HOPS ARE one of the four main beer ingredients, the others being malt, water and yeast. Without hops, our beer would just taste like sugary lolly water.
As a home brewer, the important thing to consider is what we want from hops with a particular batch. All hops have different alpha and beta acids that determine the flavour profile and IBU (International Bitterness Units).
Online calculators and software make life easier for an all grain brewer to work out hopping rates for a batch and how bitter and flavourful that beer will become when ready to consume.
You can work out which hop flavours you want – fruity, dank, woody, earthy, grassy, spicy, herbal, resinous or floral. Citrus-style hops are popular at the moment in pale ales, etc.
There are three main ways to utilise hops.
1 A long boil (60–90 minutes) will give you mainly bitterness.
2 A short boil (5–10 minutes) or a hot steep will provide flavour and aroma.
3 Dry hopping will mainly provide you with aroma.
All three methods can provide you with what is known as perceived bitterness.
I think it is best to also try and match the hop variety with the particular style of beer. For example, lagers and pilsners require noble hops.
With brewing, there are no set rules, and varieties and styles are changing constantly.
For kit and kilo brewers, adding hops can make a beer completely different and a lot better than the intended style of that particular kit. I recommend taking baby steps, as you don’t want the batch to be overly bitter.
You can purchase little bags of ‘finishing hops’ from a brew store so you can steep them or dry hop them, but this is more expensive. I would recommend getting a 50g bag so that you will have enough for a short steep or boil and a small dry hop charge.
There are two methods of boiling and steeping for a kit.
The first way is to boil up a small amount of light dried malt and chuck the hops in Kamikaze style and boil for a few minutes.
Or just throw them in, take the pot immediately off the boil and let them steep for 20 minutes. Pour the mixture into your fermenter through a strainer.
The second way is much easier, as all you need is a coffee plunger. Put your hops in the device as you would coffee and steep for 20 minutes or so. Plunge and then pour in your fermenter with the rest of the ingredients
For a dry hop, if you haven’t got a dedicated hop sock, you can use a soft mesh cleaning cloth (pulled straight from the packet). Add your dry hop charge to your fermenter, usually after vigorous fermentation has ceased. I like to put mine in around four days before bottling. Any longer and there is a risk of the beer tasting grassy. 1 or 2 grams per litre will be sufficient.
Recipe of the month
It’s lager brewing time at the moment and the best kit I’ve used is Morgan’s Mountain Blue.
1kg light dried malt for fermentables
lager yeast – either Fermentis 34/70 or similar
12g Saaz hops, steeped for 20 minutes in a coffee plunger
Add all ingredients and ferment between 8–12°C for two weeks. Package and serve as usual. You can also ‘lager’ the bottles for another 4 weeks at about 5°C. This is not necessary. It will taste just like store-bought lager, only better!