Hopping Techniques in Brewing

Beginner and intermediate brewers alike often choose the wrong hop technique for a given beer style.  Knowing which technique to use for a particular beer style or desired flavor profile is  a part art form, but it all starts with a good understanding of the techniques themselves.

Having a good understanding of hop techniques is critical for successful brewing, but the wider array of hopping techniques with terms such as mash hopping, first wort hops, dry hops, boil hops, and late hop additions can be confusing to first time and experienced brewers alike.

In this post we’ll cover some of the most common hop techniques in chronological order.  Starting with the mash and ending with the finished beer.

Mash Hopping

Mash hopping is adding hops directly to the mash tun itself.  The hops are often placed on top of the grain bed and left to sit while the mash is sparged.  Mash hopping is reported to have better balance and character to the beer, although it adds almost no bitterness.

Mash hopping is rarely used today as it requires a fairly large amount of hops and contributes very little in direct flavor.  Since the hops are never boiled, they release almost no bitterness and most of the flavorful oils from the hop flower are lost in the boil that follows.

Brewers theorize that mash hopping’s reported benefits are a byproduct of lower pH from mash hopping and not the hops themselves.

Given the high cost of hops, and the cheaper methods of controlling the pH of your wort, I’m not sure why a brewer would choose to mash hop.

First Wort Hops

First wort hops are hops added to the boil pot at the very beginning of the lautering process.  Unlike mash hops, first wort hops remain in the boiler throughout the boil and therefor contribute bitterness to the wort.

First wort hopping is an old German method that has had a recent resurgence.  In blind taste tests, beers brewed with this process are perceived to be smother, better blended, and have less of a bitter edge and aftertaste.

Bittering Hops

Bittering hops or boil hops are just that – hops that contribute more bitterness and added to the bulk of the boil.  Boiling hops releases the alpha acids.  Alpha acids contribute to the bitterness of your beer.  The longer you boil your hops, the more bitterness you will add to your beer.

Generally, bittering hops are added for the entire boil, to extract as much of the bitterness per ounce of them as possible.  You will usually add your bittering hops at the beginning of your boil.

Late Hop Additions

Hops added to the boil within the last 15 minutes are called late hop additions.  these hops are usually not added for bittering, although they do add a small amount of bitterness to your beer.  The main purpose of late hop additions is to add aroma and aromatic hop oils to your beer.

In addition to bittering compounds, hop cones from “aromatic” hop varieties contain volatile hop oils that provide the strong aromatic flowery flavor and scent that are desired in many hoppy beer styles.  Unfortunately these compounds usually boil off within 15 – 20 minutes of adding the hops.

Late hop additions should always use “aromatic” hop varieties, and should be added within the last 10 minutes of the boil to preserve as many of the aromatic oils as possible.  Also, late hop additions are most appropriate where hoppy flavor and aroma is needed.  You should not add late hop additions to a malty or low hop beer style.

The Hop Back

A hop back is a device containing hops used to infuse fragile hop oils directly into the hot wort before it is cooled and transferred to the fermentor.  This device is used inline between the boiler and the chiller.  While a hop back does not add any significant bitterness to the beer, it can add a great aroma to your finished beer.


Dry Hopping

Dry hopping is the addition of hops after the beer has fermented.  Hops are typically added in the secondary fermentor or keg and left for a period of several days to several weeks.  Dry hopping is used to add a hoppy aroma to the beer, as this method adds no bitterness.

The basic method is to add a few ounces of hops to the secondary fermentor before bottling. If kegging, use about half as much hops. Again you should use only aromatic hop varieties, and you should only use this method with hoppy beer styles where a strong hop aroma is desired.

Combining Hop Methods

Advanced brewers will often use a combination of hop additions to achieve a burst of aroma and flavor from hops, particularly for hoppy styles like IPA.  In fact many true hopheads will add substantial first wort and boil hops, followed by  multiple late hop additions and a final dose of dry hops.

If you have any questions, leave a reply.  Now go try out what you learned!





“Best Hop Techniques For Homebrewing” BeerSmith.com


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