Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hop University – Day 3 How to choose hops for homebrew

It is the final day and you are close to graduating. This last bit is geared exclusively towards homebrewers and how to utilize the Hop University knowledge. For those of you who are not homebrewers, I do have a reference below from a Beer Advocate thread giving you examples of commercial brews with specific hop profiles. If you want to experience specific hop flavors, this list will be a good start. The Sam Adams Deconstructed sampler was a great way to try different hops profiles, but I think it is very close to being sold out in the area.

You have a good idea of what you want your hop profile to be, now what? Well now you have to do some leg work and pick out the hops which will fit your intended profile. Luckily, I’ve done most of the leg work for you. You have two choices for the resource you can use to help define the hops you will use. If you are doing a traditional style, you can find the style guidelines in the BJCP guide and it will usually tell you what hops to use. You can also find websites or books that will explicitly tell you what hops are traditional for a style. That is the easy way out.

The other avenue you may choose is to make up your own hop profile regardless of what tradition says. Going this way is a little more tricky because there are no guides on the internet for the style in your head. You have to decide what hops to use on your own. There are several great resources for the composition of hops and their oils. Yakima Chief and Hop Union provide Hop handbooks that list information like the Alpha Acid percentage, Beta Acid percentage, Cohumulone percentage, as well as the percentage of the four essential oils (Myrcene, Humulene, etc.). It will be a good idea to look at both handbooks as each will have more information in different areas than the other. You can now narrow down the hops that will fit into your intended hop profile.

The next step is to make sure you’re using the correct hop for its intended purpose. There are bittering hops, there are flavor/aroma hops, and there are combination hops that can be used for both. Normally bittering hops will have high percentage of Alpha acid with lower Beta acids. Flavor/aroma hops will have higher Beta acid percentage. Theoretically, the higher Beta acid in the flavor/aroma hops is not a desired characteristic for a bittering hop. Examples of “flavor/aroma” only hops are the four Noble varieties that come from Central Europe. They are low in bitterness, high in aroma, and are typically labeled as aroma/flavor only. There have been debates regarding whether these “aroma” only hops should also be used for bittering. However, these hops have been used for centuries to brew pilsners and lagers in Central Europe as both bittering and flavor hops. This gives these styles their signature character. My conclusion is to pick whatever hop you think will work best for your intended hop profile. Don’t get tied down to a particular guideline if you think you can make it work. The one concern I do have for using aroma hops for bittering, is their tendency to oxidize. Beta acids are chemically more susceptible to oxidize which will cause off flavors in your beer. I have experienced this problem so be warned.

There are several online guides for hop characteristics beyond just the chemical compositions. BYO has a very good Hop Guide which will give you additional information regarding the nuance in the tastes of each hop. These guides are somewhat helpful but tend to be redundant with their descriptions. You can also search the internet for other people’s opinions as to what hops will work together in combination. A BYO author wrote an article stating he prefers to do all his bittering with Galena and then use whatever aroma/taste hops needed for his style. He also stated some favorite finishing hop combinations are Cascade, Centennial, Columbus at 50:25:25 ratio, or Cascade, Tettnanger at 50:50 ratio. I’m sure there a lots of other suggestions out there if you dig hard enough.  I remember reading another BYO article about pairing hops together.  It stated that you want to try to pair hops based on their similarities.  So if you if you have a high cohumulone hop you would want to pair another high cohumulone with it.  Same with Myrcene and Humulene.  If you pick hops with contrasting characteristics it will most likely result in tastes that clash in your final brew.

At this point in the game you should have your hop varieties picked out and be ready to roll. Now we need to calculate how many hops we need to get the desired bitterness levels. Hops are added at different points in the boil to achieve different results. Bittering hops are usually put in at the beginning of the boil and are boiled for 60 minutes. This gives ample time for the Alpha acids to be isomerized and absorbed into the beer (wort) as bitterness. Next are flavor hop additions which will occur with between 10-30 minutes left in the boil. The flavor hops are not exposed as long in the boil, so the oils will not become volatile and boil out of the beer (wort). Aroma hops are added anywhere between 0-10 minutes left in the boil. There is also the option of dry hopping which involves hops being added into the fermenter. Dry hopping will increase the hop aroma of your brew with very little to no change in the taste, and no change in the bitterness level. I found a great article on Beersmith regarding dry hopping.

Now comes the math part. This is where I highly recommend Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. It will have all of the calculations you need to figure your hop bitterness. This is only 1/10th the reason you should get this book, so don’t think it’s filled only with beer geek formulas. It is a good idea to get a general idea of what is involved with these formulas before you use any of the calculators available on the net. That way you know what the calculators settings are for and help you get an accurate calculation. The website I always use is hopville. The benefit to this site is not only is it a great recipe calculator it also allows you to save your recipes. You can make your recipes searchable by the public. This is what I do, so if you ever wonder what ingredients I used for a certain homebrew you can search it on hopville. If you are only wanting to use the recipe calculator, click on Beer Calculus at the top of the site and it will take you to it. With these tools you can calculate the proportions of hops you will need to achieve a particular bitterness level (IBU). If you are shooting for a particular style, the BJCP guidelines will tell you what IBU range is acceptable for your style. If you are going rogue and designing your own style, then you will have to cross-reference styles to figure out what IBU range you are looking for. Keep in mind the IBU rating is only a measurement of bitterness and not a representation of what sort of hop character you should expect. Just because something is bitter in terms of IBU doesn’t mean it will have hop flavor and aroma. This is where you have to play with how long you boil each hop addition to achieve flavor and aroma. This is also why knowing the composition of the hops oils are important because IBU alone will not tell you what the hop character will be.

There it is. Everything you ever wanted to know, and more, about hops. You are officially a Hop University graduate! Happy drinking and happy brewing.

 Beer Advocate: Specific Hops used in commercial brews.


-3F gumball head


-Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (finishing)

-Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale/IPA

-Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale

-Anchor Liberty


-Bell's Two Hearted (100% Centennial)

-Founders Centennial IPA

-Mirror Pond


-Fish Tale Winterfish (100% Chinook)

-Stone Arrogant Bastard


-Most any ESB


-Samuel Adams Boston Lager

-Sam Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsner


-Sierra Nevada Pale (bittered with Magnum and Perle)

Northern brewer

-Anchor steam is (100% northern brewer)


-Nugget Nectar (Warrior, Nugget and Tomahawk)


-Sierra Nevada Pale (bittered with Magnum and Perle)


-Pilsner Urquell


-Weyerbacher double simcoe ipa

-Green Flash West Coast IPA


-Oskar Blues Gubna

-Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale


-Magnumus Ete Tomahawkus ESB³ (Rock Art)

-Nugget Nectar (Warrior, Nugget and Tomahawk)


-Nugget Nectar (Warrior, Nugget and Tomahawk)


Yakima Chief

Hop Union


BYO hopguide


Beer Calculus at Hopville

Beersmith – dry hop article

Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels


BJCP guide


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