Dry Hopping Your Beer Like a Pro
Are you an aspiring homebrewer who loves big hoppy beers? You may have heard that the best way to achieve huge, glorious hop aroma is by dry hopping.
Dry hopping has been used for centuries by the British in styles like IPAs and pale ales. It was usually done by adding fresh dry hops directly to the serving cask.
But capturing that elusive hop aroma is not just the exclusive domain of professional brewmasters anymore. Let’s explore some popular methods for dry hopping your homebrew like a pro.
Why Would You Want to Dry Hop Your Homebrew?
According to Ray Daniels, author of Designing Great Beers, dry hopped beer has a fresher hop taste that “may be more spicy or resinous” than beers hopped by additions to the kettle. Most brewers agree that dry hopping is the secret to a bright, bold hop aroma.
There many ways to dry hop your brew. They all involve adding hops to your beer during fermentation or conditioning.
Why not during the boil? Hop oils, which are the primary contributor of hop flavor and aroma, are volatile and vaporized by boiling.
Vigorous boiling is required to release the bittering qualities of hops resins (primarily alpha and beta resins). Flavor and aroma are achieved by adding hops late or steeping after the boil. Even then, the aroma can be significantly reduced.
With dry hopping, hop oils are preserved in the beer. This yields an intense flavor and bold floral hop aroma.
3 Methods of Dry Hopping
While there are some experimental ways and devices for dry hopping beer, the most common methods available to the homebrewer involve adding hops to the primary fermenter, the secondary fermenter, or the keg.
1. Dry Hopping in the Primary Fermenter
It’s been common wisdom for a while now that you should avoid adding hops to the primary fermenter because of the risk of bacterial contamination of the wort. But it turns out, it’s bunk! Hops do not offer a very bacteria-friendly environment due to the antiseptic properties of their acids
Also, aroma oil compounds are “scrubbed” out of the wort. Scrubbing is a term to describe the process where hop oils attach themselves to and escape with CO2, or attach to and get dragged down with yeast cells when they flocculate.
Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing Co. is all about dry hopping in the primary. Some of his reasons are that yeast extracts and then “biotransforms” desirable hop oils when dry hopping during primary fermentation.
If you’re someone like me who is fascinated by the details of all this, Dave Green over at Brew Your Own has a great article on dry hopping. He goes into the details about how yeast hydrolyzes glycosides to free up hop oil compounds in the beer.
While yeast will reduce hop oil compounds, it also transforms others and creates new and distinctive flavors that many brewers find desirable. Therefore many professional brewmasters will not only dry hop in the primary but also add fresh hops to the secondary or in the keg, in effect layering the flavors and aromas.
NOTE: Dry hopping in the primary can get messy if you aren’t careful. Adding whole hops to beer that’s fermenting can easily result in a clogged blow off tube or airlock and some spectacular but frustrating explosions. I’ve experienced this first-hand in one of my first attempts at brewing many years ago. It ain’t pretty!
Using hop pellets and/or containing your whole hops in a muslin bag can lessen the risks of mishaps. Keep in mind also that if you use a bag in a carboy fermenter, it may be difficult to remove due to the bag swelling up.
Additionally, adding hops at any stage can introduce unwanted oxygen which pro brewers recommend doing your best to minimize because it encourages contamination and stale flavors.
Lastly, when dry hopping in the primary, brewers advocate adding hops before fermentation is complete so that active yeast is still available to scavenge any excess oxygen and discourage bacteria from growing.
2. Dry Hopping in the Secondary Fermenter
Dry hopping in a secondary fermenter is one of the most common methods and there are plenty of advantages.
- The vigorous CO2 activity of the primary is finished, so the aroma of the hops won’t be scrubbed out of the beer.
- Though we’ve largely laid the issue of bacterial contamination to rest, there’s the added reassurance that the higher alcohol content, less available oxygen and lower pH of the beer in the secondary will inhibit any wayward bacterial growth.
- If you use a fermenter bucket as your secondary, adding hops, whether whole or pellets, is easy enough with a few precautions to keep in mind (outlined below). There are no worries about hops clogging the blow-off hose or airlock. And with a bucket, there’s no issue getting bagged hops in and out of the narrow neck of a carboy.
If you prefer sticking to a carboy, another option is a hop infusion tube, which is a simple mesh tube that contains the loose hops and is narrow enough to fit down in the neck.
The primary issue with dry hopping in the secondary is that there is a risk of reintroducing oxygen to your beer.
