Learning Lab: More Ways to Get Hoppy

Go beyond the standard three-addition hopping schedule to test other techniques for injecting hop character into your beer.

Jester Goldman Feb 5, 2020 - 19 min read

Learning Lab: More Ways to Get Hoppy Primary Image

In our last Learning Lab, we studied the standard three-addition hopping schedule, but there are a host of other techniques for introducing hops into your beer. Some of those ideas are well-accepted—such as dry hopping or a hops stand—while others, such as mash hopping, are a bit more esoteric. We’ll talk through these techniques, and I’ll suggest some basic experiments to try them out.

We’ll work from the technique used earliest in the brewing process to latest. For each one, we’ll run down how it works, what the intent is, and how we might fit it into an experimental process.

Before we dive in, let’s define a control recipe that follows the default brewing process.

Control Beer

Volume (after boil): 1 gallon (3.8 liters)
OG: 1.055
FG: 1.014
IBUs: 43
ABV: 5.46%


Control Beer Recipe
Grain: 1.25 lb (567 g) light dry-malt extract (DME); 4 oz (113 g) crystal malt (30L).
Hops: 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Amarillo [8.6% AA] at 60 minutes; 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Amarillo at 30 minutes; 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Amarillo at 5 minutes.
Yeast: ½ packet SafAle US-05 American Ale
Bottling: 0.8 oz (23 g) total dissolved priming sugar for bottling
Directions: Fill your pot with 1 gallon (3.8 l) of water plus the makeup for evaporation loss. Put the crushed crystal malt into a small nylon grain bag and place the bag in the water. Turn the heat to medium and allow the crushed grain to steep, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes or when the temperature hits 165°F (74°C), pull the grain bag out of the water. Remove the pot from the heat and dissolve the DME into the hot water. Return to the heat and boil for 60 minutes following the hops schedule. Chill, ferment, and bottle as usual. All of the experiments should use the same hops for consistency. If you need to substitute a different hops strain, aim for about 40 IBUs in a 1-gallon (3.8 l) batch.

Mash Hopping

We’ll start with mash hopping, one of the most controversial techniques in this list. The idea is to take the hops you would have used for flavor and aroma additions, scale the weight up by another 50 percent (e.g., 3 oz/85 g where you might have used 2 oz/57 g), and place those hops either on top of the mash or stir them into the grain. Given that this reduces the bitterness contributed by the flavor addition, it’s usually recommended to increase the bittering hops slightly.

Why throw hops into the mash? The claim is that they will contribute a more interesting flavor and aroma to the final beer. Theories are a bit spotty, but the best explanation is that some of the heavier aromatic oils and other flavor components are sparged into the wort and survive a full boil. A select few swear by this technique, but most brewers (including myself) find this effect faint at best.

Mash-Hopping Experiment
We’ll tackle this with a mini brew-in-a-bag recipe:
Grain: 2 lb (907 g) crushed 2-row malt; 4 oz (113 g) crushed crystal malt (30L)
Hops: 0.375 oz (10.6 g) Amarillo as mash hops; 0.125 oz (3.5 g) Amarillo at 60 minutes
Yeast: ½ packet SafAle US-05 American Ale
Directions: Place the crushed grain and mash hops into a nylon grain bag. Heat 3 quarts (2.8 l) of water to 158°F (70°C). When the water reaches temperature, move the pot off the burner. Dip the bag of malt into the pot and swirl it around to thoroughly wet the grain. Hold the grain and water at 152°F (67°C) for 60 minutes. Then heat up another 2 quarts (1.9 l) of water to 170°F (77°C). Lift the grain bag out over the pot (if you have a strainer that can sit on the edge of the pot, that would be great) and use the hot water to rinse a little more of the malt sugars into your brew pot. Top up the pot with another quart (946 ml) of water. Bring to a boil and add the bittering hops. Boil for 60 minutes. Then chill, pitch the yeast, ferment, and bottle as usual.


First Wort Hopping

First wort hopping (FWH) is more accepted than mash hopping, with firmer experimental support for certain styles of beer. In this case, hops are added to the kettle before the sparge has begun, so they’ll soak in the collected wort before the boil. Lower alpha-acid hops are recommended, targeting 30–50 percent of the total hops usage as first wort hops.

The extra exposure before the boil yields about 10 percent more IBUs than a 60-minute boil, but proponents describe the perceived bitterness as smoother and more in harmony with the flavor and aroma hops. One explanation ties the difference to a slight increase in pH that affects hops solubility. It’s worth mentioning that, although there is an oft-cited experiment from the 1990s, some other blind tastings have not had the same results.

