Hopping Methods for Homebrewing

Harness the full flavor-potential from your hops using one of these ingenious hopping methods in your next homebrew.

| July 2019


Hops are added at different stages during the brew day to achieve different effects. Most homebrew recipes will indicate when to add the hops: early for bittering, mid to late for flavor, and at the end of the boil and in the fermenter for aroma. Bittering hops are added when the wort is first collected in the brewpot, either just before the boil (first wort hopping) or when it starts to boil. Flavor hops are typically added when there are 15 to 30 minutes left in the boil, which will provide some additional bitterness, but the hops will not boil long enough to allow the heat to drive off the hop flavor. Finally, aroma hops are added either at the end of the boil, at “flame out” (when the heat is turned off), in the whirlpool, or in the fermenter as dry hops.

First Wort Hopping

As far as adjusting a brew day technique, it really doesn’t get any easier than trying first wort hopping (FWH). While there is still some ambiguity that surrounds its overall affect on the finished beer, most brewers will either use it as a substitute for their bittering hop charge or their mid-boil hop charge. So why the ambiguity? It has been shown in tastings that FWH can increase the perceived aroma of a beer when substituted for a traditional late hop addition to the kettle. Yet when a group of scientists tested the hop aroma components of FWH beers, they found that the aroma compounds were actually considerably lower in FWH beers versus the same beer with that late hop addition. So let’s delve into FWH to find out more.

FWH is very simple: add a portion or all of your late boil hop charge or bittering hops before the wort comes to a boil. It does not matter whether you are an all-grain or extract brewer. Generally as an all-grain brewer you’d do this about 3 to 5 minutes into the sparging process of the grain bed. When you’re using extracts, you’d generally wait until the wort has gotten up to about 180°F (82°C) before tossing the FWH into the kettle.

So what does FWH do for your beer? What repeated studies have shown from blind triangle taste tests is that it creates a softer, more rounded bitterness than adding your bittering hops to a rolling boil. Two studies in particular document this effect. The first is a fairly comprehensive study put out back in 1995 by a German group of researchers, Preis, Nuremberg, Mitter, and Steiner titled, “The Rediscovery of First Wort Hopping,” published by Brauwelt International. The second study was performed by US homebrew guru Denny Conn, whose results roughly affirmed that of the German researchers, and he presented his findings at the 2008 National Homebrewers Conference.

The German researchers utilized two breweries to test FWH versus a late hop addition. The taste tests from both breweries confirmed that there is a distinct difference between a beer with first wort hopped charge and bittering charge and beers brewed with a traditional bittering charge and late hop charge. Among those on the panel, twenty-one out of twenty-three tasters were able to recognize the taste discrepancy in a Pilsner. Of those twenty-one tasters who distinguished some difference between the two beers, nineteen of them preferred the first wort hopped beer. Denny Conn’s study, which was performed with two groups of BJCP judges and professional brewers, tested FWH beers versus a traditional bittering charge. What they found in a blind triangle test was that seven of the eighteen tasters were able to distinguish the first wort hopped beer—still significant but not quite as striking as the German study. The general consensus among those who could distinguish among the two beer types was that the first wort hopped beer offered a smoother bittering profile than the reference beer.



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