Some methods that pro brewers recommend for homebrewers are: using pellets (adding gently), or if using whole hops, first submerging them in de-aerated or boiled and cooled water (which reduces but doesn’t eliminate oxygen).
Additionally, you can take advantage of oxygen scavenging yeast by putting your hops in your secondary fermenter and racking your beer on top of it a few days before fermentation is totally complete.
Lastly, for easier cleanup and racking, some brewers use a muslin bag to contain the hops, whether using whole cones or pellets. If using pellets, just keep in mind that you’ll need a finer mesh bag in order to contain the residual powder after the pellets break apart.
Dry Hopping in the Keg
The last option for dry hopping is putting the hops right in the keg. This most closely resembles the traditional method of dry hopping in the cask. However, since hops clogging up the lines of your system can present a problem, it’s advisable to use a bag to contain them.
Another consideration with this approach is how long the hops will stay in contact with the beer. The general consensus is that after 3-7 days contact there is little benefit, and there is some potential for “grassy” or off flavors to develop. Many brewers report this isn’t an issue at all, even though flavors and aromas will evolve with aging.
Again, be wary of introducing oxygen into the process. Add bagged hops to the keg first and purge excess oxygen with a blast of CO2 before racking the beer on top. Since CO2 is heavier than oxygen this theoretically insulates the hops with a protective blanket.
How to Select The Right Hops to Use for Dry Hopping
Another important consideration when dry hopping is which hops to use. Overall, choose hops that smell good and are pleasing to you. Tasting and smelling of the hops and grains you’ll use in your recipe are widely advocated by experienced brewers and for good reason.
Matching hops to the origin and style of the beer is a good starting point in determining what will work. For instance English Goldings for an IPA. Using hops resources such as ychhops.com can help you narrow down hops traditionally used for various styles.
- Some classics: Cascade, Fuggles, Styrian or East Kent Goldings, Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettnanger, and Willamette.
- Some newer possibilities: Amarillo, Glacier, Lemondrop, Opal, Sovereign, Palisade, Wai-iti, and Citra.
According to Dave Green in the article over at Brew Your Own, Vinnie Cilurzo, the owner and brewmaster of Russian River Brewing Company (makers of the famous Pliny The Elder double IPA), advises being especially careful to avoid using hops with any perceptible onion or garlic flavors or aromas. Cilurzo warns that “you will never be able to get rid of this from the hop.”
Beyond this, the consensus is that aroma hops with low alpha rates, under 6%, tend to have more aroma oil content.
Although John Palmer, in his book How To Brew advises being careful about adding large quantities of low alpha hops because they will add proportionally more plant material which can increase the chances of vegetal and grassy flavors in the beer.
Like I said, there are few hard and fast rules here. And there are plenty of pros ignoring guidelines and producing great beers regardless.
Still, it takes some imagination, experience and a leap of faith to predict what the final outcome will yield. One clever way some brewers have found helpful for testing out possible hops varieties is using a french press.
Ben Stange, over at Kegerator.com has this suggestion:
Add some pale ale to some pellet hops in your French Press and give it some contact time. Then, press the plunger and pour the beer. It will be slightly flatter, as the pressing will excite some carbon dioxide out of suspension, but you should be able to get a good idea of what that specific hop will contribute to your next batch.
If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also try growing hops at home so you always have exactly what you want on hand for the beers you want to brew.
The Amount of Hops You Should Use to Dry Hop Your Next Homebrew
Once you’ve nailed down the flavor and aroma you’d like to achieve, the next logical question is “how much do I use?” And this is a tough one since there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. And as with most homebrewing questions, the answer is “it depends.”
A guideline is anywhere between .5-4 ounces per 5-gallon batch. As a starting point .5-1 ounce can work for American pale ales, up to 2 ounces for IPAs and 2-4 ounces for double IPAs. But again, this will depend on other variables.
One of the most important considerations in determining quantity is the intensity and characteristic flavors and aromas of the particular hops variety you plan to use.
For instance, Citra hops are very powerful and will yield an intense aroma at even 1 oz. per 5 gallon batch. Whereas, East Kent Goldings will be less potent. Sorachi Ace has been described as having characteristics of lemon Pledge, so obviously, you’d want to be judicious in how you used it when dry hopping.
This is why smelling and tasting the raw ingredients is so key to success. Remember, dry hopping adds strong and fresh hop aroma. Relying on your senses, intuition, and experimentation is the best way to determine whether guidelines should be followed.
