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Old 11-17-2012, 02:26 AM   #1
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Default Why dry hop? Or, Making Hop "Bitters"

I believe I've discovered a new technique for infusing beer with hop flavor and aroma that avoids actual dry hopping. First, the technique and its parallels, then the advantages.

The technique is quite simple: take pure, neutral grain spirits (i.e. Everclear) and mix it with a small quantity of hops (whole or pellets) in a clean, sealed container. Wait approximately 5-7 days, and drain off the spirits through a strainer, carefully pressing the remaining hops to remove absorbed spirits.

Why neutral grain spirits rather than vodka? For at least two reasons. First, vodka is not as strong as everclear, and those who make other, similar extracts (e.g. lemoncello with lemon zest) find that vodka does not provide as strong an extract when compared to the 2.5X stronger everclear. Second, even good vodka has a flavor, whereas everclear does not.

The idea comes from those who make their own bitters (or other extract-based cordials and liqueurs, e.g. an Italian liqueur made from basil). However deceptive the name, "bitters" are not ordinarily bitter, and similarly, the hop extract described above is not bitter. Bitters are an aromatic cocktail seasoning made by a mix of spices (or other organic products) soaked in grain spirits until full flavor extraction is reached. The hop extract described above has no bitterness because the alpha acids have not isomerized. Consequently, although a primary application of this extract is mixed with beer at bottling/kegging time, one could just as well reserve a portion of the hop extract and put it in a small bottle for 'spicing' up mundane beer, in a very similar way to ordinary bitters (I'm currently experimenting with Czech Saaz extract in a PBR, and can detect noticeably improvement in flavor and aroma).

Potential advantages? Off the top of my head, I can think of several.

  1. Dry hopping requires a relatively large quantity of hops for strong hop flavor and aroma because the available alcohol in beer that extracts relevant compounds is not strong enough to extract all the available compounds. If vodka is too weak to reach full extraction, you can imagine why this extract method works better than dry hopping in beer. Very high proof alcohol can extract all the available compounds, resulting in a more efficient use of hops.
  2. The general consensus seems to be (1) that secondary fermentation is unnecessary and potentially harmful for most homebrewers brewing a majority of medium to low gravity beers, and (2) dry hopping should be done during secondary fermentation. With this technique, dry hopping can be effectively accomplished without the need for secondary fermentation. The extract can be made while the beer is finishing primary fermentation.
  3. Along similar lines, dry hopping can be a hassle while siphoning (hence the use of whole leaf hops), whereas this extract can be conveniently strained. Given the high proof of the extract, it is also very unlikely to pick up or retain any contaminants.

Are there any disadvantages? The only one I can think of is that some brewers have reported detecting vegetal flavors in beers where hops have soaked for a very extended period of time (e.g. hop matter in a bottle of beer). Experimentation will help determine exactly when such a flavor might arise from this extraction process. I've conservatively suggested a 5-7 day soaking period for this extract in order to avoid this vegetal flavor, but it may be that greater extraction can be obtained from longer soaking periods (two weeks?) without any off flavors. Any input on this front would be much appreciated.
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Old 11-17-2012, 02:50 AM   #2
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Seems like it should work...

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Old 11-17-2012, 03:46 PM   #3
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My biggest question would be whether the aroma and flavor last as long being added this way versus dry hopped or some of the other post-boil options.

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Old 11-17-2012, 09:54 PM   #4
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I'm with apache. I would like to know if the aromas of the hops would be reduced since this is a large portion of what you're shooting for with dry hopping. Other than that, though, it seems like a great idea and makes me wonder why this wasn't thought of before!

If you would, please keep us posted on what you find and if you'd like a second person to experiment with you to expedite the iteration process, I'd be more than willing!

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Old 11-18-2012, 03:41 AM   #5
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My other thought is: how does the volume of your hop bitters compare to dry hopping? I've had some oak chips under vodka for about six months now and by tastings it doesn't have a very complex oak flavor (although thankfully it is not woody) and I've tried adding it in the glass as a finishing touch with beer but it seems to take a lot more than I expected to even reach the flavor threshold where I feel like the beer had any oak exposure at all. If it takes more hops to create the bitter at the same effect as dry hopping than it would be to just dry hop, that would make it a less desirable option.

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Old 11-18-2012, 02:23 PM   #6
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I strained out the hop bitters (from Czech Saaz) last night and had some surprising results: these are decidedly bitter. I mixed some drops in with water and the effect was mouth-puckering. I assumed that this could not be because, as is commonly 'known', only boiling isomerizes alpha acids. I have a buddy who is a biochemist who told me that in some cases ethanol can indeed isomerize alpha acids (though he had no experience with or special knowledge of hops).

Consequently, it seems to me that although this changes the use of these bitters entirely, it also challenges a key assumption of dry hopping, namely, that dry hopping adds no bitterness. If ethanol can isomerize hop alpha acids, then dry hopping will add some bitterness, even if not much (because of the weak concentration of alcohol).

The aroma/flavor concentration is fairly intense. A few drops to a beer will add noticeable aroma (perhaps unlike RAM's vodka-oak chips). However, since they do add bitterness (I'm guessing the AA's are fully isomerized), I will not be adding this to a finished beer at bottling, so I wont be able to definitely answer RAM's question about concentration. How long will this last? I'm not quite sure. I made a lemoncello using the same techniques two years ago, and the aroma is still strongly one of lemons. I will post updates as months go by of how long the aroma lasts.

So what good are bitter hop bitters? I could see two main uses: bittering up accidentally sweet beers (one will see threads on doing this occasionally), and bittering up beers that start out mundane (e.g. American lagers).

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Old 11-18-2012, 02:30 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nobeerinheaven View Post
So what good are bitter hop bitters? I could see two main uses: bittering up accidentally sweet beers (one will see threads on doing this occasionally), and bittering up beers that start out mundane (e.g. American lagers).
I like your idea but I think the only application is aroma. If you are just trying to add IBUs to a beer that turned out too sweet, you can just boil some hops in a little bit of water and add that. Works like a charm.
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Old 11-18-2012, 02:32 PM   #8
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Already been done:

http://stempski.com/hop_vodka.php

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Old 11-18-2012, 03:52 PM   #9
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You could brew a simple beer with a low BU:GU ratio and split it up among different fermenters and add different hop bitters to "finish" the beer by adding different combinations of bitterness and flavor/aroma from different hops. You're probably playing mad scientist here more than making a breakthrough discovery but it's interesting nonetheless.

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Old 11-18-2012, 10:03 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thughes View Post
This seems a bit different: (1) the time suggested for this is much shorter (20 minutes). It's interesting that he notices no bitterness. Perhaps the combination of lower ethanol and shorter time prevents the AAs from isomerizing, different from what I've suggested above. (I might want to try his shorter process with everclear to see if I can get pure aroma/flavor without bittering, but in stronger concentrations than what he'd get with cheap vodka.)

(2) Similarly, he tries to concentrate his mixture by freezing it, but that step is unnecessary if you start off with everclear.
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