ZEN AND THE LOST ART OF DRY-HOPPING

Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of how to make a hoppy beer....."Dry-hopping." Even the name sounds mysterious. (OK, it doesn't really, but it DOES lead to confusion, nevertheless...) Dry-hopping, in a nutshell, is adding hops into your beer AFTER THE BOIL - when the beer is in a fermenter - in order to extract hop aroma. Simple, no? Well, actually, yes. But how is the best way to do it? 

Dry-hopping should be done in the secondary (glass) carboy, while the beer is aging and settling out. Here are the reasons why: The hop oils that produce that flowery/spicy/earthy aromas that we know and love are soluble in alcohol, or by heat. By adding hops into the boiling pot when the beer is at 212 degrees, the oils are extracted out, but they are blasted into the kitchen just as fast; that is why the kitchen smells hoppy, but the beer four weeks later does not. By putting hops into the secondary fermenter, after the fermentation has stopped and the beer is settling, we have the following benefits over the pot addition or the primary-fermenter addition:

  • the alcohol has all been produced, and the extraction of the oils happens much faster
  • the sugar levels are depleted, the alcohol is elevated, the yeast is aggressive (and omnipresent), and the CO2 levels are very higher - all of these factors make the beer safer for "alien" introductions of foreign objects. (Although hops, being antibacterial agents to begin with, have almost zero chance of carrying beer contaminating organisms - that is one of the reasons that hops have historically been added to beer!!)
  • by putting the hops in the secondary, and not the primary fermenter, there is no chance of them clogging the airlock or blow-off tube and exploding your carboy, and the delicate aromas are not carried off by the massive CO2 generation that occurs in the primary, letting your hoppy smell slip away through the airlock.
Dry-hopping is wondrous for those that like hop aroma, and I highly recommend it - it is nothing to be nervous about. Here is the proper methodology: Save a bit of hops that you would normally add into the last few minutes of your boil: try to use aromatic varieties such as Cascade, Mt Hood, Kent Golding, Columbus, Hallertauer; anywhere from a quarter of an ounce to an ounce of hops will do nicely. Keep the hops in a sealed air-squeezed ZipLock, in the refrigerator, until the day comes when the beer is ready to transfer from primary to secondary. Please see here if you are unsure when that is.

 

Take a CLEAN never-used cheesecloth sock - if you are unsure about the cheesecloth, boil or steam it for five minutes to sterilize it, and then stuff the cold, dry hops into the bag and tie it to seal it. In general you do not have to boil the cheesecloth bag as hops have a lot of anti-bacterial agents and will inhibit contaminations. (Incidentally, I have NEVER traced a beer's contamination to dry-hopping, except once, where the brewer was re-using cheesecloth bags for dryhopping over and over again, batch after batch. This is a definite no-no.... Always use a fresh, clean bag, and never try to re-use dry-hop bags....)

So, sterilize a carboy, rinse out the sterilizer and push the bag of hops slowly into the sterile carboy - it make take a few minutes to stuff it in, but it will go. Rack the beer carefully on top of the hops, trying to wet them down, and then just let the bag float around in the carboy for one to two weeks. It may sink, it may not - it's OK. Some people try to add sterilized marbles or stainless steel nuts and bolts to weight it down; I usually find it unnecessary.

After the aging period, rack the beer off and bottle it as normal, and pull the wet bag out later with a clothes hangar. Messy, but works great. Some people dry-hop with pellets, and I did as well for many years, but I now tend toward leaf. You may want to try both and see which way you like better. Pellets tend to form a mushy scum over the surface which is hard to settle and may get into your bottles.

FOR THOSE THAT USE CORNELIUS KEGS: Add the dry hops, in a cheesecloth sock, directly into the Corny keg by sliding it BEHIND the draw tube (starting at the bottom of the keg) and pulling it all the way up towards the top so that it gets wedged about 2/3 of the way up (where the drawtube starts to go flush against the wall). Then siphon the beer into the keg, and pressurize it, etc., as you normally would. Let the beer sit for one week (or so) at room temperature (hops don't release aromatic oils when cold) in order to "extract" out all the hop oils, and then throw the keg into the fridge and serve. As you drink the first gallon of beer, the beer level will drop and the wedged hop sock will be left "high and dry." For all intents, this removes the dryhops from the saturating beer. (Another great reason to use Corny kegs!!) Call or e-mail with questions!