I've seen so many threads on here with issues with home brewers trying to commercial-level west-coast-style hop bombs I thought I would create this thread to post my tips and add others as people respond.
NOTE: I do not claim to be the world's greatest brewer nor an expert on the techniques of hoppy beers, but out of my 100+ batches, almost 75%had hoppy intentions or were experiments to see the effects on hop flavor and profile. I am also extremely critical of my homebrews. I rate them compared to commercial examples no matter what the style, and especially for my IPA/IIPAs. I use untappd and would never score my beers higher than a commercial example and often compare them to the top examples when considering my ratings. Most of my buddies that try my beers give it more credit than I do but I sometimes ask them to compare it to commercial ones to level the playing field. With that said, My buddies and I have agreed that several were "shelf worthy" brews.
Finally, most of this info is out there on this site and the internet, I am merely consolidating a lot of this info and adding my experiences.
So here goes:
Tip #1: Experiment! Seriously, never settle with an "okay" or "decent" recipe. Try to switch something up the next time to see what happens. After I did more than a dozen SmaSh recipes to get my bearings I began building my first IPA recipe. I brewed the same "recipe" nearly 20 times. Each time I would switch something up: yeast, dry hop amount, hop schedule, slight changes to the grain bill, mash pH adjustments, water profiles, etc.
I learned a lot from this and noted what worked and what didn't...which leads to my second tip:
Tip #2: Get your system down as consistently as possible and keep immaculate records. They go hand-in-hand for the most part. I use beersmith so I actually have some help in this department but I also use a brew journal and record everything. I put my mash in the oven, it holds perfectly. That doesn't stop me from pulling it every 15 minutes and taking a temp reading. Write it down. The idea is that when you create the Holy Grail recipe, you know exactly what you did.
I use the EXACT same water amount each time. This usually leads to the exact same water levels and barring humidity, the exact same boil times unless I change some aspect of the grain bill during an experiment. Hit your hop additions to the minute and, for me, to the gram per addition. Don't trust that a 1 oz. bag is actually 1 oz., weigh it out. Mill your grains within the same time frame (day before, morning of) etc. You are just trying to be as consistent as commercial brewers are. You are also trying to keep things as consistent as possible so experiments really only focus on one change or aspect of brewing.
This is especially important when it comes to salt/acid additions which we will talk about later. Being off by a gram here or there can actually have a major effect on the final product.
Tip #3: Use your hops wisely. With the exception of some personal taste and bitterness preference, hops need to hit the wort at the very end. For some this is a FWH or 60 minute and then only late additions (20 minutes to flameout.) For others, it's just a bittering addition and then flameout/hop steeps.
Heady topper does not boil a single hop. Firestone Walker gets more than 90% of their IBUs from a whirlpool addition. Think about that. They are basically backing up a dump truck full of hops POST BOIL to get their IBUs and of course, flavor and aroma. For me personally, 75% of my hops hit the wort post boil, this gets the job done for me. And so people don't ask: I prefer a small FWH addition so that timing is unnecessary, and then 4 additions at 20 minutes, 15, 10 and 5. The rest is for flameout, hop steep, and dry hopping.
Tip #4: Single hop experiments. Basically tip #1 and #3 together. Understand the hops you are using. While this site is amazing, personal taste is a HUGE part of home brewing. One person gets hints of pine from a hop while another thinks it's a soapy mess. You really need to take the time and get to know the major and most useful hops. It was torture to do it at the start, but know I have a really good sense of the hops I like and great notes if I forget. With a go-to simple IPA grain bill for single hop experiments, you can really get a good grasp of any new or experimental hop. I actually don't do a FWH in this scenario, just late additions, flameout and dry hopping. Still, get a grasp of what you like and stick with it.
Another thing you will learn from this is the potency of some hops. Not all hops are created equal. Some will take over when paired with another hop and some are simply so unique that they will attract the attention of the drinker more than other aspects of the brew (Nelson is the example for me, it's so unique that I really feel like it takes a lot of work to correctly pair with other hops.) Hops like Citra are so popular because they are so potent. They shine; they punch you in the nose. Others are more subtle. Learn and apply this knowledge.
The final point on this is not often talked about, the harvest. Some hops simply do better than others year to year. I would probably still buy 2012 summit over 2013. Some got garlic/onion in 2012, a lot of people got a fantastic tangerine, and boy was it potent. 2013 was an onion/garlic mess. I consistently picked it up in commercial examples as well. Just know that Cascade or any other hop will change year to year and you may say "what happened" when you brew your go-to hop-bomb, but it might not be anything you did.
And remember that good hop storage is a must. The fresher the better, but many do not have an option in this area unless you grow your own.
