As a grower/producer of Hop plants with over 33 varieties in the production schedule, I am inevitably ask to recommend what Hops are the best. That is a loaded question- like; What should be my favorite song? or What should be my favorite beer?
I can't pick the best hop for you, but I can give you a little insight into how to select Hop varieties to grow. Ones that you will like and will grow well in your area.
Let's begin by narrowing down the field a bit. You want Hops; not ornamental hops from the local garden center (like Sunbeam), not Japanese Hops (an invasive weed), not Hops grown from seed (could be male or female plants), and not wild hops you found growing in a ditch ('cause you have no idea of their brewing characteristics). You want Hop plants or rhizome cuttings from a reputable source that are disease-free, and are indeed, the variety of female Hop plant they are claimed to be. (There are a ton of secondary sellers of rhizome sticks out there on the Internet that are truly junk; so ask if they are certified producers or who their source is.)
There are literally hundreds of specific female hop plants; each with a unique brewing profile that are grown and maintained worldwide. Way more than the average craft brewer wants to learn the names of, let alone figure out what makes each special. Let's start at the other end, with a simple question.
What are your favorite beers? Simple. Now go to an website like BeerRecipes.com and look up the recipes to see what hops are called for. Notice that some hops are used in multiple recipes? Also, notice some are used for bittering and some are used for flavoring? After a bit of looking, try to develop a list of 5 to 6 varieties.
I organize Hops into 3 basic groups: Classic Nobles(first generation ponies), Improved Varieties(second generation work horses), and Refined Hybrids (third generation throughbreds). Each group has its uses and a throughbred is not necessarily better than a pony.
Classic Nobles are the Hop varieties that have been around since the days of knights, serfs, and kings. They have names like Golding, Saazer, Spalter, and Fuggle; and are called for by name in many classic beer recipes. They typically are not hybrids and will produce lower yields compared to hybrids. These are a great choice if you are a purist who wants to brew the actual taste of a true English Ale, German Pilsner, Irish Stout, Etc. It can be a very enjoyable hobby to try to recreate brews from old texts written by monks, or beers that relate to your ancestry. This group has alpha acids that are relatively low (2.0 - 5.5%).
Improved varieties are just that - improved. The classics were cross-bred to create hardier plants with better yields to keep up with the commercialization of beer production. They have names like Willamette, Galena, and Tettnanger. They don't taste exactly like the Classics; but they are reasonably close. Many are diploid hybrids and varieties like Cascade (which is used to produce American Ales) have developed their own special brews. They are the ones currently used in large commercial hopyards. This group has alpha acids in a mid-range of 5.5 - 9.0%. They are a great choice for those who want a dependable havest of high quality hops to brew beers that taste similar to commercial beer.
The third group, or 3rd generation is the latest hybridization of Hops. Plant breeders with an understanding of genetics are creating new hop varieties; many of which are seedless triploids. These hops may be super high or low alphas with ranges of less than 0.5% to as high as 20%. Many have very unique flavors and/or huge yields. These are the hops that are used to create the newest and most unique brews. (Some are incredibly strong and take real skill to make a drinkable brew.) These are the hops of choice for those who want to join the brewing frontier; and create something nobody has tasted before.
So which are you? A reserved "nobleman", a "steady-eddy", Or a "wild and crazy guy"??
Which ever you choose, be aware that hops are very long-lived perennial and will produce for many, many years. I do advise against selecting a planting of all super alphas that are the rage right now. Try one or two- Many people find that they are just too strong for everyday drinking. (That's not to say it isn't fun to watch your drinking buddies eyes roll up when they take their first sip of your latest concoction!!)
Hops are pretty tough and will grow in a wide range of areas, but they do prefer areas that have a cool season with freezing temperatures. So if you live in a hot spot like Texas or Florida, use a little common sense and don't purchase varieties with names like "Glacier" , "Mount Hood", or Canadian Redvine.
If I were forced to choose for you, I would select the varieties that would give you the widest brewing range possible; since brewing a lot of different brews is more fun than brewing the same thing over and over. My choices would include:
Lynn, the head hop grower at Great Lakes Hops has over 30 years of experience in the horticultural field. Browse the blog articles here to find useful growing information for humulus lupulus, based on personal experience and observations at Great Lakes Hops.