FWH Experiment
This experiment is a little harder to do with a small batch because it’s based on the extended time sitting in hot wort during a sparge. The best way to model the approach in a small batch is to add a hops-steeping step to our control recipe.
Directions: Steep the crystal malt as usual, heating the water to 165°F (74°C). After 15 minutes, remove the crystal malt and dissolve the DME. At this point, add the first addition of hops and let it steep for about 30 minutes to simulate a sparge. After that, start heating the wort to a boil. Boil for 60 minutes adding the 30-minute and 5-minute hops as usual. Chill, ferment, and bottle as usual.

Continuous Hopping

If the regular three-addition hopping schedule is like a low sample rate digital approach, continuous hopping tries to change the boil into an analog spectrum of hops character. Rather than looking at the clock, you add hops from the start of the boil to flame-out. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales (Milton, Delaware) pioneered the technique for his 90 Minute IPA, even devising an automated delivery system. It’s great if you have a gadget to feed the hops in, but many homebrewers compromise by manually adding a fraction of the hops every 1–5 minutes.


By smearing away the time between additions, brewers hope to create a smoother blend of hops characteristics within the beer. The thought is that each nuance of the hops will find its way into the final beer.

Continuous-Hopping Experiment
As you might imagine, manually adding hops every minute or so doesn’t give you much downtime during the brew day, but building a special gadget is probably not worth doing for a one-off experiment. If you just want to play with the idea, you can pool together your full hops load for the batch and divide it into twenty even piles. Then, during a 60-minute boil, just toss in the next handful every 3 minutes.

This is a workable approach for a full-size batch, but it’s quite challenging to do with 1 gallon (3.8 l). If you decide to do this with our control recipe, I recommend switching to a lower-alpha hops strain to give you a larger pile of hops to subdivide, which should be a little easier to manage. I also recommend doing a control batch with the same hops for a more direct comparison.

Hops Bursting

The hops-bursting technique is simply a warping of the standard three-addition hopping schedule, based on the light bitterness that late-addition hops contribute along with the aromatics. It’s an extreme idea, but it leads to some interesting conclusions. If all or almost all of the bitterness only came from that final hops contribution, then it would take significantly more hops to reach the same number of IBUs. Some people think that this yields a smoother bitterness, but that perception is certainly influenced by the huge increase in hops flavor and aroma.


Hops-Bursting Experiment
Even with hops bursting, it’s generally recommended to have some early hops addition, however minor. This helps stabilize the boil and can settle out some proteins for better clarity. For our mini-batch, though, let’s keep it as simple as possible: instead of the given three hops additions in the control recipe, substitute a single hops addition of 0.7 oz (20 g) at 10 minutes before the end of the boil. This should yield a comparable bitterness, while giving you the burst effect.

Hops Stand or Whirlpool Hopping

The standard hops additions offer different qualities based on exposure time during the boil. A hops stand extends that into a very late hops addition by adding post-boil exposure. This should intensify both the flavor and aroma.

Hops are added to the kettle either at flame-out or after chilling the wort slightly, and they stand for 10–45 minutes before chilling is started. This is also called whirlpool hopping, based on the commercial process of adding these hops while circulating the wort to separate the trub.

If the hops are added at flame-out, the wort is still hot enough to yield additional bitterness, so many advocates advise chilling to 170°F (76°C) or cooler before starting the hops stand. The lower temperature provides good solubility for hops oils while minimizing bitterness. It’s also a good idea to cover the kettle at this point to minimize losing the delicate aromatics and to keep foreign matter out of the wort.


Hops-Stand Experiment
In this case, you can follow the control recipe and process, but add the hops stand after the boil. Chill the wort to a little below 170°F (76°C) and stir in another 0.125 oz (3.5 g) of Amarillo. Cover the pot and let this sit for 30 minutes before cooling and pitching the yeast. Ferment and bottle as usual.


The hopback is a container with an inlet and outlet, and you pack the inside with a significant quantity of leaf hops. Hot wort is pumped through the hopback and into the chiller. Since it’s a closed system, the essential oils of the hops infuse the wort as it passes through. This also has the added bonus of clarifying your wort because of the natural filtering qualities of the hops flowers.

A hopback is intended to accentuate hops aroma, working like a hops stand. While they each take place after the boil, a hopback is less passive. Rather than just tossing in some hops and closing the lid for a while, you’ll need to buy or build a hopback, and a pump is generally required. If you choose to build a hopback, see “DIY: Make your Own Hopback,”

Hopback Experiment
This is another case where economies of scale make larger batches easier, especially when it comes to pumping your wort through the hopback and into a chiller. If you decide to do this for a smaller batch, I recommend using the control recipe and placing an additional 1 oz (28 g) of hops in the hopback.


