It all starts with a plant…
… but hops can reach you in lots of different forms.
Let’s take a look at the many ways you can get hops – and how to use them!
When we say “hops”, we actually mean the cone-shaped flowers of a hop plant. You can actually use these picked straight from the bine! These ultra-fresh cones are called “green hops” or sometimes “wet hops”. Left like this they don’t last very long, so the majority of hops that you’ll encounter have been processed in some way.
These are the whole cones, carefully dried to keep the oils intact. If you handle these, you’ll notice they can be quite sticky. The leaves are very buoyant, so they float when you add them to wort, and they range in size from small fragments to quite large entire leaves – more than big enough to clog an outlet valve or a pump! Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a hop filter on your brew kettle (such as a bazooka filter). You can also put the hops in a muslin bag or hop sock, which makes them much easier to remove after use.
Pellets are made by removing the stems and any woody bits from the whole hops, then finely chopping, mixing, and compressing the remainder into a small pellet. Roughly ten percent of the hop flower is removed, hence these are called T90 pellets – ninety percent of the hop is used.
The process of making pellets means they have a more concentrated and more consistent flavour, whereas whole leaf can vary flower to flower and can sometimes include small twigs. Being more concentrated makes pellets very suitable for hop stands or dry hopping, where you want to extract as much flavour as possible.
Pellet hops dissolve quickly in wort and eventually sink out of suspension. When used in a boil or hop stand, stirring or pumping the wort in a circle creates a whirlpool, which helps the dissolved pellets form a clump in the centre of your brew kettle for easier removal. In the fermenter, cold crashing the beer down to 3°C or less will encourage the pellets to fall out of suspension so you can rack from above them.
T45, BBC, and Lupomax pellets
These are all “enriched” pellets that give an even more concentrated version of the hop. To make T45 pellets, almost fifty-five percent of the vegetative matter of the hop is removed, with the whole process taking place at -35°C to preserve the most delicate aromatics, leaving just the most flavourful and oil-rich parts left. This makes them more bitter and more powerfully flavoured than either T90 pellets or whole leaf.
Because these enriched pellets are so powerful, you don’t have to use as much of them to get the flavour impact you would from a T90 pellet or whole leaf. All hops soak up some of your beer, so using less hops means you lose less of your beer – which can be vitally important in highly-hopped styles like IPAs. These pellets also deliver a very concentrated version of hop flavour, a bit like using vanilla extract compared to whole vanilla pods. Some brewers use enriched pellets in combination with T90s or leaf rather than as a full replacement to get both the super-concentrated and the “whole hop” version of the flavour.
The oils in hops can be extracted so you don’t need to worry about losing beer, nor cleaning up any pellet mush or hop leaves!
Some of the oils in hops are foam-negative: they break up surface tension so bubbles don’t form. This is why hops can help stop a boil over when you add them at the beginning of the boil or at first wort. Lipohop Antifoam is an extract of those foam-negative oils and can be sprayed onto your wort to prevent boil overs, or into a fermenter to stop the krausen from getting too large.
Flex is an extract of just the alpha acids. It acts as a pure bittering agent, extremely concentrated, with virtually no flavour of its own. In contrast to Lipohop, alpha acids are foam-positive – they make the head on your beer more stable and long-lasting – so using Flex can also improve the serve of your beer.
CO2 extract is a similar bittering agent, but whereas Flex is already isomerised, you need to boil CO2 extract just like the full hop to convert the alpha acids into clean bitterness.
Incognito and Spectrum
You can also extract the flavour oils from hops. Incognito is a flavour extract designed to be used in a hop stand or whirlpool. It comes as a thick syrup that loosens into a liquid with heat. A small 15g pot of Incognito is equivalent to around 85g of T90 pellets and will dissolve almost entirely into your beer, giving you all the flavour with no losses. Spectrum is a similar flavour extract designed for dry hopping, which is done at much cooler temperatures.
As with the enriched pellets, these flavour extracts are very highly concentrated, so some brewers use them alongside “normal” hops rather than as a full replacement.
All about the beer
Hops are great on their own, but they’re much better in beer!
We’ll put what we’ve learned to the test as we see how hops are used in some of our most popular recipe kits!