Who doesn’t love beer that is full of hoppy bite and aroma? Your mouth might even be watering thinking about it. As a home brewer, you can get that same bursting-with-flavor effect in your beer with a technique known as dry hopping.
Long ago, British brewers would toss some hops into a cask of IPA or pale ale to make the beer all the more hoppy. Luckily, beer brewing has advanced to the point where you don’t need to go to a pub for dry hopped beer. Now, you can make it yourself. It doesn’t even require a lot of effort. All you need is timing!
What is Dry Hopping?
The concept around dry hopping is very basic. You grab some hops and toss them into the fermenter. Then, you wait a few days for those hops to infuse their aroma and flavor into the beer. Package as you usually would.
Sounds easy, right? It is! But there are some ways to ensure that you are getting only the best results.
Why should you dry hop, you ask? Think about it. Normally, hops are added to wort while it bubbles in the brew kettle. These hops are called bittering hops, because they add resinous compounds—alpha and beta acids—to the wort in high concentrations. Unfortunately, while you get that great crisp flavor, boiling worts also removes the essential oils that provide aroma.
Aromatic hops are added to the end of the boiling process for that very reason. If you add them first, their delicate oils and scents would be vaporized.
That is why dry hopping is such a genius idea: Adding hops to the fermenter ups the flowery punch, since the oils are preserved rather than boiled off.
The Most Important Chemicals in Hops
Before getting into the hows of dry hopping, let’s get a bit scientific.
These are the main providers of beer’s bitterness. Alpha acids are also responsible for promoting fermentation and inhibiting bacterial growth. When you boil your bittering hops for about an hour, the alpha acids become isomerized alpha acids, or iso-alpha acids. The amount of iso-alpha acid in a better plays a role in its IBUs.
While beta acids also play a role in adding bitterness, they can extend beer’s shelf life. Unlike alpha acids, beta acids will oxidize during fermentation, changing composition as electrons are released. You want to keep an eye on the amount of beta acid in beer, since the oxidation can impact the flavor.
Take a look at some hops. You might notice that there is a yellow dust on the green leaves. It’s called lupulin, and its a naturally occurring powder that provides hops with their flavor and scents. Lupulin contains essential oils, but you do not always get the flavor. Since essential oils are volatile, they are often the first to be burned off when boiled. This is why some recipes will tell you to choose aromatic hops for the flameout—the last 5-15 minutes of boiling—to add some flavor. You can get the same effect (or enhance it) by dry hopping.
Dry Hopping Your Homebrew
There are tried and true ways to get the most out of dry hopping. Here are the three most common ways to successfully dry hop:
During Primary Fermentation
If you are more experienced in homebrewing, you may have heard that dry hopping during primary fermentation is a terrible idea. The reasoning is that adding hops could introduce oxygen to the brew and potentially cause bacterial contamination.
Guess what? Adding hops to the primary fermenter is perfectly fine. Since the alpha and beta acids contain natural antiseptics, you don’t have to worry about bacteria stowing away and ruining your beer. Before kegs and kegerators, hops were prized for their ability to preserve beer.
What you need to watch out for is oxygen. Yet, the yeast will take care of that. As the yeast reduces the oils on the hops, it also needs some oxygen to continue metabolizing and fermenting the sugars. Meanwhile, the hops work their antibacterial magic.
During Secondary Fermentation
There is one issue with dry hopping during primary fermentation: aromas can get scrubbed, or removed during chemical reactions. Hop oils will latch onto carbon dioxide and escape or they cling onto yeast then end up in the trub after the yeast flocculates.
To balance that loss of potential aromas and flavor, it is recommended that you add hops during secondary fermentation. You can also mix up flavors and scents by using different hops than you did during first fermentation.
Secondary fermentation is a whole new world for hops. Rather than having essential oils scrubbed away by the rapid release of CO2, the aroma compounds are more readily absorbed by the beer. Additionally, you can worry even less about bacteria, since the higher concentration of alcohol, low pH, and low oxygen all inhibit bacterial growth.
Dry hopping during secondary fermentation is also very easy when you use a fermentation bucket. You don’t need to fret over hops congesting the airlock or blow-off hose. And you don’t need to worry about hops getting stuck to the vessel.
Again, the only real risk at this point is unwanted oxygen getting into the beer. Using pellets and gently adding them to the beer will limit splashing. If you plan on using whole hops, submerge them in boiled then cooled water, since this will reduce the amount of oxygen in the hops.
