A relative latecomer to brewing, hops have come to define beer to many. To some, they are an obsession; to others, the perfect counterpunch or complement. Seldom, though, are they an afterthought. For homebrewers, hops are one of the more perplexing and vexing facets to master, with carefully selected and implemented hop schedules as critical to exquisite pilsner as to an über-hopped double IPA.
Varietal hop development has seen a vigorous upswing recently, while classic cultivars are just as popular and noble as ever. Brewers are finding creative ways to showcase them all. This wealth of variety and expression is pure gold to homebrewers, if sometimes a bit overwhelming. Skillful, expert hopping is not as daunting as it may seem, and an understanding of a few basic concepts is all one needs to fine tune that recipe—be it balance, bombast or something in between.
Most recipes require a certain level of bitterness, as measured in International Bittering Units, or IBUs. Attaining this level requires proper hop utilization, extracting the bittering alpha acids (AA) throughout the duration of the boil. To calculate IBU, all that’s needed is an IBU equation (there are several available) and a utilization chart that relates kettle gravity to boiling time. Sure, you’ll need a little mathematical moxie, but plugging in the variables will become second nature.
My advice is to pick one equation and one chart from a reliable brewing resource and stick with it. Then, critically evaluate your finished beer and adjust as needed. Find an equation that accounts for pellet vs. whole hops. A full rolling boil is the surest and best way to get consistency and adequate extraction from hops.
A hydrometer or refractometer will become your best friend on brew day, as it is needed to monitor gravity during a session. All of this will require some attention to detail and practice, but the results are well worth it.
Recipes will occasionally give bittering additions in AAU, or alpha acid units, which is the weight in ounces of hops multiplied by alpha acid percent. This is used in fairly standardized recipes as a shortcut and assumes that all other parameters will be met while brewing.
There are some considerations to make between using whole or pellet hops. Some brewers swear by whole hops as a superior contributor to flavor and aroma. They have a lower utilization factor. Pellets, macerated and extruded, are more processed. They are easier to store, and they separate from wort in the kettle better and provide superior utilization. Some brewers use a hop bag with whole hops in the kettle, but I do not recommend it since it can give inconsistent and/or poor hop extraction.
Building a Schedule
Putting together a coherent and effective hop schedule is artistic brewing at its best. The three common additions are known as bittering, flavoring and aromatic. Hop types are generally labeled by their best application: bittering (high AA, harsher flavors), aroma (subtle, pleasant flavor and aroma, low AA) or dual-purpose hops (fairly high AA, but still excellent contributors to flavor/aroma). There dozens of each and, in fact, quite a few new recent cultivars from the U.S., England, Germany and New Zealand. Hop vendors and homebrew shops offer full descriptions of each. Those specs are an invaluable resource for building hop schedules. Many of these new hop varieties are a result of the very influential and robust North American brewing scene.
Flavor components are best extracted at 20 to 40 minutes in the boil, and aromatics from 20 minutes to flame knockout. Boiling drives off aromatics over time, so choose your timing carefully: the later, the better. A “hot stand,” letting the wort steep without chilling for 30 to 40 minutes post-boil, will also help intensify late kettle additions.
If you are seeking to clone a schedule of your favorite commercial beer, check if the brewery offers some clues on its website.
First Wort Hopping
First wort hopping is an old German method used to smooth out the hop profile and marginally increase hop utilization. It has gotten the attention of modern brewers and is an excellent option for homebrewers. Hops (up to a third of the overall measure) are added to kettle while it is being filled, exposing the hops to hot, but not boiling, wort. This prolonged exposure seems to seal and enhance the more delicate flavors and aroma, while at the same time increasing AA extraction and softening the harsher, hoppy edges.
First wort hopping will increase utilization by about 10 percent.
Dual-purpose varieties are tailor-made for this method since they offer excellent flavor/aroma qualities as well as decent AA content. First wort hopping is wise for any beer that favors later hop additions, be it a modern hoppy barrage or something more subdued. Whole hop flowers are extraordinarily suited for FWH.
Dry hopping, originally used to help preserve aging cask beer, had the side benefit of imparting wonderful hop aromatics. It is now largely used for the aromatic effect, and seldom are those hops in contact with the beer for more than a few days. It is done at cellar or fermentation temperatures, and all fleeting volatiles are retained. Dry hopping is best employed late in the fermentation stage or in the keg/cask used for serving.
Brewers who opt for the fermenter method have a couple of options. Hops can be added to the primary fermenter as activity wanes, left for a few days and then racked to the secondary. Use pellets in carboy primaries and either pellets or whole cones in a bucket primary. Alternatively, the hops can be added to the secondary fermenter during racking. They will eventually sink to bottom of the carboy, out of the way of the racking cane during transfer to bottling bucket or keg/cask. Expect a little hazy carryover during the rack.
