl ester ppm2511– 55
Methyl geranate ppm192176– 8
2MIB ppm64115+ 79
Linalool ppm134139+ 4
Geraniol ppm6762– 8
2-Nonanone ppm3120– 37
3MH ppm167138– 17
Total ppm679661– 3
Alpha acid %12.314.7+ 20
Co-humulone %23.032.8+ 42
Beta acid %3.84.4+ 18
Total oil %1.92.3+ 22
Myrcene %51.554.8+ 6
Linalool %0.60.6– 3
Caryophyllene %5.57.6+ 38
Farnesene %1.00.5– 48
Humulene %12.510.8– 14
Geraniol %0.70.7– 2

6 Responses

  1. This is interesting, and playing with numbers is always fun, but I do wonder if there’s much point to this considering that hop-focused breweries these days work with specific lots and that apparently both the anecdotal sensory impressions from hop selection, and various stats collected for each lot, vary significantly.

    Hell, even BSG has updated a number of their hop descriptions to reflect that you can expect very different results based on when your hops were picked (where is likely also a factor). Even for the pros there’s much transparency left to be desired from hop growers, so I suspect that for us homebrewers buying a packet of hops is pretty much a blind gamble.

    I still support any effort to make do with the info we have, but I wish things were better.

    1. I agree. The reality is professional brewers have access to hop lots that are very different than what we have access to as homebrewers. The YCH data and my analysis considered the average specifications for the hops but to your point, Tree House’s Citra is going to be different than Other Half’s and both are going to be different than the 2 oz packages we have access to via MoreBeer.

      This effort was inspired by YCH’s own TRI-2304CR Cryo Hop Blend where they tried to optimize these “survivable” compounds to produce a “super blend” that delivers a intense flavor and aroma pop when used in the whirlpool and early dry hop for biotransformation. I thought something similar might be possible by taking the survivables data and the standard specs and trying to find a blend that contained similar average specs as Citra or Mosaic. This is a generalization and assumes the geraniol, for example, has the same free vs bound ratio, which may not be true.

      It was fun to run the numbers but the proof will be in the sensory experiments or at the very least with a side by side taste test that I plan to run next month.

    1. Not yet, I will be doing that in August. Unfortunately I have a 2 year old and he keeps me from brewing as often as I’d like 🙂

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