What a hoppy world we live in! Hops-forward styles such as double IPAs and imperial Pilsners are pushing boundaries on both the craft side and in homebrewing, and extreme times call for extreme measures. Every step of the brewing process has become an opportunity to shoehorn in some more hops character. Very late hops additions (a hop stand or whirlpool hopping) offer a way to get more intense flavor and aroma because the essential oils are not boiled away. The hops are added after the knockout and given up to 60 minutes to offer their bounty. Many pro brewers rely on this for their IPAs, and homebrewers have leveraged the technique as well.
A hopback offers another variation on that idea. It’s a container packed with whole hops that the hot wort passes through before it’s chilled down. As with whirlpool hops, the wort can soak up the flavor and aroma, but there’s even less chance for loss because it’s completely sealed. As a bonus, the hops also act as a filter to trap hot break and trub, which can improve your beer’s clarity. There are a few commercial hopbacks available for homebrewers, with the Blichmann HopRocket the Blichmann HopRocket (pictured above) being one of the most well-known. These work perfectly well, but there’s nothing stopping you from making your own.
Design Tradeoffs and Parts
The key decision is what to use as the main body of the hopback. There are a number of options, from glass mason jars to stainless-steel storage containers. Personally, I prefer to minimize opportunities for breakage, so I recommend going with stainless-steel. Household shops such Bed Bath & Beyond offer a variety of sizes of stainless canisters that are designed for storing coffee or other foodstuff, which will work well for our purposes.