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Powder Days: An Exciting New Turn in the World of Hops

LupuLN2™ hops powder, a new hops product from Yakima Chief−Hopunion, is transforming several methods in the brewing process.

Libby Murphy June 16, 2017

Powder Days: An Exciting New Turn in the World of Hops Primary Image

While new hops varieties and usage techniques are constantly evolving, most brewers have taken for granted the form those hops take. For most of craft beer’s history, the options were whole cone, pellet, plug, or extract, and that was that.

But today’s craft brewers are more open to experimentation than ever, and the financial rebound of the hops market has led to additional investment from major hops growing and packaging concerns, resulting in groundbreaking developments that may change the way brewers get their hops.

Yakima Chief−Hopunion (YCH HOPS) is leading the charge in the development of these new hops products, and the release they brought to market this spring, LupuLN2, promises to drastically reduce the amount of hops used by weight, enhance hops flavor and aroma, reduce vegetal off-flavors, save beer yield lost to hops matter, and recoup lost profit. While this might sound too good to be true, many brewers have already been using the product—LupuLN2 hops powder—for several months as part of a pilot program and have had outstanding results.

LupuLN2 is called such because of the process used to separate the lupulin glands from the whole hops cone and the fact that the resulting concentrated lupulin product is twice as potent as traditional hops products, says Melody Meyer, director of marketing at YCH HOPS. The proprietary process starts when the cones are placed in a nitrogen-rich atmosphere and bathed in extremely low temperatures, which allows the lupulin glands to be separated cleanly from the leafy material.

Better Flavor

Several breweries, including Überbrew (Billings, Montana), Trillium (Boston, Massachusetts), Melvin Brewing (Jackson, Wyoming), and Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont), to name just a handful, have been experimenting with LupuLN2 and reporting back to YCH to determine best practices for its use.

Mark Hastings, co-owner and head brewer at Überbrew, says he first used LupuLN2 for his Alpha Force RAP DOM (brewed with seven types of hops, two of which were YCH HOPS’s LupuLN2), an experimental IPA that took second place at the Alpha King Challenge in 2016. “RAP DOM has kind of a crazy hops aroma, and it was our ‘shock and awe’ beer—it worked! Now we want to take it to the next level.”

LupuLN2 reduces vegetal, grassy, bitter off-flavors because the process separates out the leafy bract of the hop cone. All that remains is the juicy, resinous, fruity flavor of the hop’s lupulin glands in a fine, highly concentrated powder. Meyer says, “Virtually every brewery we’ve heard from has used the word, ‘juicy.’ So if you’re using Simcoe brand LupuLN2, you’ll get all the really great flavors that you wanted in the first place but also notice an intense, extra juicy characteristic. And it really depends on how much of the LupuLN2 you have used.”

Hastings backs that up with his own experience. “One of the beauties of our taproom here is that you get the feedback across the plank. [The customers] noticed not only increased hops aroma and flavor, but it was a more pleasant aroma and flavor. And it was initially more just, ‘Wow! How did you guys do this?’ ”

From a brewer’s behind-the-scenes standpoint, during dry hopping, Hastings found something else. “I noticed with pellets that when you taste that beer right after a dry hopping, the beer is almost undrinkable, it’s so hoppy. And then you give it 2−3 days of cold conditioning to transfer it, and it becomes a beautiful beer. But it’s almost shocking—like pepper capsaicin. With the LupuLN2 powder, I didn’t ever notice that harshness.”

Zach Page, director of brewing operations at Trillium, says of his customers’ reactions, “The reception was great; people really liked it. The aroma was explosive, and we were super happy with the results, so now we’re talking about incorporating it more and more.”

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Trillium Brewing’s JC Tetreault adds LupuLN2 hops powder to the boil kettle. PHOTO COURTESY TRILLIUM BREWING.

Trillium’s Street Series is a series of IPAs that uses the same grist, yeast, and IBU levels throughout, but they change up the hops with each beer. That’s allowed customers to try LupuLN2 and compare it against the pellet hops as well. “Our customers love trying these beers side by side and getting to know what Galaxy or Simcoe or Amarillo adds to a beer, so I’m not surprised that people are interested to see what this new product could bring to a beer or how it changes from pellet varieties.”

Less Waste = More Beer

When YCH HOPS’s R&D team set out to create this new product, one goal was to create something that would reduce trub, which increases yield and, in turn, profit. Hastings says, “We hop to the extreme, so we see losses that are maybe greater than some breweries. In some of our IPAs, we’re close to—at the very minimum—7 pound/bbl of hops, and we usually get up to over 10 pound/bbl of hops in a batch. So we’re experiencing pretty significant losses.”

Because it doesn’t contain the non-vital leafy portion of the hops cone, the LupuLN2 hops powder is twice as concentrated as traditional hops pellets, which means brewers have to use only half as much product by weight as they normally would. While the LupuLN2 powder itself doesn’t cost less than other hops products, the cost savings brewers see will be in the yield that’s recovered at the end of conditioning.

YCH recommends introducing the powder in increments into brewers’ recipes until brewers know how the flavors will interact with their ingredients and the other hops they use. From there, they can gradually increase the amount of powder they use, until they reach the desired amount. The Cryo Hops™ line is available in many of the popular hops brands including Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, Ekuanot, and Loral. Meyer says that brewers are seeing an average of 3−5 percent more yield recovered from their batches, which means more beer can be sold in the taprooms. Hastings says he’s saving a little more than 5 percent on his hoppier beers. “Where we did an 11-barrel batch and were lucky to recover 6 barrels per batch on our hoppy beers, we’re starting to see 7 and 8 barrels when we use LupuLN2. I think potentially we could see a lot more.”