Should You Dry Hop With Flowers, Plugs, or Pellets?
Finally, you’ll have a choice of what form of hops to use. The options are: pellets, plugs, or whole hop cones.
Using Hop Pellets
Although pellets usually contain less essential oils than whole hops, they’re easily extracted which leads to more aroma. Also, they are less likely to harbor bacteria.
Additionally, they also have a better shelf life and are easier to manage because they can be submerged. They also break apart and fall to the bottom making racking the beer easier.
The sludge that forms from the pellets is difficult to strain, however. If you’re using a bag, the mesh needs to be quite fine in order to contain it.
Note: when using pellets: add them slowly because they create foam when they contact CO2 in beer.
Using Hop Plugs
Another option is hops in plug form. They offer similar benefits as whole hops, but they stay fresher longer.
Made specifically for dry hopping, they are marked off in convenient units which eliminate the need for weighing. The main downside is that sometimes they can be a little harder to break up into smaller bits.
Using Whole Hops
Lastly, whole hop cones will have the best aroma but only when very fresh. They are more prone to oxidation than pellets or plugs. They are also easy to strain off, but they do swell and soak up a bit of the wort.
Another issue with whole hops is that submerging them without introducing unwanted oxygen can be challenging. Dave Green’s fix for this is to weight the hops bag with sanitized stainless steel washers or marbles.
How Long Should You Dry Hop?
Last, but not least, you’ll want to determine how long to dry hop. As with most questions about homebrewing, there are a lot of opinions.
In How to Brew, John Palmer recommends “3-5 days contact time,” and many homebrewers follow this advice. Charlie Papazian, in The Home Brewer’s Companion, Second Edition, says “during final 1-2 weeks before bottling or kegging.” And dry hopping durations run the gamut with craft beer brewmasters.
So, the answer to how long is anywhere between 3 days and two weeks.
Recently, Marshall Scott at Brulosophy decided to get some real intel on the question of how shorter or longer dry hopping affects hop flavor and aroma in beer. He documents his finding in a great article, “Dry Hop Length: Long vs. Short: Exbeeriment Results!”
After brewing up a 10-gallon batch of homebrew, he divided the wort into two separate carboys. On one batch, he tested dry hopping for a long duration. Pellet hops were added when fermentation subsided but wasn’t complete, about 36 hours after pitching. The hops were in contact with the beer for about 2 weeks in this case.
With the short dry-hopped batch, he added hops at about the ten-day mark. The short-hopped beer was in contact for around four days. Then at the 15-day mark, he had judges and homebrewing aficionados compare the two batches in a blind taste test.
The verdict? Welp. Most of the testers could identify a short-hopped beer based on the aroma. And, of the folks who could recognize the short-hopped beer, most preferred the flavor and aroma of short hopping.
But, overall preference for short-hopped beer was pretty narrow (5 to 4). A few were undecided. Scott’s assessment of the short-hopped beer was that it had a more “resinous, danky deliciousness” than the long dry hopped beer, which had a cleaner taste and less danky hoppiness.
Another variable to keep in mind here is that pellet hops and whole hops extract at different rates. Research by Peter Wolfe and Dr. Thomas Shellhammer has shown that aroma compounds in pelletized hops are extracted in as little as a day or two. Whole hops can take a week or more. So, it’s possible that a more intense hoppiness would persist if using whole hops vs. pellets when dry hopping for a longer duration.
But, if you are using pellet hops, and like Marshall Scott, strive for that “punch-you-in-the-teeth” hoppiness, you may want to aim for shorter duration hopping.
You Should Dry Hop Your Next Beer!
Dry hopping is open for lots of experimentation by any brewer – professional or homebrewer. And despite all there is to know about dry hopping, it’s within reach for a beginner.
When it comes to homebrewing, our philosophy at the Brew Cabin is always to experiment and challenge the status quo. But, if you’re just starting out and can’t decide where to start, our recommendation for achieving solid results is to:
- Dry hop in a secondary fermenter or in the primary after fermentation has completed.
- Choose an aroma hop that’s traditionally used for that beer style with similar alpha acid levels and aroma oil profile.
- Add 1-2 ounces of hops into a muslin bag that’s been sanitized in boiling water. Place in the fermenter with as little sloshing as possible to reduce oxidation.
- Wait 3-5 days and rack the beer to bottles or keg.
And there you have it! I hope this article has given you a better understanding and inspired you to explore new methods of dry hopping.
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