Hops are a key element to the theory that the universe wants us to have beer: their bitterness complements and balances the sweetness of the malt, they add a world of aromatic complexity, and they even have antibiotic qualities that protect the beer from spoiling. Hops may be quite versatile, but even more impressive is the myriad ways people have integrated them into the brewing process, all in the interest of teasing out the nuances of that key ingredient.
Every beginning brewer learns about the three standard additions for bitterness, flavor, and aroma, but plenty of brewers have experimented with a larger set of staggered additions during the boil. Beyond that, there’s also mash hopping, first wort hopping, whirlpool hopping/hops stands, using a hopback, dry hopping, and serving your beer filtered through a hops-packed Randall. Each technique promises its own special emphasis.
Hops teas are still another trick for enhancing a finished beer or one in secondary. This technique contributes aroma like dry hopping does, but it includes a wider spectrum of hops character. The basic idea is quite simple. A tea is made with hot—but not boiling—water. After steeping for some time, the tea is added to your fermentor, bottling bucket, or keg. Where the cooler extraction of dry hopping brings out a fresh, hoppy aroma, the warmer tea also picks up hops flavors and a small degree of bitterness.
The first step is to choose your hops. Go for something flavorful and aromatic that will fit with your beer. One alternative is to use the same hops you used for your final addition. Another is to find a complementary hops combination. For example, make a Galaxy tea to enhance Citra finishing hops. Pellets or whole hops will both work, but I find pellets easier to manage, and they soak up less of your tea.
To treat a 5-gallon (19-liter) batch of beer, bring 1 qt (1 l) of water to a boil, then let it cool to 170°F (77°C). Stir in an ounce or two (28–57 g) of your hops and let them steep. After 20–30 minutes, the tea will cool down and be ready to use. Pour the liquid into your beer (ideally, you’ll add the tea to your keg or bottling bucket), leaving the pellet sludge or saturated hops flowers behind in the vessel you used for the boil.
You can make the filtering process simpler by using a French press. If you’re using whole leaf hops, the press can help keep them submerged, and it forces the tea through a fine screen, leaving the hops behind. If you’re using priming sugar, you can add that to the boiling water to reduce the total number of steps.
The water temperature has a tremendous impact on the flavor. Most sources cite 179°F (79°C) as the threshold temperature for isomerizing hops, but you’ll get some bitterness even if you aim for lower temperatures, between 150–160°F (65–71°C). You can verify this just by tasting the tea. On the other hand, if you’re trying to repair an under-attenuated beer by increasing the bitterness, push the water temperature up to 180°F (82°C). Be careful with this approach because plain water will isomerize more alpha acids than higher gravity wort, yielding greatly increased bitterness.
The amount of hops can make some difference, but at such a low volume, it’s easy to saturate the solution and waste the extra hops.
I have had great success using hops teas to augment already hoppy batches of IPA, as well as tweaking some wallflower beers into having more outgoing personalities. The two biggest drawbacks are that the beer may pick up a slight haze, and some people report that hops teas can add a grassy note. Neither has been an issue for me, but give this technique a try and tell us your experience.
Whether you like to brew over-the-top hops bombs or prefer the subtle pleasures of a British pub ale, discover how to build your own beer recipes from the ground up with CB&B’s online course, Intro to Recipe Development. Sign up today.