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Whole Cone Hops vs. Pellet Hops

Whole Cone Hops vs. Pellet Hops

Everybody has their preference when it comes to using hops.  Sometimes it’s your system and how you hop, and sometimes it’s just a preference for using the best possible ingredients that you can get in your beer.  This week we’ll talk a little more about the difference between whole leaf, fresh hops, and pellets, and the pros and cons of using each for your homebrew.

Whole Leaf Hops, Whole Cone hops, pellet hops, t90, t45, cryohops, leaf, ipa, pale ale 

What Kind Of Hops Should I Buy?

What kind of hops you use is always going to depend on a few things.  First and foremost, what kind of hops can you get? Are you rural and only ordering online?  Do you have a badass local homebrew shop down the street? Do you live in the Pacific Northwest right next to a hop farm?  These days, access to hops is better than ever, but you have to base your system, brew day and ingredients on what you actually have access to.

That being said, let’s talk about brewing systems.  If you’re using a hopback or hop rocket, then pellets are out for you, at least during that part of the process.  You’ll need the extra mass of the hops to create a filter for your beer and transfers. Whole cone hops also make straining easier in general, so if that’s an issue, that may be the best path to take for the way you’re set up. 

After system and availability considerations, for most of us the answer to what kind of hops to use pretty much comes down to preference.  It’s true that you can get more of the cool hop varieties on the market only or more widely in pellet form, since pellets are becoming more of the industry standard, and for most brewers, using a mix of cone and pellet seems to be the norm.  Let’s talk the pros and cons of each, and touch a little on using homegrown hops, too! 

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Fresh Hops

As homebrewers, it seems that most of us lean towards trying to do as many things as we can ourselves.  We’ve seen people who malt their own grain, make their own delicious homemade crystal malts, and of course, grow hops in the garden.

This is one aspect of the homebrewing community that I absolutely love, especially growing and sharing hops.  We don’t always have to be technical brewers, which means that we can throw down a 5 gallon batch of something fun and experimental without thinking twice!  Random hops creeping over the fence down the street? Yeah, throw them in! Friends mom’s neighbor with a hop plant? Yeah, send it!

When you’re using fresh hops, the moisture content is way higher.  When they get dried, those lupulins concentrate and store better, which is the whole reason they do it, but when they’re fresh, you have to change brew day around just a little bit. 

The biggest change is how you use fresh hops, and how many you use.  Personally, I don’t even mess around with a bittering addition with fresh hops.  That’s the whole reason that Germany made Magnum!  Ok, probably not, but it’s the perfect bittering hop for a project like this.  Magnum is clean, crisp and almost flavorless, even as a late addition, so it’s an ideal hop to calculate your bitter-balance in your fresh hop beer. 

This leaves your late addition hopping open, and you want to taste your hops as much as possible since you probably aren’t going to send them off for lab and DNA testing to see exactly what they are.  The conversion for Fresh Hops to Pellet or Whole Cone hops is 5 to 1. I know, that’s a ton! 5 ounces of fresh hops will give you the same flavor/extraction as 1 ounce of Whole Cone or Pellet. This means that your Daily Drinker Pale Ale recipe is going to have to change around a little bit!  Those 2 ounces of whirlpool and dry hops just became 10!

Of course, you’ll have to plan brew day water a little differently to account for this.  While fresh hops aren’t going to soak up as much wort as whole cone hops, they still have a ton of nooks and crannies to trap wort, so you might plan for an extra 8 oz or so of wort per ounce of fresh hops that you add.  You might have to dry hop in a 10 gallon fermenter for your 5 gallon batch for those giant IPAs! If this is the case, I want pictures!!

Chinook, Cascade, Whole Cone Hops, Whole Leaf hops, hops, lupulin, terpene 

Whole Cone Hops

Dried, whole cone hops, sometimes called whole leaf, which is a bit of a misnomer since hops are the flower of the plant, are the purest form of hops, and ironically the least available in terms of varieties.  Whole cone are literally fresh hops picked from the bine and air-dryed to about 8 - 10% moisture. This means that they’re going to soak up even more of your wort! This is more because of the extra mass than the lower moisture content, as pelletized hops are generally dried out to the same range.  Just as with fresh hops, all of this extra surface area makes for lots of nooks and crannies that trap wort, so when you’re calculating brew day water, account for an extra 12 oz of wort per ounce of whole cone, then adjust accordingly based on your system and brew day flow. 

It’s generally accepted that you get about 10% more hop utilization from pellets than from whole cone.  If you think about it, this makes sense because pellets are ground up and all of that extra surface area has been turned to a more concentrated powder.  That being said, when it comes to recipe formulation and actually using whole cone, I always go 1:1 between whole cone and pellet hops. On a homebrew scale, it’s a small enough difference that you’d be hard pressed to really tell.  Also, it’s less math, which always seems like a better idea in my case.

Pellet hops, no filter, green, t-90, t90, t-45, cryohops 

Pellet Hops

Most of the pellet hops on the market are T90 hop pellets, which is pretty much the gold standard in the brewing industry.  The designation is taken from how many kilos of pellet hops are yielded per 100 kilos of whole cone. For example, 100 kilos of whole hops enter the hammer mill and 90 kilos of pelletized hops leave.  If you’ve ever played with T45 pellets, or their now more prevalent hop type, Cryohops, looking at this way, it makes sense! Per 100 kilos of whole cone, only 45 kilos make it out! That’s a concentrated hop pellet!

T90 pellets are probably the most available everywhere, and in the most varieties.  They have a lot of benefits, both on the homebrew and commercial scale. They are smaller and take up less room to store, and they store better.  This means that pelletized hops can make it through a couple years, if stored properly, and meet the hop demands of all of us homebrewers, as well as craft breweries. 

Using hop pellets in your brew is always easy, you just have to decide to bag or not to bag!  Traditionally, homebrewers have used smaller bags for each hop addition, or even just thrown them into the boil naked.  While there’s no wrong way, for us it’s a total pain to just throw them in. Hop pellets turn into hop sludge in the kettle, the way our systems are set up, it’s not worth all of the extra work trying to leave them behind.

We usually use a Hop Spider for our smaller beers, and a 24” x 24” bag for all of our bigger, hoppier beers.  This makes it just like throwing the pellets directly into the boil, maximizing all of the hop utilization that we can, and when we’re done, we just pull the bag or the spider out!  This will keep the hops, whole or pellet, from being constricted inside of a small bag and losing potential surface area, and therefore flavor, but cleaning is still a breeze. Especially for those big IPAs that boast a pound of hops per 5 gallons, which is becoming more and more normal around this place full of hop heads!

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Let us know how you hop and what your experiences are with leaf and pellet hops!  Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest!  If you haven’t already, join our BrewChatter Mailing List to stay up to date on all things BrewChatter, including new articles on BrewCranium and new videos on BrewChatter TV on YouTube!  Brew On!
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