Tip #5: Science! Yes, we are talking about mash pH and water profiles specifically. I think there really is a sweet spot for hoppy beers in terms of both of these subjects. For mash pH, I'd say it's 5.4 to 5.6, but for me personally, its 5.45. I watched the Brew & Chop episode on heady topper and a mash pH range of 5.1 - 5.3 were mentioned for the best environment for hoppy beers. I immediately brewed two beers under 5.2, a couple in the 5.2 range and one 5.35. They were a mess...muted, yeast forward. Someone later email and learned that this was not the correct temp for a pH reading and it translated to basically the standard range. Lesson learned.
In terms of your water profile, the cleaner and more "pure" the better. Get yourself a water report. Or you can use RO or spring water; just make sure it hits the following parameters.
First, make sure the pH and buffering capacity of your water allows for an easy drop to the optimal mash pH range. Acidulated malt or other acids can assist this but don't create more work than you need.
Next, be careful of a couple crucial elements of your water profile. Calcium and chloride levels should be kept average to low in order to not highlight the malts. Most importantly, sulphates promote hop bitterness, aroma and flavor and +some prefer them extremely high, 300+ like heady topper. But above 150-200ppm will give you additional help in the hop department. I'll finish by leaving my two favorite sources for this matter and very helpful to beginners in this area of brewing:
Tip #6: Yeast. Unless you are after something unique, clean yeast gets you the best results. There are many types of yeast that can do this, I will mention a few. Most importantly is to ensure that you can maintain and control fermentation temps. At the very least, this is swamp cooler, hopefully in a basement. At best, this is a fermentation cooler/fridge with probes to monitor and change temperatures.
Nottingham works very well at 60-63, clean, neutral and a work horse. Chico does well at 65-68, same results. San Diego Super Yeast and Pacman will get you similar results. Even for basic brewers, you can choose yeast that works best for the ambient temps you have. Just know that fermentation is exothermic and will be higher than ambient. In other words, I know I can use Notty at sub-60 temps because the fermentation will actually be 3-5 degrees higher. If you can ramp up the temp at or after high krausen, do so. Most of the cleaner yeast is due to using them at the low end of the spectrum, which may stall fermentation or give you a higher F, ramping them up usually gets you to where you need to be.
As always, proper pitching rates need to be ensured. Starters, rehydration, oxygen systems, whatever you do...make sure it works within the framework of the OG.
Tip #7: Grain Bill. Keep it simple and clean. Some prefer 100% 2-row or pale malt. Some even use pilsner malt, including well known commercial breweries I've had good success with 2-to-1 pale/pilsner grain bills. Keep it hidden but not too light that you just made hop juice as I like to call it. I get that this style is unbalanced but don't leave the malt backbone out completely. Around 5% crystal seems to be a standard, though many prefer it dry and drop it all together. 5-10% Munich or victory seems to be the go-to for addition malt backbone. Everyone will have their personal preference, which comes back to tip #1, experiment. Be careful with sweeter malts and mash temps, if you like dry IPAs, keep both low. Vice versa, I was a Pale ale malt guy for a long time but have recently switched to equal parts Marris otter, pearl, golden promise, halcyon. I get that this goes against my "simple" advice, but at this point, my experimenting takes me to interesting places.
Don't be afraid to use some adjunct/sugars to get you to your OG. I prefer it low, like 1-3% but am a huge fan of dark brown sugar. Again, it's my personal preference but these can be used to thin out a beer at a higher mash temp, 153 and up and give it a nice "kick" in terms of complexity. This can help to keep the taste simple, light and crisp and allow the drinker to focus on the hop profile, or at least, not detract to much from it.
Tip #8: Whirlpool/Steep/Hop Tea: I realize I have casually mentioned whirl pooling and hop steeping without actually spelling out what this is. Basically, the amazing aromas and flavors we get from hops are actually oils (humulene, myrcene, etc.) that will boil off at high temps. By dropping the temperature of your wort, they actually steep into the beer. When we get below 180, the oils will simply come out of the hops and into the wort, a lot like making tea. Some steep for 15 minutes, some 30, some longer. You know the drill: experiment
Some home brewers will chill the beer to 180 then add a hop steep, usually of decent size, I'd say it should be at or double the amount you usually dry hop with. Others add some at flameout, let it slowly cool to 180, and then add the other half. Finally, some quickly chill to 150 or 140 then do a hop stand. Just note that temps above 170 will have some isomerization. Meaning, they will contribute some bitterness, around 10-15% of the numbers of boil additions
What's with the temps? Experience home brewers will have "DMS" running through their heads right now. There are examples of people not chilling at all and have no issues with the dreaded "corn" taste this produces. Nonetheless, there is a workaround. SMM is the compound that produces DMS. It is "boiled off" 50% every 40 minutes of a boil. So a 90 minute boil gets rid of about 80% of your possible issue. I prefer longer boils anyway due to my thinner mashes and ability to get something done during the boil, like bottling or kegging. A rapid chill stops the release of DMS as well but we can't do that with a hop stand, until under 160. Therefore, some quickly chill to low temps to stop this DMS release and then do a hop stand. Longer boils can help but a quickly chill leads to cold break and a clearer beer. Is there another option?
