Do you ever find that when you taste a high quality craft IPA that has been commercially produced, you experience a level of hop aroma and flavour that you find lacking in your homebrewed ales? Ever wonder why this is the case and how you can improve your IPAs to be on par, if not better than what you can find in your local bottle shop or pub?
The most obvious solution would be to use more hops, but with the astronomically high cost of imported US hops in Australia, sometimes paying upwards of $12 for a hundred gram bag, this becomes quite an expensive proposition. What if you could make the hops you are using go further, to save some money and simultaneously improve the quality of your beer? Then read on my friend. It is not as difficult as you may think.
Brewing a great IPA is of course a big topic and probably too involved for a single article. In this article, we will investigate three hop use techniques you can take advantage of in order to get that flavour and aroma you’re after.
The vast majority of recipes involve a 60 minute boil with an addition of hops at the start of the boil to provide the bulk of the bitterness to your beer. This 60-minute hop addition imparts a clean bitterness to the finished beer and very little hop aroma or flavour as most of the volatile oils which produce these characteristics evaporate during the boil.
1. First Wort Hopping
First wort hopping as a substitution to the standard 60-minute addition will allow you to carry over some of those aromatic compounds into your wort and imparting what is often described as a smoother, less sharp bitterness with a more pleasant and complex flavour in the finished product.
This technique involves adding a portion of your hops to the kettle just before you start the sparging process, once you have finished recirculating the first runnings. Then just heat to a boil and proceed as per usual. If you are using brew in a bag (BIAB) you can simply add hops to the kettle once you pull the grain bag. This technique will also impart some additional bitterness to the beer but it will be quite minimal.
2. Whirlpool Hopping
Many recipes involve a large addition of aromatic hops at or close to the end of the boil. This generally provides the bulk of the hop flavour without imparting too much additional bittnerness, although at 100°C, isomerisation will still occur. It is important to reduce the temperature of the wort quickly at this stage to lock in those aromatic oils and halt further isomerisation from occurring.
Rather than adding all of your late additions at this stage, you can impart improved hop flavour and aroma to your beer by rapidly chilling your wort down to approximately 80° C before adding the last additions of hops.
Ideally you will place the lid on the kettle to keep in the aromatic oils and use a pump to recirculate the wort back into the kettle in order to maximise contact between the hops and the wort. This technique will also gather the hops in the centre of the kettle so when the wort is drained, much of the hop debris will remain behind in the kettle. However, if a pump is not available, simply cover the kettle and give the wort a light stir every few minutes without aerating the wort, maintaining the temperature around 80° C.
3. Modified Dry Hopping
You are probably already dry hopping your IPAs and are well aware of the exceptional hop aroma dry hopping can add to your beer. However, there are certain techniques you can change in order to maximise the aroma in the finished product.
Most home brewers make a single large addition of hops to the fermenter, loose or in a hop bag, after the primary fermentation has completed. As an alternative to this, break it up into two additions over the course of your regular dry hop period (I generally dry hop for one week). This will result in a beer with fresher hop aroma especially if you are bottling and therefore don’t have the ability to add additional dry hops to the keg.
If you are indeed using a hop bag, this will reduce the contact between the beer and the hops and you will have to use additional hops to compensate. It’s generally easier and more efficient to just add loose hops and rack off the beer at the time of bottling or kegging.For an even greater boost to aroma, add another addition of hops to the keg in a mesh bag in order to stop hop debris from getting sucked into your system or into your glass. Some say this can occasionally impart a grassy flavour to your beer but I have never experienced it.
So there you have it, a few simple techniques such as first wort hopping, whirlpool hopping, modifying your dry hopping technique and using no more hops than you would typically use, you can achieve that big flavour and aroma you desire without breaking the bank. Of course a perfect alternative is to experiment with the ever-expanding variety of Australian and New Zealand hop varieties, such as Victoria’s Secret, Galaxy, Riwaka and Motueka which can usually be purchased for substantially less than imported US varieties. Sure this may not produce the clone of Heady Topper you have been coveting to emulate, but you may just create a winner!