Some breweries have invested in centrifuges to recover some of the beer previously lost to trub and hops matter, but others haven’t been able to give up space or make the financial commitment. Hastings says, “Anything we can do without some of the equipment that some of the larger breweries have—like New Belgium with their centrifuge—is great because the hops brokers have done that for you. That’s where this product has some exciting potential from a practical standpoint.”

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Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids poses with a bag of hops powder.

Trillium first tried LupuLN2 with a 10-barrel batch, but it was when they ramped up to 90-barrel batches that they really saw the difference in savings. Page says, “We have yet to use a recipe that’s 100 percent LupuLN2, so my data is kind of anecdotal. With Pow Pow (a collaboration with Lawson’s Finest Liquids), we saw an almost 10 percent increase with our yield. The increased yield is fantastic. Our first concern is quality, so we’re integrating LupuLN2 slowly, and using tasting panels to make sure the quality of the beer is just as good as, if not better than, what we were seeing before with the pellets.”

Trillium does use a centrifuge, but in a less conventional way—they use it to get the large solid matter out of the cone of each tank during the transfer, and a lot of the batch is bypassed around the centrifuge. “This lets us dial in the consistency and turbidity of our beers as well as helps increase the yield. With LupuLN2, we found a much tighter bed of hops at the bottom of the tank that let us transfer more to the brite tank.”

Sustainability and waste are always big concerns at every point of the brewing process, and for YCH, the waste reduction will be two-fold. Meyer explains, “We’re designing the line as efficiently as possible, and on a brewery level, by not having that extra material, they increase their yield.” LupuLN2 is also available in pellet form, which further reduces packaging, storage space, and shipping.

How It’s Used Now and Beyond

The oily nature of the lupulin glands presents some interesting challenges for brewers. Oil and water don’t exactly have a friendly relationship, so brewers have had to become inventive when it comes to getting the powder to mix. But brewers, not ones to turn away from the pursuit of making great beer, haven’t backed down from the challenge.

Meyer says, “When added via the top of the tank, LupuLN2 can tend to sit on the surface. Dosing with pellets can assist incorporation. Additions via wet applications under CO2 conditions are also beneficial.”

Hastings has used LupuLN2 only at whirlpool so far. “Part of our concern after seeing it in the whirlpool is that it likes to float a little bit. We had to do kind of a prolonged whirlpool.” YCH recommends late kettle additions, so the aroma isn’t boiled out, and because the particle size is so small, there’s little risk of clogging heat exchangers, even with carryover into the fermentor.

Trillium has used LupuLN2 both in the whirlpool and in dry-hopping. “In the dry-hopped [batch], it worked really well because we used a dry-hopping device that has a pressurized vessel that you put the hops inside and you create a recirculation from the bottom of the tank through the racking arm. And then this pressurized vessel lets you inject the hops inline during the recirculation loop. So it really increases the surface area exposure that you get between the hops and the beer.”

You’ll likely see more of it in future batches at Trillium. Page says, “I think we get the good fruit-forward hops that we’re looking for with less of that vegetal bite, so our goal long-term is to incorporate more LupuLN2 to save us the yield and deliver a better product. It also takes up less space and is more practical to use.”

As for Überbrew’s future use, Hastings has made several plans. “When we dry hop, we like to do it at fermentation temperature—this is with pellets—for a couple of days and then remove those hops before we do another dry-hop addition. The idea is that you can get some of the grassy notes (mainly from that extra plant material) that you maybe aren’t looking for if you leave the beer for prolonged amounts of time by using those pellets. I was concerned that would happen with the Cryo Hops, but that’s not going to be the case because the plant material has been removed. There’s the chance that instead of having to do two dry-hop additions to avoid the grassiness, we just do one, circulate, and recirculate to get the flavor.”

As for the homebrewers out there, while LupuLN2 isn’t available just yet for that market, Meyer says homebrewers can expect to see some exciting developments by the time the National Home Brewers Conference rolls around in June.

In the meantime, you’ve got to find the closest brewery using these products to test the difference in flavor yourself and if you’re lucky, find out how the brewer applied the hops to his/her beer. It’s a product that will be interesting to watch as more brewers use it and develop new ways to use it.

Alternative to Low-Alpha Hops

In addition to LupuLN2 hops powder, Yakima Chief−Hopunion (YCH) is introducing a second product: debittered leaf, which still has some of the aromatic lupulin attached to it and is an alternative to low-alpha hops with the added benefit of unique flavors. It’s derived through the same process as LupuLN2 hops powder, but is the opposite of LupuLN2. Where LupuLN2 is the concentration of the alpha, the debittered leaf has a drastically reduced alpha. Melody Meyer, director of marketing at YCH HOPS, says, “What would have been a 12−14 percent alpha hops is now going to register as a 3−4 percent. The product still carries many of the citrus and tropical fruit characteristics you expect of Pacific Northwest dank hops. Low-alpha is no longer limited to just traditional noble varieties.”

Debittered-Leaf-Clipped-PSD

PHOTO COURTESY YCH HOPS.

And because the debittered leaf maintains varietal characteristics at the lower starting alpha and oil content, it is ideal for Pilsners, saisons, blondes, and Kölsches—but probably not your IPAs or stouts. Sour-beer brewers may prefer the debittered leaf because it has a negligible effect on lactic-acid bacteria and reduced contribution of polyphenols, glycosides, and flavonoids.

“[Both products are] produced off of the same run. So if we’re producing Ekuanot HBC 366 brand LupuLN2, we’re going to have Ekuanot brand debittered leaf as well,” says Meyer.

The debittered leaf is added in the same manner as regular hops cones would be added. “We’re still waiting to see how breweries use it. Our assumption is that brewers will find success using it where they have traditionally added low-alpha and noble varieties,” Meyer explains.

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PHOTO AT TOP: JAMIE BOGNER