Dry hopping has become a popular technique for commercial and home brewers in recent years. Hops provide the bitterness that makes beer stand out from other fermented beverages. And while the mouth puckering bitterness of an IPA is great, bitterness alone doesn’t make a beer.

A great beer is a balance of bitterness, flavors and aromas. You smell a beer before it even touches your lips. As well as being packed with alpha acids, hops contain oils that are full of flavor and aroma. The aroma compounds in hop oils are volatile though. Hop aroma compounds will disappear if they are added too soon in the boil. To combat this, brewers will pile in large additions of hops late in the boil. This late addition requires a lot of hops which can be a little expensive. To solve this predicament, the process of dry hopping was developed.

Dry hopping is the addition of hops to the wort after it has cooled. Cold addition results in no additional bitterness, as the alpha acids don’t isomerize, but lots of delicious aroma coming out of the hop oils and permeating your beer.

So how do you dry hop? It is a relatively simple process. You’re just adding hop pellets or dried hops to the fermenter. It’s that simple.

The biggest fear is contamination. By opening the fermenter, you risk possible infection. The best way to overcome this is to spray sanitizer on the outside of the fermenter before opening. If you are using some kind of vessel for the hops that you are adding, make sure that they are sanitized too. The hops are naturally antimicrobial, so there’s no need to sanitize them in any way (especially not with heat). Ultimately, just take care when opening a fermenter. Don’t put anything down on dirty surfaces and wash your hands. You know – the basics.

Additional sediment from the hops can be an issue when dry hopping, particularly with hop pellets. Most people dry hop in a secondary fermenter and even go as far as to rack again into a tertiary ferment vessel to ensure absolute clarity. If, however, you don’t like to use a secondary wait for the yeast activity to slow and for the bulk of the yeast to settle on the bottom for best results. Filtering the beer before kegging is another way to clarify any hop sediment.

Alternatively, you can put hops in a mesh bag or stainless steel mesh ‘dry hopper’ to minimize sediment. This will reduce contact with the beer, so compensate by adding 15% more than if you were dry hopping with loose flowers or pellets. Remember that hops will expand once they are wet, so don’t pack the bag or dry hopper too full. This will limit the contact with the beer even further. Some brewers will even add the stainless mesh dry hopper to the keg for a last hit of hop aroma.

Another method that isn’t really dry hopping, but will still inject hop aroma into your beer is to use a hop back. The hop back holds hops (whole flowers, not pellets), and has hot wort pumped through it just before the wort chiller. The wort picks up the oils but is cooled before the aromas can volatilize. These can also often be configured to be connected to a keg so the beer runs through a bed of hops before being dispensed.

Dry hopping is a great way to add an extra dimension to your beer with hop aroma. As long as you are careful about it, you can get some great results without too much hassle.

Got anything to share about your dry hopping experience? Leave a comment.

Check out our review on dry hopping gear here.

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