Since most homebrewers keg rather than cask their beer for serving, 5-gallon corny kegs offer a superb chance to duplicate the cask method. Whole hops are preferred to pellets. Stuffed into a muslin or hop sack, they can be suspended with a string in the keg or the “pillow” allowed to sink to the bottom. The flavor will change dramatically over a few days as the scrumptious soluble compounds are leached from the cones. There is no need to pasteurize the hops used for dry-hopping.
SMaSH and Single Hop Brewing
There is no better way to investigate the footprint of a single-hop variety than with SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) brewing. Dual-purpose hops fairly scream for the practicality and simplicity of this strategy, especially if you are a minimalist brewer, as I am. There are so many American hops available now that a virtually endless array of beers can be crafted. Classic noble hops are excellent candidates for German or Czech SMaSH brews. Explore English dual-purpose hops, such as Bramling Cross, First Gold, Pioneer or Progress, and one can’t go wrong with the classic East Kent Goldings. Once a recipe has been honed, iadjustments are easier to make.
Body and mouthfeel can be adjusted by altering mash temperature, color and caramelization, and intensified by prolonging the boil. With some creative thought, you’ll be amazed at the number of beers that can be made this way with English pale ale, Pilsner, Vienna or Munich malts and two to five single-cultivar hop additions. If single-malt brewing isn’t your thing, add some character malt to the grist, but keep the grain bill simple to tease out the hop character more distinctly.
The popularity of hop-forward beers has brought the concept of hop bursting to the forefront. If you’ve ever wondered how brewers get that sublimely round bitterness and enormous flavor and aroma into their beer, it is probably via hop bursting. The method entails adding nearly all hops within the last 30 minutes of the boil, including the bittering hops. This will preserve all ephemeral flavor and aroma, and softly contour the bitterness. It requires at least twice the normal amount for bittering, and even more for subsequent doses.
Boil for 30 minutes to get good kettle interactions and then start the hop schedule over the next 30 minutes. An addition every 5 or 10 minutes through kettle knockout followed by a “hot stand” and dry hopping will furnish an impressive burst. I think this method works impeccably for regular IPAs, offering an intense hop profile with less potential palate fatigue.
No matter what kind of beer is on your brewing docket, there is always a way to make it better. These simple strategies should help get you there. From helles to hop bombs, all will benefit from a deft hoppy hand.
5 gallons, OG 1.065, 55 IBU
Mash 1# 60° L crystal malt and
12# English pale ale malt
for one hour at 152° F
First Wort Hop: .5 oz Bramling Cross
Bittering: 40 IBU (about 1.5 oz) Bramling Cross, 60 minutes
Flavor: 1 oz First Gold, 20 minutes
Aroma: z Bramling Cross,
10 minutes; 1 oz East Kent Goldings, 5 minutes
Ferment with Wyeast 1028 or White Labs WLP005
Dry Hop: .5 oz East Kent Goldings whole hops in keg/cask if serving draft, pellets in secondary fermenter if bottling
Hop Burst American IPA (Extract)
Full wort boil (starting with 6 gallons to yield 5 gallons), OG 1.070, 60-65 IBU
Steep 1.5# 40° L crystal malt for 20 minutes at 155° F and add 7# Light DME
Boil for 30 minutes and add
2 oz Centennial hops
Boil for 10 minutes and add
2 oz Amarillo hops
Boil for 10 minutes and add
1 oz Amarillo hops
Boil for 10 minutes and add
2 oz Cascade hops
Turn off the burner and do a 30- to 40 -minute “hot stand”
Chill as normal and ferment with Wyeast 1056 or 1332 or White Labs WLP001 or WLP041
SMaSH German Pils (All-Grain)
5 gallons, OG 1.052, 40 IBU
Mash 10# German Pilsner malt at 150° F for one hour
First Wort Hop: 1 oz Hallertau Mittelfrüh,
Tettnang or Hersbrucker hops
Bittering: 30 IBU, same hops as FWH
Aroma: 1 oz same hops as FWH
Ferment at 50 to 53° F with Wyeast 2124 or 2042, or White Labs WLP830 or 838
Replace Pilsner malt with up to 30% Vienna or 15% Light Munich
For Czech Pils, use Saaz hops throughout and Czech or Bohemian Lager yeast
For American Pils, use Mount Hood,
Liberty or Vanguard hops
Try a blend of hops or some new German cultivars: Opal, Saphir or Smaragd
For extract, use 5# Extra Light DME and
1# Munich LME