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Embrace the Hop: Your New Hops Primer

Consider the hop. Recent advances in brewing sciences have created a dizzying array of IPAs, with a nomenclature unto their own. Cryo? Incognito? Lupulin powder? Thanks to local brewers, we have a primer to help you navigate this brave new world. 

Flowers and Pellet Hops

We’re going to assume some basic knowledge of why beer is hopped: hops add bitterness and aroma and have antiseptic and preservative properties thanks to naturally occurring oils and acids. Hops are flowers that grow on bines, not vines; bines don’t have tendrils to aid in climbing like vines do, instead they have sturdier stems covered in “hairs.” Whole, unpelletized hops can be used to make fresh or wet hop beer, and we’ve got you covered there. Some breweries only use whole flower hops be they fresh or dried; take a bow, Victory Brewing Company! However, the far majority of hops become pelletized; that is, they are dried and turned into small cylinders. 

The most common form of pelletized hop is called T-90, where about 90% of the hop’s green, vegetal material is retained in pellet form. There are also T-45 pellets, adds Sapwood Cellars’ Co-founder Scott Janish, which, you guessed it, have only 45% plant matter, thus a better ratio of oils to create aromas in the IPAs you know and love. 

Many of these new hop products are designed to minimize the vegetal plant matter of hops, focusing instead on delivering aromas and flavors from hops’ oils and terpenes, which are often extracted at cold temperatures. Removing plant materials “means less beer loss since hop material absorbs beer and reduces yields,” says Janish, who, it should be noted, literally wrote the book on hops with The New IPA: Scientific Guide to Hop Aroma and Flavor

Hop Extracts

Hops can be added to beer during many stages of brewing. Bittering hops are traditionally added during the boil when water and grains mix to create wort. To minimize hop plant matter in this stage of brewing both Hopsteiner and Yakima Chief Hops sell CO2 extract, “created by the extraction of hop pellets with food-grade carbon dioxide into a liquid form,” per the Hopsteiner website. The base recipe is often at least 50% Columbus hops (if you’ve had DC Brau’s The Corruption then you know this varietal) and a rotating blend of others make up the rest of the extract. 

Why use this instead of pellets? Extracts can be stored for years and takes up much less storage space than whole flowers or pellets, which deteriorate over time. “We use one can [of extract] that is half the size of a soup can to bitter a 30 barrel batch” of beer, says Jeff Hancock, President, Brewmaster, QA/QC Lead & Co-founder of DC Brau. That’s 930 gallons of beer, or 7,448 pints! In addition, as a post-agricultural product, extract can deliver more consistency by targeting a certain range of the alpha acids needed to bitter beer. If a hop harvest doesn’t measure up to past years’ in terms of acids or oils, pellets will reflect this, whereas a few tweaks to a recipe for an extract solves that issue.

Many modern IPAs, however, are more concerned with hop aromas than International Bitterness Units (IBU). Aroma and flavor additions occur in two post-boil stages. The first is the “whirlpool” stage, when the wort is cooling but still warm. This is also known as “hop bursting.” Why is it called the whirlpool? Because brewers create a vortex in their brewing vessel when adding hops or hop-derived products to help extract as many hop oils as they can. 

Incognito and Cry Hops?

Get it?

Incognito, via Yakima Chief, is a viscous liquid, designed to be added at the whirlpool stage. Hancock notes Incognito is “a great tool for brewing hazy IPAs, where the brewer wants maximum aroma with virtually no loss of volume in the whirlpool as there is no vegetal matter.” If a brewer adds 5 pounds of hops per a barrel of beer, that’s 150 pounds of plant matter that will absorb liquid in a 30 barrel batch; one can picture why hop-derived products are increasingly an important tool in the beer industry. Less plant matter means more beer. 

Brau’s flagship double IPA The Imperial uses Mosaic Incognito in the whirlpool. There are risks to using extract, however. “Brewers have to be careful adding too much, which can bring the bitterness levels out of balance,” says Janish. 

The second post-boil stage is dry-hopping. Here beer has been transferred from the brew kettle, or whirlpool, to a fermenter, where it has cooled. Like the whirlpool, dry-hopping is a way to add aroma and flavor. A double dry-hopped beer has undergone two rounds of hop additions once the beer is cold, often abbreviated to DDH on the label of your can. Richmond’s The Veil sometimes sometimes sometimes adds a third round, denoted with an exponential 3 in superscript. 

What if the plant matter got down to near zero, what then? Well then you’ve got Cryo Hops, a registered trademark of Yakima Chief. “Here, the plant material of the hops is nearly removed, leaving behind an even more concentrated pellet of oils and bittering acids,” notes Janish. Why is it called “cryo?” Because, “like the name suggests, extremely cold temperatures, [via liquid nitrogen] are used to extract bittering and essential oils,” says Hancock. Both Sapwood and Brau use Cryo in conjunction with T-90 pellets. “There are beneficial components that are also contributed from the vegetal matter of pellet hops,” notes Hancock.

The Imperial uses Sabro Cryo for part of the dry hop, in addition to Mosaic and El Dorado hop pellets. “Cryo hops add an additional punch of aroma as part of a dry-hop. We typically like to use up to 50% of the total dry-hop charge with T-90 pellets, which have a more authentic hop variety-specific aroma, while the Cryo hops can lean a little danker or explosive, so a mixture of the two seems to work great,” says Janish. Find Mosaic Cryo in Sapwood’s Danger of Light Extra Pale Ale, and both Citra and Simcoe Cryo in their New Hop Crop IPA. Another hop vendor, Hass, has a pellet called LUPOMAX that is similar. 

Silver Spring’s Astro Lab recently brewed two IPAs utilizing Cryo hops. “For Polaris, Citra Cryo upped the candied citrus and melon character, and for Gorgeous As [a collaboration with Ocelot] Simcoe Cryo allowed the tropical and stone fruit to shine,” says Co-Founder and Head Brewer Matt Cronin

While Cryo is trademarked, there are similar products from a variety of hop growers and sellers. Lupulin powder, so named because the scientific name for the hop is Humulus lupulus, is “practically identical to Cryo hops in how plant material is processed and extracted,” says Hancock. This powder is the “yellow, pollen-like material found in hops that is visible when you crack open a whole hop cone,” and it’s sold in this form, not pellets. The Imperial uses lupulin powder at similar rates and dosages to Cryo hops during dry hopping, and you can buy varietal-specific powders from hop suppliers. 

Meanwhile, Sapwood is readying a triple IPA, look for it by the middle of the month. “We are just looking for an excuse to open our new selected bags of Cryo,” says Janish. “We still need to decide the final dry-hopping schedule, but we may mix in some T-90 to help give the beer a softer fruit-like (in a hop sense) flavor to pair with the more aggressive notes of Cryo.” Closer to DC, Silver Branch is running an interesting experiment: A/B testing, but with IPAs. Their soon-to-be-flagship Dr. Juicy includes Mosaic Incognito, Amarillo Lupomax, and Azacca Lupomax. You be the judge!

When DC Brau opened in 2011, these hop-derived products weren’t yet invented. Now there’s a host of them that brewers can use to move their hoppy beers from good to great, minimizing losses. We’ve walked you through the stages of brewing, from using cans of CO2 extract to bitter beer; adding Incognito to the whirlpool; and Cryo and Lupomax pellets, and lupulin powders to heighten tropical aromas and notes of stone fruit during dry hopping. Armed with this knowledge, go forth and shop for hops. 

All pics via the respective breweries, thanks to Mike Stein and Richard Fawal for their contributions. 

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