No Rests For the Wicked: Getting Punchy With Hop Extracts

Pro brewers these days are learning about how best to take advantage of cold-side aroma extracts and other advanced hop products. Why shouldn’t you?

Annie Johnson Jul 8, 2024 - 8 min read

No Rests For the Wicked: Getting Punchy With Hop Extracts Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves/

Every year, when spring marches toward summer, I look forward to brewing and drinking one of my favorite summer beers: my Firecracker Pale Ale. It’s got a crisp mouthfeel layered with zesty hop goodness of classic citrus peel and pine—something I eagerly anticipate enjoying with some of my favorite warm-weather activities, like backyard barbecues, camping, and the Fourth of July picnic.

For the most part, I’ve been brewing this same pale from the same base recipe for the past two decades. Even so, I occasionally tweak it with different yeasts, techniques, or trendy hop varieties such as Strata or Sabro. Generally, the one constant is the base malt—mostly two-row or pale extract with a small percentage of crystal 20°L.

This year, however, I tried something different with the hops. After talking about it with a trusted fellow homebrewer, I was intrigued to experiment with some hop extracts. Skeptic that I am, I wasn’t convinced that extracts could really replace hop pellets or whole cones. I’d used a few hop extracts in the past—including HopShots and a homemade extract I made via steam distillation—but it had been several years since I’d tried any of the newer hop-extract products.

Suddenly, I was looking forward to taking them for a spin.


Efficiency: Also Nice for Homebrewers

For commercial brewers, one of the big selling points of extracts and other hop products is that you can use fewer actual hops. We all love hops, but they do tend up suck up some wort.

Looking around with my Craft Beer & Brewing editors for something to try, we wanted something relatively new, packing a punch, but also available in sizes friendly to homebrewers. That brought our attention to concentrated hop-aroma extracts and terpenes. So, we reached out to the folks at Abstrax Hops, who offered to send samples of their Quantum Series extracts for testing.

I’d never tried these aroma extracts, but one of the things I liked was that they have them available in single varieties, such as Citra, El Dorado, and Mosaic. If you’re familiar with those hops, it gives you a point of reference.

They’re available in 4 fl oz bottles for $89 a pop—and that may not sound cheap, but a little goes a loooonnng way. Abstrax recommends using them only on the cold side, to replace your dry hops (or give them a boost). They recommend substituting ½ fluid ounce (15 ml) of extract for a full pound (454 g) of dry hops.


So, at the five-gallon (19-liter) scale: Let’s say you normally dry hop an IPA with four ounces (113 g) of aroma hops. In this case, you could try skipping the hop pellets and instead add just 4 milliliters of this extract. And all that beer those hops would have absorbed? You get to keep it. Assuming you still like the beer in the end, that $89 starts to look like a pretty good deal.

As much as I enjoy brewing hop-­forward beers, one of the things I’ve always loathed is losing volume to hop absorption. I give myself a little pat on the back for doing such a good job of calculating wort loss because of grain absorption and boil-off rates—but hops are just different, thieving all that nice, finished beer during dry hopping. In a dry-hopped pale ale or IPA, I might lose as much as a half-gallon (about 2 liters)—just short of a six-pack.

So, I was eager to see how a beer made with these extracts would smell and taste—but also to see how much beer I’d have in the end.

Brewing the Quantum Firecracker

Abstrax suggests dosing a plain beer to see how the Quantum extract plays in the liquid. So, I add just two drops of the CIT—that’s Citra—to a well-known Italian lager. The results are impressive: Within a few seconds, it smells like a freshly dry-hopped Italian pilsner. The bright Citra aroma is pronounced. So, I set out to see what Quantum could do for my Firecracker.


Originally, I based this recipe off the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As the years went by, however, I lightened the crystal malt, taking it down to 20°L, and I nudged the ABV down to 5 percent.. Those changes made the beer brighter and less filling—maybe because I just wanted to enjoy more of them!

With the hops, this year, I stuck with my old habit of including a bittering addition in the form of pellets—Magnum, in this case, high-alpha and clean. But you could use a bittering extract, if you prefer, or any higher-alpha variety. I skipped the late-kettle flavor hops, wanting to have a clearer idea of what these extracts could do.

For yeast, Chico is the go-to for this style—I went with US-05, knowing that it ferments cleanly so the hops can star. I kept fermentation at a steady 66°F (19°C), and it was done and clear after 10 days. I racked to a keg and chilled it to just below 40°F (4°C). Finally, I took the leap: Instead of dry hopping, I added ¼ fluid ounce (7 ml) each of the Quantum Series Citra and Mosaic extracts to the keg—enough, in theory, to replace a half-pound (227 g) dry-hop charge.

Then, because I like a pricklier beer for the summertime, I carbonated it to 2.6 volumes of CO2.


Punchy Results

My friends who brew and know me also know that I can be a little stubborn about certain things—they don’t call me the Old School Master for nothing. (Decoction mashers, unite!) So, they might be surprised when they read that I’m now fully on board for hop-aroma extracts. I found the use of these particular products from Abstrax to be easy and approachable.

Admittedly, I’ve struggled at times with uber-hoppy beers for a variety of reasons. In the past, I’ve found that my dry hopping would introduce oxygen and leave a cardboard-like flavor or that I’d get a subtle scratchy sensation in the mouthfeel—astringency—from leaving the hops in a smidge too long. And, as I mentioned, the beer loss from absorption drove me a bit bonkers.

So, will I keep using hop pellets or whole cones in hoppy beers? Of course. But in my IPAs and pale ales, at least, I’ll be using fewer—as long as I can get these kinds of extracts, anyway.

Obviously, commercial brewers have many more options, and scale, and a budget. But my hope for this company and others is that they can introduce products based on more hop varieties, in a size and format that work for homebrewers.

Ultimately, what I really loved about using these hop extracts was the effect on aroma and flavor—it was immediate, and that is powerful. I was able to adjust the level of hop intensity in a matter of minutes, which I found to be really cool.

So, now I’m a believer. These extracts or others like them are definitely worth a try for any brewers who want to punch up their hop-forward beers for summertime, or anytime.

Annie Johnson is an experienced R&D brewer, IT specialist, and national beer judge. Her awards include 2013 American Homebrewer of the Year honors.