Tweak Your Micro brew
Adding hops and grain
Once you've become comfortable with making your regular beers, adding hops or grain to
your brews is great way to enhance or change kit beers with little effort.
Grains can add colour, body and taste, and improve the head of your
beer. Adding both hops and grain can transform the beer into a different style
altogether or enhance the characteristics already present in your kit.
There are no magical recipes, and hundreds different hops and grains can be use.
Make your own tests...and take notes!
Dry Hopping Techniques
Hops play a number of roles in the brewing process. Depending on when they
are added, they contribute bitterness, flavor, aroma or something of all three.
The bitterness comes from alpha acids contained in hops, while flavor and
aroma come mostly from volatile oils. The term volatile refers to the fact that
the oils boil out of the wort relatively quickly — most within 15-20 minutes.
This is why brewers normally add flavor and aroma hops closer to the end of
the boil. For maximum flavor and aroma, and to preserve as much of the
volatile oils as possible, some brewers practice dry hopping.
What Is dry hopping?
The term dry hopping originated centuries ago with British brewers and was
used to refer to adding hops to the cask shortly before it was shipped off to
the customer. In fact, 1/2-ounce hop plugs were specifically developed by
British hop producers to be a convenient way to add whole hops to a keg or
cask. Nowadays, dry hopping refers to any hop addition after the wort has
been cooled. These additions can be done in the primary fermenter, in the
secondary or by adding hops directly to a keg. I have even heard of one
homebrewer attempting to add one or two hop petals to each bottle of a
bottle-conditioned batch! (It didn’t work though.)
Pros and cons
Due to the fact that no volatile oils are boiled off, the benefit to dry hopping is
that the brewer can get as much flavor and aroma possible into the final beer.
This can give your beer a floral hop essence and an intense flavor that is
desirable in hoppy beer styles like pale ales and IPAs.
What dry hopping does not add to the beer is bitterness. Boiling is necessary
to convert the alpha acids in the hops to iso-alpha acids to create bitterness.
To maintain your desired bitterness, you still need to add the bittering hops
to the boil.
The lack of boiling, however, is also a potential drawback of dry hopping.
That is, since they are not boiled, the hops are not sanitized. This seems to
worry a lot of brewers, especially those who haven’t tried dry hopping before.
The truth is that hops do not provide a supportive environment for most
types of bacteria. On top of that, if the hops are added to the primary
fermenter after the start of fermentation, any bacteria on them will have a
difficult time competing with the vigorously active yeast in the wort. If the
hops are added to the secondary fermenter then the alcohol content and the
low pH of the beer will suppress bacterial growth. Keeping this in mind, it’s
safe to say that bacterial contaminations caused by dry hopping are extremely
rare and not worth worrying over.
The only other drawback to dry hopping is that some beer drinkers just don’t
like the effect. They think it makes the beer taste “grassy” or “oily.” This
method definitely gives a different kind of flavor and aroma than the
traditional method of adding hops to the boil, but if you like any of the
commercially dry-hopped beers mentioned, you will probably like it in your
homebrew as well.
Which hops to use?
The first step in dry hopping is to select the hop variety to use. You normally
want to use a hop variety that is considered a “flavor” or “aroma” hop. It is
common for these hops to have relatively low alpha acid ratings, often around
6% or less. Some hop varieties commonly used for dry hopping include
Cascade, Crystal, Willamette, East Kent Golding, Fuggle, Saaz, Hallertau and
Of course, one of the beauties of homebrewing is that you do not have to
follow anyone’s suggestions; you can try whatever you want. This being said,
some homebrewers dry-hop with high alpha acid varieties like Centennial and
Chinook. Personal preferences vary, and you should experiment to see what
you like. In general, if you like the results of using a particular hop variety in
the last 5–10 minutes of the boil then you will probably like the results of dry
hopping with the same variety.
When to dry hop
Once you’ve decided what hops you’re going to use, you need to decide when
to add them. The choices are in the primary fermenter, in the secondary
fermenter, or in the keg.
Dry hopping in the primary fermenter will work, and is favored by some
brewers, but conventional wisdom teaches that the primary might not be
optimal. The problem lies in the bubbling of the CO2 and the agitation of the
wort during primary fermentation. This bubbling and agitation takes some of
the hop aroma out of the beer just like boiling would. This, of course, may
defeat the purpose of dry hopping, although some of the hop essence will
subsist. If you choose to dry-hop in the primary fermenter, you may want to
add more hops than you would for dry hopping in the secondary or keg.
The secondary fermenter is generally considered the best place for dry
hopping for a couple of reasons. First, the beer has already mostly fermented
so, as mentioned above, the alcohol and low pH helps to ward off any bacteria
on the un-sanitized hops. Second, the vigorous CO2 activity of the primary is
finished, so the aroma of the hops won’t be scrubbed out of the beer.
There is, however, one potential difficulty with dry hopping in the secondary.
Many brewers use glass carboys with narrow necks as their secondary
fermenters. Getting the hops into, and then back out of, the slender opening
can be an exercise in frustration. This is especially true if you like to keep the
hops in a bag, making it easy to separate them from the beer. You could
use a bucket with a large opening rather than a carboy,
or forget about putting the hops in a bag and just dump them in. You can
then separate the hops from the beer when racking to your bottling bucket or
The final option for dry hopping is in the keg. Here, it is advisable to use a
muslin or cheesecloth bag to contain the hops. Otherwise you run the risk of
sucking hops into the system, clogging it up, or getting hops into your glass.
One concern with dry hopping in the keg is the extended duration that the
hops are in contact with the beer.
Some brewers feel that if the hops are in the beer for more than a few weeks,
the beer develops a “grassy” flavor.