Yes, its called a hop tea. Same idea but usually done for bottling or a secondary. Simply recreate the same situation with water and a hop stand. I boil a cup of water for a few minutes then let it cool to 180, or whatever temp you prefer. Pour it into a French press like this one:
Let it steep for as long as you want. Don't "press" the hops into the bottom, let them float in there and agitate it from time to time. When ready, push the plunger down and add the water to your bottling bucket, done, same effect, no issues. I've done one in a secondary and bottling with great results. You can even throw in some spices or citrus zest too.
Tip #9: Dry hopping: The ever elusive and subjective topic. There has been some more scientific research coming out over the last few years but this is really up in the air. I, unfortunately, have to generalize and say the best results are usually 3-7 days of dry hopping. Personally, I do 4-5 days but the week long dry hops have produced the "shelf worthy" brews I mentioned at the start.
As for amounts, keeping in mind we want a super hoppy brew, I would say at or above 1 oz. PER GALLON works best. People will chime in how they use more or less and get the results they want. Again, it will be up to your personal taste. Personally, I like 1.3 - 2 oz. PER GALLON to get the punch in terms of aroma. I can literally smell my brews after I crack a bottle, let alone pour it. If you follow the other tips, you should be laughing at how hoppy your beers are. Grassiness has been the mythical unicorn I have never come across, so others can chime in with their experience.
I really don't want to spark any trouble or intense debate with this article, but I do have to say that using a secondary has produced some of the best results. I just did around 15 batches of a primary only and I was not as pleased. I can't explain it, nor provide the science, but it simple worked best for me to use a secondary. Maybe it's the idea of having less yeast around? I am not trying to push people in any direction, but I would try both and take notes on what you produce.
Purge if you can, though I don't. Nonetheless, avoiding, oxygen is your best route here. If you keg, maybe halve the additions and hit it up 3-5 days prior to kegging and then throw the rest in the keg. Many have reported great results with double dry hopping and multiple additions. There are so many good results that I can't say what percentages work or what days. But there is a growing consensus that two is better than one, bag or no bag? No difference as far as I have learned. Go with what you are comfortable with and enjoy doing. All this leads to my final tip.
Tip #10: SPEED IT UP! There is no need to go more than 4-5 weeks grain-to-glass unless it's really up there in terms of ABV. If you follow the 8 other tips, there really shouldn't be that mythical "green" or "young" beer flavor. First, the hops will cover it up. Next, you shouldn't even be in that position if you have good brew practices and techniques. Depending on the OG, yeast, and batch size, you should have a finished beer a week after high krausen drops. What I mean by that is you can start your dry hop then and give it 3-7 days till bottling or kegging. I have had zero issues with this and find using a bag and marbles actually get the yeast to stir up a little and along with a temp ramp, get things moving again. I'd be a little more cautious with using a secondary but taking a sample is a foolproof way to good brewing.
Just remember that a lot of commercial breweries begin the stages of dry hopping at the tail end of fermentation, not after. If it has a few points to go, depending on the yeast, you should be safe to begin dry hopping. I've had beer, bottled, fully carbed and a few days in the fridge less than a month from brew date. And I would avoid cold crashing. After all is said and done, your beer should be somewhat hazy anyways, so who cares. We are after the hops right? With good practices, good water, yeast nutrient, whirlfloc/irish moss, you should be where you need to be in terms of clarity at bottling/kegging. A few days for bottles, or a week in a keg, should get you the best results you will get in terms of clarity, most importantly, it should be hoppy as ever! There was an article in zymurgy, if I am correct; on how filtering/cold crashing could pull the hop oils out of the beer as the yeast drops, so avoid it if possible. But you do want as much of the yeast as possible out of the beer, your choice on this one.
NOTE: I do not claim to be the best, hoppy brewer on earth. Nor are the recipes I have the end-all/be-all of IPAs/IIPAs. I just wanted to consolidate the best practices of hoppy brewing in one thread and have others add to it as a "go-to" place on this amazing site. We see so many thread and issues with this subject that I wanted to make a "Headquarters" for information. Let me know where I am wrong and your experiences, I will add them and edit as we go.