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Terpenes: Brewing with the Essence of Hops

Brewers are in the early days of experimenting with liquid hop terpenes—incredibly potent isolates of aromatic compounds that can deliver a big boost to the IPA bouquet.

Ryan Pachmayer Oct 4, 2021 - 8 min read

Terpenes: Brewing with the Essence of Hops Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves/www.mgravesphoto.com

Bold prediction: Over the next decade, some breweries will shift to using 100 percent liquid hops. Made from terpenes—highly aromatic compounds that enjoy especially high concentrations in hops as well as cannabis—they can add incredibly potent aromas and flavors to beer. As a bonus, they also offer benefits to brewing efficiency.

While many brewers are just trying to keep up with demand for their IPAs, Brandon Capps has had great success in using hop terpenes in some limited-release IPAs. The owner and founder of New Image Brewing, in the Denver suburb of Arvada, combines the terpenes with more conventional hops (in T-90 pellet form) to achieve the final flavor in several of his popular IPAs.

“I’ve been using this as more of a finishing salt to date,” Capps says. He uses terpenes for up to 20 percent of the hop bill, focusing on the unique flavor contributions they bring to the base beer, in conjunction with conventional hops.

While still uncommon in the brewing industry, extracted terpenes have gained more attention in recent years. Famously, Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta uses cannabis terpenes alongside hops in its G13 IPA, and New Belgium does the same for The Hemperor “HPA.” Terpenes extracted from hops, however, have been used by a few smaller breweries with less fanfare.

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While Cryo Hops (made by Yakima Chief) are known for reducing vegetal matter in the final beer, and Incognito (made by John I. Haas) brings a full spectrum of flavor in liquid form via a whirlpool addition, hop terpenes—which as a concept are not proprietary, but must be produced by specialized extraction equipment—blast the intensity of that hop flavor up to a 10.

Big Gains in Efficiency

Brewers who’ve used hop terpenes talk about the eye-popping efficiency gains.

While Capps at New Image has primarily focused on the flavor benefits of terpenes, he says that the efficiency gains are a nice bonus. Hop terpenes can keep for several years, and they take up less than 10 percent of the space needed for a comparable amount of pellet hops. A company with the right equipment can take any overstock—or hops that are just past their best days, or even freshly harvested ones—and extract terpenes for future use.

For brewers, there is no sludgy biomass to soak up wort or complicate runoff, and they report 10 to 15 percent higher yields. The extraction relies on a supercritical CO2 process rather than solvents, so its proponents pitch it as environmentally friendly. And considering the flavor and aroma benefits, a future where some breweries go with 100 percent liquid hops doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Local Relationships Matter

Oast House Oils is part of Isolate Extraction Systems in Louisville, Colorado, about 15 miles north of New Image. Created by longtime brewer Rob Kevwitch for IES—which builds the supercritical extraction machines—Oast House has been extracting hop terpenes since 2019 and has a small team dedicated to serving brewery clients.

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“So much of the good stuff in hops is wasted,” Kevwitch says. “I wanted to create a product that gave consumers a better experience that was also better for the environment.”

Kevwitch—who also cofounded Grist Brewing in 2013, just south of Denver—is a doctor of organic chemistry with years of experience in brewing and flavor-related research and development. Oast House has been working with New Image and other local breweries, such as Telluride, on developing new terpene flavors.

So far, New Image has used seven different terpene varieties. But Isolate’s labs also extract oils for other customers, including orange, peppermint, cinnamon, various teas, walnuts, pecans, and more.

How to Brew with Terpenes

Because the terpenes add a powerful hop flavor to finished beer, Capps suggests using a sweeter base beer with a bigger malt cushion to try them out—think double IPA. On the hot side, he says he’s had a lot of success using terpenes in the whirlpool. On the cold side, he says that adding them in the brite tank has worked well for him.

Notably, one problem complicating the use of these terpene extracts is that they’re hydrophobic—they don’t mix well with water. Capps says they should be mixed first with a spirit of at least 190 proof, such as Everclear, before adding to the beer. For a six-gallon batch, he recommends adding just 1 ml of terpene extract mixed with 5 ml of alcohol.

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Although professional brewers are just beginning to tinker with hop terpenes, it is possible for homebrewers to buy them. Kevwitch says to contact Oast House Oils directly via its website, oasthouseoils.com; enough liquid to dry hop about 60 gallons (227 liters) of beer costs $35.

Maniacal Yeast Labs in Pittsfield, Maine, also produces hop terpenes using a different process involving fractional distillation and chromatography. Maniacal sells the terpenes in 5 ml quantities for $36 on its website, mainiacalyeast.com/.

One Brewer’s Terpene Tasting Notes

Just as hops of the same variety can smell different from one another, the flavors and aromas of terpenes can vary, too. Here, Brandon Capps provides a breakdown of each hop terpene he’s used so far at New Image:

Galaxy
“Terpene extraction brings out a lot of the bold tropical-fruit character that many love from Galaxy. In my opinion, it also brings out a lot more of the dank and vegetal characteristics that are usually a little more balanced in Galaxy. If you like big dank, almost marijuana-like intensity combined with bold fruit, this is a good candidate.”

Nelson
“The usual notes of tropical fruit, grape, and melon are present. The diesel character is also enhanced quite a bit, relative to the typical balance from dry hopping.”

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Strata
“This is one of my favorites for terpenes. The aroma is like fresh strawberries, and it’s so clean and pure. Little to no intense dank or vegetal qualities—just gobs of stone fruit.”

Mosaic
“As Mosaic tends to be a pretty variable varietal, the results are going to depend heavily on the lot that was extracted. We select a very fruit-forward Mosaic with very little vegetal character, so the terpenes we’ve used tend to lean heavily in the bright citrus and sweet tropical-fruit direction.”

Citra
“Typical bold notes of citrus and tropical fruit are present but come alongside some very enhanced aromas of the sort of catty character Citra was known more for a decade or so ago. This can be good if you like more of those intense characteristics but very different from typical Citra dry hopping.”

Idaho 7
“Very intense, sweet, red stone-fruit character. Little to no intense acidic or vegetal qualities.”

Idaho Gem
“Somehow both bold and subtle at the same time. Melon, peach, grape, and tropical fruit are all floating around in there. Mellows well into lighter bases but stands up strong in big IPAs, too.”

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