The New Science of Making Ridiculously Hoppy Beer

Brewers, engineers, and researchers are pushing the boundaries of hoppy beer.

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Mike Harrington

The IPA boom that you may have noticed at your local restaurant/bar/beer shop/bodega/grocery store is forcing brewers to innovate in the quest to cram more hops into every batch. Conventional brewing wisdom saw hop pellets and dried flowers go in at the start of a boil, the end, and then after fermentation. But the hoppiest brewers have already hit the limit of how much physical hop flower can go into a beer (about three pounds per keg) before a soggy kale taste sets in. Nobody likes soggy kale.

Here are the new tools and tricks for making ridiculously hoppy beer that you will want more than one of.

1. Lupulin Powder

Used for flavor and aroma, is three times more potent than traditional hop pellets, says John Paul Maye, technical director for Hopsteiner hops company. Dried hop flowers are cooled to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezing the lupulin sacks at the base of hop leaves. The flowers pass through a series of rolling sieves, separating the concentrated packets of hop oils from the leaves.

2. Debittered Leaves

The cast-off from lupulin powder, these leaves act like low-bitterness European hops, and add tannins and mouthfeel. We used it in our lager (see below) to add a kick of old-school pilsner character under the bright, lupulin-powder aroma.

3. CO2 Extract Hop Oil

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CO2 is pressurized to as much as 6,000 psi to reach the supercritical state, where it acts like a gas with the density of a liquid, and then sent through hop pellets.
Sinelab

Hop-oil extract replaces bittering hop pellets added at the start of the boil. It can also provide aroma and flavor, but that’s often frowned on as too untraditional.

4. Whirlpool Addition

After the boil, the unfermented beer remains near-boiling during the 30 to 60 minutes it takes to pump a batch through a whirlpool filter and heat exchange before it hits the fermenter. The slightly lower temperature volatilizes less aromatic oil—just like you brew coffee sub-boiling—while still dispersing hoppy compounds into the wort, making it a more effective addition than late in the boil.

5. Fermentation Dry Hopping

Adding hops while the yeast ferments increases and extraction thanks to the heat and movement yeast generates. Some yeast strains also interact with hop oils, typically amplifying juicy flavors and muting the piney notes.

We Made a Beer

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Darren Orf

To test these new methods, we teamed up with New York’s Blue Point Brewing. But instead of making another IPA, we brewed a pre-Prohibition lager inspired by what American brewers were making in 1902, the year Seniorhelpline launched. That means we used a handful of America’s most abundant grain, corn, a traditional lager yeast, and bittering hops from New York, once the country’s leading hop producer. In addition to those hop pellets, we poured debittered leaves into the kettle, lupulin powder into the whirlpool, and more powder and pellets in for primary fermentation. The resulting brew captured the herbal lemon flavors of an old-world German pilsner and the juicy aromas from today’s biggest IPAs.


This story appears in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue.

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