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These days we have TONS of killer options when it comes to hops. We have dank and delicious varieties like Columbus and Simcoe, clean bittering varieties like Magnum and Bravo, and some truly unique varieties like Loral and Idaho 7. But having such an extensive arsenal doesn’t mean you know how to apply it to get the most out of it, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today: how to look at any hop variety you want to use and figure out the best way to get what you want from it!
The Amazing Humulus Lupulus Vine
The hop plant is a rare and incredible plant, capable of producing flowers full flavor compounds, called terpenes, in so many different combinations that we get the wide array of hops available for brewing. You want citrus and tropical flavors? Try a hop high in Limonene or Myrcene. Want a sweet, woody characteristic? Try something high in Caryophyllene. The real trick is finding out how to balance the flavors with your desired beer flavors and the other hops.
The other amazing compound present in hops are alpha acids. These are the primary ingredient in the resin that we all know and love as lupulin. When these are boiled, they are isomerized, which means that they become iso-alpha acids, and become water soluble. The combination of the five main alpa acids, and how long you boil them, determine the bitter profile of your beer. Again, this is all about balance.
Another key compound in hops that gets much less press are beta acids. You see these on packages, and are never really sure what they mean, other than they are there. This is the difference: Alpha acids reform and become water soluble with heat. Beta acids do as well, but instead of breaking down immediately like AA’s, they break down over time. You notice these more when you make a big Barleywine you intend to cellar, or a Pilsner that you intend on lagering (cold storing in the packaging phase) for long period. These beta acids break down over time, adding bitter components and a longevity to your beer.
Now that we have a better idea of what we’re working with, let’s get down to business.
Your bittering additions depend on a few things: your chosen bittering hops or bittering hop extract, what you’re brewing, your chosen yeast strain, and what you’re trying to brew. You can dial all of this in using the Alpha Acid Units Equation found in Ray Daniels book, Designing Great Beers, and I’ll leave the cool technical stuff that he puts forth in that integral brewing book to your own due diligence.
The first, and main part of this visualization, is balance. Plain and simple, if I’m trying to make a dry, crisp 5.5% IPA, then I have to balance the bitter taste of my bittering hops with a dryer yeast strain, how high the alpha acids are in my chosen hops, and the overall bitter I want to perceive. While no easy task, this is something that you get used to as you brew. While it’s pretty much impossible to taste a beer and accurately guess how many IBU’s it contains, you’ll learn to balance your favorite yeast strains with your favorite bittering hops. Brewing software helps with this, too. I know that my favorite pale ale, with the California Ale strain, and around 35 IBU’s as Beersmith applies them, is just about right.
Using a brewing program to nail your IBU’s to your chosen beer style is also a great way to achieve balance. For most beers, I know that if 2 ounces of hops at 60 minutes shows too many IBU’s, then I can throw them in at 30 minutes and get close to half, and plan on retaining some flavor and aroma compounds as well. Or, I can just as easily put 1 ounce in at 60, and another in later in the boil. If I want, I can even up the amount of pellet hops (or whole leaf) and add it all in to a 15 minute addition, getting all of the IBU’s that I want and still getting the bitter-balance that I want.
This more dynamic method of adding your bitter-balance addition is a great way to make sure you get the most from your hops. I have had some of the most amazing beers where there is only a 15 minute bitter-balance addition, both IPA’s and other styles. The thing to remember is that beer itself, and recipe formulation, is dynamic, so thinking outside of the box is always a good thing. Don’t be afraid to change around your boil additions to achieve more flavor and more balance.
Flameout VS Whirlpool
Traditionally, flameout additions are the homebrewers haven of flavor and aroma. Good science and research has proven that to be true, but science and research has also shown that whirlpool additions, between 180° F and 160° F, yield great results.
The long and short of it is this: the flameout hop addition is a great way to get hop oils into solution, but it can still be too hot to get the most out your hops. It doesn’t denature the terpenes completely, but it does denature them some, and although it’s better than not doing a late addition, you can get more from your late additions by waiting until the proper temps.