Dry Hopping

Whole books have been written about dry hopping, but adding hops to the fermentor or keg is relatively straightforward. One important point is to wait until primary fermentation is done, so you don’t blow off the aromatics you’re trying to capture.

Hops selection is important: Go for good-quality flavor or aroma hops. Pellets, leaf, or plugs are all fine, but I prefer pellets because they’re easier to deal with, especially when it’s time to get them out of the carboy. A standard rule of thumb is to use about 0.5 oz (14 g) of hops per gallon (3.8 l). Three to 7 days is a good target for contact time. Any less and you won’t pick up as much hops aroma, while extended periods can produce an undesirable grassy profile.

If you grow your own hops, there is a slight variation, “wet hopping,” that is worth trying. Using fresh hops that haven’t been dehydrated offers a unique character. Given the higher water content, aim for about 2.5 oz (71 g) per gallon. Also, it’s generally better to shorten the contact time.

Dry-Hopping Experiment
This experiment calls for yet another variation on our control recipe. Brew it as written, but after primary fermentation, add another 0.5 oz (14 g) of Amarillo, ideally as pellets. Allow 3 days contact time before racking off the hops residue. Give it a little time to settle before bottling as usual.


Hops Tea

Using hops tea offers elements of a hops stand and dry hopping. The hops are steeped in warm water, which is then added to the beer, ideally at bottling time. As with the hops stand, the temperature plays an important role. If you heat the water higher than 170°F (76°C), you’ll definitely pull some bitterness. For a solid bump in hops flavor and aroma, I recommend starting with water at 150°F (65°C).

Hops-Tea Experiment
Brew a batch of the control beer and let it ferment fully. Before bottling, heat 1 cup (237 ml) of water to 150°F (65°C). Add 0.25 oz (7 g) of Amarillo pellets to the water and steep for 20–30 minutes. The tea will naturally cool down somewhat during this time. Strain the tea into the beer and then bottle as usual.


We’ve already credited Sam Calagione for continuous hopping, but he’s also responsible for the Randall (full name: Randall the Enamel Animal). This is effectively a hopback designed for serving beer. Hops are placed in its chamber, and the Randall is attached to a beer dispensing system. The beer is filtered through the hops on its way to the glass. Much like a hopback, the Randall infuses the beer with a heady hops flavor and aroma.

You can buy an official Randall from Dogfish Head, but there are also numerous plans online for homemade equivalents. Either way, though, you’ll need to invest some moderate time and/or money to try this out.


Randall Experiment
Aside from the cost of acquiring a Randall, this is probably the toughest technique to try on a mini-batch scale. It’s hard to justify kegging such a small amount of beer just to try it.

There is an alternative, though. You can get a similar effect with a bottled beer by using a French-press coffee maker. For our experiment, we’ll augment a bottle of the control beer.
Directions: Place 0.5 oz (14 g) of leaf Amarillo hops into a French press. Add a half bottle of the control beer to the French press and let it soak and blend in the refrigerator. After 30 minutes or so, depress the plunger slowly to separate the beer from the hops. Pour that beer into a glass and add the other half bottle of unadulterated beer to restore some welcome carbonation.

This will give you a sense of what a Randall can do, but it’s definitely a more subdued effect.

So Many Experiments

If you’ve followed this series, you’re familiar with the evaluation procedure. This time, since all of the examples use the same hops, the focus is on the details of hops expression and balance among the beers. With each beer, take the time to appreciate the nuances of the aroma, noting any associations that stand out. If you used the recommended Amarillo hops, this means teasing out subtleties of citrus and floral character. One beer might present as more like a perfumed orange blossom, while another might seem more lemony and spicy.


Pay similar attention to the flavor. Pick up on the character but also notice when elements peak during the sip. Some of the beers should have more persistent hops flavor that lasts well into the finish. As always, alternate between the control beer and the various experimental beers.

Speaking of which, there are enough sample beers in this lab that evaluating all of them in a single sitting is a recipe for palate fatigue. I recommend picking two to four at a time to compare with the control beer. After you’ve worked your way through all of them, you can go back and do another round of tasting to contrast the ones that stood out or that would be interesting together.

Also, if the list of options seems overwhelming, here’s a good minimal set to try: first wort hopping, hops bursting, a hops stand, and dry hopping. Those four will give you some solid tools for your brewing future.


Photos: Matt Graves/