A Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine reader recently asked us the following question:
I’m finding it difficult to separate the hops from the wort after the boil, and I’m concerned spent hops will clog up my chiller. What do you recommend?
There are basically three different types of devices that contain hops matter and separate it from the wort. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. First, you can bag your hops in a nylon or muslin bag. Second, you can consider a hop basket, which is usually made of a fine screen that typically hangs from the top of the boil pot. Finally, you can consider a screen/device that attaches to the output from the kettle that filters wort as it is drained from the kettle after the boil.
Using a hop bag is probably the simplest method and the first one many brewers use when learning to brew. A hop bag can be quite effective at containing hops trub, and if you use a large-enough bag, it should have minimal impact on hops utilization. Some bags can even be cleaned and reused. The only limitations to this method are that it doesn’t easily allow for multiple boil additions, unless you use a lot of bags, and it won’t filter out grain trub—the little bits of grain left after the boil.
A hop basket, typically made from a fine metal screen or mesh, behaves much like a grain bag that hangs off the edge of the pot but allows multiple hops additions. Obviously, you need to select one with enough depth/capacity for your planned usage, and you need to pick the right screen size to prevent clogging. When making highly hopped beers, clogging of the screen during use can be a problem, and in some cases, it can be difficult to get the fine screen perfectly clean.
The last type of device is similar to a hop basket, but it sits at the bottom of the kettle and filters the outlet used to drain the kettle. In this case, loose hops are pitched right into the kettle and filtered as the wort is drained at the end of the boil. One advantage is that the filter will usually trap a lot of the grain trub along with the hops trub as both can potentially clog your chiller. Depending on the design, these filters can also clog during use or be hard to clean.
At the moment on my own system, I’m using an Anvil Kettle Strainer, which is made from a fine stainless-steel braid instead of a screen. It attaches directly to the kettle drain tube. It has worked well for me and is easy to clean, though I know some people have had issues with clogging.
As you can see, none of these devices is perfect, but they do help reduce trub going into your chiller and fermentor. I do recommend that after you use your plate or counter-flow chiller, you immediately backflush it as this is probably the best ensurance against clogging.
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