The method known as hop bursting is a method where you put TONS of hops in at the flameout addition to maximize flavor and aroma, and it works, but imagine if you cooled the wort to the proper temps to really maximize the potential. In theory, you could use less hops and still get the elevated effect.
This is where the whirlpool hop comes in. If you can on your system, and not everybody can, slightly cooling the wort first to 180° F can make a ton of difference. This, however, is only half of the battle. The reason it’s called a whirlpool addition is because the mechanical movement of the wort, at the right temps, is what really makes this method so effective. If you’re not set up with a pump, and have a handy slave like a brewing assistant or a child, a sanitized SS spoon is plenty!
Even if you can’t do a whirlpool easily, it’s still worth trying on IPA’s or Pale Ales. Even with the manual method, you can really maximize your flavors and aromas!
Dry Hopping Like a Boss
The first rule of dry hopping: don’t be afraid to add lots! The second rule of dry hopping: don’t be afraid to add lots! I always ask myself this: why only add a half an ounce of hops when they come in two ounce packages?! Dry hops will always add tons of flavor and aroma to your beer, and, for us at least, going light isn’t always the way, especially if what you’re making is already a hop forward beer. There’s something to be said for restraint in a dry hopped blonde, but only if you don’t want extra flavor and aroma in the finished beer
Ok, the tenants of dry hopping. First and foremost, dry hopping is akin to an ethanol tincture, which means that the alcohol you’ve made is dissolving the hop oils and terpenes into solution, and that’s how you’re getting the flavor. The trick here is leaving them long enough for the alcohol to work it’s magic, but not so long that it begins to dissolve chlorophyll and bract matter and gives you grassy-ness. So, for lower alcohol beers, an extra day is not necessarily a bad thing, and shorter times for high gravity beers respectively. Or, use Cryohops and just add them to the keg and don’t worry about grassy flavors! Read more about Cryohops in Hop Basics Volume 1: What is a Cryohop!
For traditional pellets and leaves, three to five days seems to be the sweet spot, and not going over seven days is key. For us, our standard ale fermentation profile is 14 days, so we add dry hops on day 9. If you’re into biotransformation (more on this in a later article), you can add them earlier, but pay attention to your abv and how long they stay in. Cryohops seem to be a good bridge in this situation.
Notes on Hop Utilization
Hop utilization is how much of the potential bitterness you actually achieve. For example, if 100% utilization were a thing, we would hop WAY differently than we do for our bitter-balance additions. There are a ton of variables that affect and change hop utilization numbers, including how vigorous you boil, pH and gravity of wort, and post boil chill time.
A few of the things that we do to maximize hop utilization are heavy, active boils, not constraining the hops in the boil, and keeping the wort as clean as possible in the kettle with solid vorlauf technique.
The term ‘rolling boil’ seems to mean very different things to different brewers. To us, it basically means boiling the bejeezus out of the wort. This makes a big difference for hop utilization, and we use it! For the constraining part, we use a large, SS Hop Spyder or a giant, 24” x 24” Grain Bag to make sure that all of those wonderful hop particles flow freely through solution and have as much contact to heat and the wort as possible without having an absolute nightmare mess to clean up. And, with less grain particles in solution due to a solid and diligent vorlauf, we don’t have to worry much about extra trub.
Thank you all for reading! We hope this brief synopsis helps you make the beer that you want, and use your hops as wisely as possible! Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to us on our YouTube Channel, BrewChatter TV, for lots of awesome ingredient, process and product videos to help you make your best beer! Don’t be shy to add your comments below and keep the conversation going!! Brew On!
Other Cool Things To Read and Watch On This Subject
Hop Basics Video on BrewChatter TV - BrewChatter
The Science Behind Hops Part 1 - Craft Beer Academy
Hop Utilization - Craft Beer and Brewing
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