While In The Keg
Remember those British brewers we mentioned earlier? Now’s your chance to emulate them. Toss those hops straight into the cask and let them soak. If you choose this route, use a bag, since the hops could clog the tap line. The last thing you want is leaves coming through and into a draft beer…
Keep the hops for 3 to 7 days in the keg then remove them. If the hops stay too long, the beer may end up oily on the tongue or with a funky taste that makes noses crinkle.
Again, oxygen is your worst nightmare. To prevent too much O2 exposure, add the bagged dry hops to the keg before you add the beer. Then shed off any oxygen by blasting it with CO2. Rack the beer on top. Since CO2 is heavier than O2, it will add a layer of gas over the hops and stop oxidation.
Selecting the Best Hops for Dry Hopping
The “right” dry hop depends on what you like. It doesn’t matter if the hops were taken from the hillside or if you have been gathering noble hops for this very moment. Inspect some hops to see which ones have an aroma or flavor that will compliment the beer you are making.
Or, you can match the hops you are using to the style of beer you are making. Many beers have very specific species of hops. For example, IPAs do best with English Goldings, while stouts prefer Sovereign hops. A NEIPA or DIPA do well with Galaxy, Citra, Strata, or Sabro hops.
Some classic hops, like Fuggles, Saaz, East Kent Goldings, Tettnanger, and Cascade are going to do any kind of beer justice. Care to try something a bit more…unexpected? There are newer hops, like Glacier, Palisade, Citra, Lemondrop, and Amarillo to bring about an extra zing.
What Makes a Quality Hop?
Now, there is a time to be adventurous with your hop selection and a time to play it smart. Choose the wrong hop for dry hopping, and you will create a travesty to beer. Always sample the flavor of your selected grains and hops to make sure the flavors and scents play well together. Also, even if the initial impression is favorable, consider how the flavor combination is going to taste several bottles in.
Watch out for hops that tend to have onion or garlic aromas. You won’t be able to mask those flavors or smells.
Next, look for aromatic hops that are low in alpha acids. You want to select something that has less than 6%. The more essential oils they have, the better the aromas of your beer. On the flip side, using too many low-alpha hops could impart a grassy scent to your beer.
Squeezing Out Hoppy Goodness
Want to understand how hops are going to affect your brew? It’s time to consider technologies used for other beverages, like coffee. Break out a French press and squash those hops. It doesn’t matter if you are using pellets, plugs, or cones. Just put them at the bottom of the French press, cover them with a little pale ale beer, wait 15 minutes or so, then plunge. Pour the beer for a taste test.
The beer might be flat, since the CO2 will have been squeezed out by the press, but you will be able to taste the notes from the essential oils, too. This gives you insight to how the hops will taste after dry hopping.
How Many Hops Should Be Used?
Wondering how many hops it takes to successfully dry hop? Aren’t we all. Seriously, it really depends on the recipe and how much beer you have brewed up.
Generally, 0.5 to 4 ounces of hops per 5 gallons of beer will work. Here is a more concrete dry hop rate for various beer styles:
- American Pale Ale: 2-6 oz per 5-gallon batch
- American IPA: 6-8 oz per 5 gallons
- New England IPA and DIPA: 10-16 oz per 5 gallons
- Double Dry Hopped IPA: 12-16 oz per 5 gallons
- Dry Hopped Pilsner: 1-3 oz per 5 gallons
- Belgian Pale Ale: 1-3 oz per 5 gallons
- English Pale Ale: 1-4 oz per 5 gallons
If the range seems confusing, consider the characteristics of hops instead. Some hops, like Sovereign or East Kent Goldings, are much more mild and will need a larger quantity to provide flavor to your brew. Others, like Citra hops, are very bold and have an intense scent that will carry over to the homebrew with as little as 1 ounce in a 5-gallon batch.
Knowing the properties of the hops will bring you one step closer to a delicious beer. Don’t be afraid of testing bigger flavors.
Whole Cones, Plugs, or Pellets for Dry Hopping?
You can choose from three kinds of hops for dry hopping.
Using Whole Cone Hops
These are the unprocessed form of hops and offer the freshest aromas and flavors. The disadvantage is the poor shelf life. Whole cones can be easily strained, but they tend to soak up wort, reducing the amount of beer. Also, the hop flowers increase the chance of oxidation.
