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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.