Using Hop Plugs
Plugs are similar to cone hops in providing balanced flavor and aroma but have a longer shelf life. One reason plugs are popular is that they were made for dry hopping. You can purchase packages of plugs that have been pre-portioned, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out the right amount.
Using Hop Pellets
Out of all three hop types, pellets have the lowest concentration of oils. That said, those oils can be more easily extracted and will produce a wonderful aroma. Also, you can worry less about bacteria. Pellets have a long shelf life, too.
You will definitely need a bag for pellets, since they will come loose and create a sludge on the bottom of the fermenter or keg. A muslin bag is best.
Another word of caution: Be careful when you add pellets to beer, since they will foam up when in contact with carbon dioxide.
Bag ‘Em or Not to Bag ‘Em
When you toss your hops into the fermenter, they will float around, absorbing beer all the while. Because of this, dry hopping can be a rather messy affair, especially when you open the fermenter in a few days to start packaging. That is why many brewers will dry hop using hop socks, stainless steel mesh canisters, or nylon bags.
There is a downside to this, however. Bagging your dry hops reduces the amount of oil that is infused, because the bag constricts the hops. If you need a lot of hops for dry hopping, bagging will reduce the effectiveness.
To get the fullest flavor from your hops, you shouldn’t bag them. Go on. Throw caution to the wind and dump those hops right into your fermenter. Your hops will be able to float around, pouring their lupulin oils into the beer. To get a cleaner transfer, you can cold crash your beer and sink the hops to the fermenter’s bottom.
Plan on cold crashing your beer? Be sure to use a pressurized fermenter or connect the vessel to CO2 when you do it. Otherwise, as the beer cools, a vacuum will be created, pulling air from the airlock into the beer and oxidizing it. Carbon dioxide will prevent that from happening.
Important note: If you use a carboy for your primary fermenter, you are going to want an infusion tube instead of a bag. Moisture will cause the bag to swell, and it will congest the carboy.
How Long Does it Take For Dry Hopping?
So some research and you will find that no two brewers have the same answer. Some people will say you should dry hop between 3-4 days, while others recommend a week. There has even been extensive experiments done to discover the ideal duration of dry hopping.
The right amount of dry hopping time is up to the brewer—you. The other deciding factor? Whether you are using cones, pellets, or plugs. Plug and pellet hops release their extract differently, meaning that pellet hops may only need a day of dry hopping while cones could take several days.
Keep in mind that the longer oils are extracted, the greater the chance of messing up the flavors of your beer.
But if that wasn’t the answer you are looking for, considering this:
- American Pale Ale: 3-4 days
- American IPA: 3-4 days
- NEIPA: 3-4 days
- Double Dry Hopped IPA: 1/3 of your hops at high krausen; 2/3 for 3-4 days
- Dry Hopped Pilsner: 5-7 days
- Belgian Pale Ale: 5-7 days
- English Pale Ale: 5-7 days
Now You’re Dry Hopping Like a Pro
Dry hopping has quickly become a go-to technique for making modern beers. More and more people are discovering the delicious flavors imbued by dry hopping—and they want more. Though there are some styles that shouldn’t be dry hopped, any beer that requires a certain amount of hoppiness will be made all the better with dry hopping. Keep your eyes on the prize. By paying attention to your brew and using quality hops, you can amplify the flavors and make a truly impressive, aromatic beer. Now, dry hop to it!
Dry Hopping FAQ
What is hop creep?
Hop creep is what we call the phenomenon caused by dry hops that makes fermentation continue after beer reaches its final gravity.
Hop creep isn’t beneficial. It means that byproducts of fermentation—diacetyl and CO2—increase. Off-flavors and over-carbonation can ruin your beer.
Fortunately, hop creep isn’t that common when homebrewing. And, you can easily remedy this issue. Let the dry hopped beer rest at a warmer temperature for a couple of days in the fermenter before you package it up.
Can you dry hop pressurized or carbonated beer?
It’s possible, but you have to be prepared for a foamy, messy volcano of beer. See, when you introduce dry hops to carbonated beer, you also introduce a catalyst that causes CO2 to be rapidly released. This can result in violent foaming.
If you want to dry hop pressurized beer, be sure to depressurize the fermenter first. Keep the lid nearby. Or, you can purchase the FermZilla fermenter that has a dry hop port.