Pellets, plugs or loose?
Okay, you’ve decided on the variety of hops to use and when to add them. The
next question is, what form of hops to use? The choices are the same as the
hops that you add to the kettle: pellets, plugs, or loose. The pros and cons are
a bit different though.
As I said before, plugs were originally designed specifically for dry hopping
and they work quite well for that purpose. They’re easy to measure (since
each plug is a 1/2-ounce), easy to put into a bag if you choose, and are easy to
fit through the neck of a carboy — even more easy if you cut them in half.
Loose hops have to be weighed, but are also easy to stuff through a carboy
neck — not so easy if put in a bag though.
Pellet hops also have to be weighed, but are probably the easiest type of hops
to pour through a carboy neck. They are also easy to put into a bag, but only a
very fine bag will contain the powder when they dissolve.
On the other hand, pellets can cause a sudden eruption of foam that will have
you scrambling for a towel and wondering what sort of alien being has taken
over your beer. This is because as the pellets break apart (almost
immediately) they provide thousands of nucleation sites for the CO2 in the
beer to attach itself and come out of solution. Be careful and go slowly when
adding pellet hops to any nearly full container.
Pellet hops will sink when well soaked. Plug and loose hops usually float.
Either way it’s not too hard to rack the beer away from any form of hops if
you are careful. Since pellet hops are more highly processed than plugs or
loose hops, there is some concern that volatile oils are lost. When using
pellets for dry hopping, you may want to add a little more than usual.
This brings us to the question of quantity. A “normal” measurement for dry
hopping is between 1–2 oz. (28–56 g) of hops for a five gallon (19 L) batch.
But the real answer to the question of how much is simply, “as much as you
want.” If you want just a hint of hop aroma you might go as low as a 1/2 oz.
(14 g). If you want a beer that will knock you over with a pungent hop flavor
and aroma, you might decide to go nuts and throw in 4 oz. (112 grams). I’ve
heard of brewers using even more than this, but even a serious hophead like
myself will tell you that more than four ounces of dry hops may be pushing it.
You should also take into account the variety of hop. If you’re using a hop
with a high essential oil content, you probably don’t want to use as much as
you might if you were using something less oily.
My advice for your first experiments with dry hopping would be to pick a
traditional aroma hop and use no more than 1 ounce (28 g). This will give you
a good idea of what dry hopping does for a beer. From there you are only
limited by your own sense of adventure in deciding what hops to try and how
much to use.
To bag or not to bag?
The final question in dry hopping is whether or not to put your hops in a bag.
Bagging your hops can make them easier to retrieve when either you or your
beer decides it’s time. On the other hand, hops tend to expand when wet, so a
bag that you were able to stuff through the neck of a carboy dry may be
difficult or impossible to get out when fully saturated.
Another issue with bagging is that it tends to reduce the hops exposure to the
beer. To account for this, you may want to use 10–15% more when bagging.
Also, while the hops are naturally resistant to bacteria, the bag is not. Because
of this, you should always boil the bag to sanitize it before putting hops in it.
If you’re a fan of hop flavor and aroma, you really have to try dry hopping
Different varieties of hops can impart vastly different flavours, aromas and
levels of bitterness. The stage in the brewing process at which the hops are
added affects what characteristics they impart.
Hops boiled for long periods impart mostly bitterness, hops boiled for 15
minutes or less impart flavour, some bitterness and some aroma, and hops
added at the end of the boil or to the fermenter add mostly aroma and no
bitterness. You might decide to boil hops to add some extra bitterness, then
add some to the boil for 15 minutes and add yet more right at the end of the
boil for aroma.
Step by step: Adding hops
With all the processes below you can strain or seive the hop liquid into the
fermenter and discard the hops. While this isn't necessary, the hops may
block the bottling tube when it comes time to bottle. An option for dry
hopping is to use a hop bag, which is a small bag into which the hops are
placed so they don't spread through the beer.
These are added if you want your beer to be more bitter than the can of
concentrate is going to make it. Small amounts of hops can add significant
amounts of bitterness, so it's a good idea to know what bitterness you're
aiming to achieve (usually based on the style of beer) and how much
bitterness the hop variety you are using and the quantity will add to the can of
concentrate. While you can do the calculations long-hand, brewing software
can do it in an instant. The Secrets of successful brewing page has a list of
some paid and free brewing programs.
1. Bring two litres of water to the boil.
2. Dissolve 300g or so of liquid or dried malt in the water. While you can
use some of the malt concentrate from the can instead of malt extract,
you will lose most of the hop flavour and aroma from it.
3. Add the hops.
4. Boil for at least half an hour. Up to about an hour of boiling, more
bitterness will continue to be extracted from the hops.
5. Turn off the heat and dissolve the rest of your ingredients in the liquid.
6. Continue brewing as usual.
Late hopping is the process of adding hops near the end of the boil to extract
aroma and flavour. The process is almost the same as that for steeping hops
(see below). Hops added at much more than 20 minutes will lose all their
flavour and aroma, while those added at the very end of the boil will
contribute almost exclusively aroma.
1. Follow steps 1 & 2, above.
2. If you're using kettle hops for bitterness, add them and bring the liquid
back to the boil.
3. Between 15 minutes from the end of the boil right up to the end of the
boil, add the late hops. You may choose to make several additions to
achieve different results, say at 15, 10 and 5 minutes from the end, and
when you turn off the heat.
4. Turn off the heat and dissolve the rest of your ingredients in the liquid.
5. Continue brewing as usual.
Steeping hops is mainly done to add aroma, and won't add any bitterness.
A common method of steeping hops is to soak them in boiling water then add
the whole mixture to the fermenter. It can be done at the time you add the
rest of the ingredients and top up the fermenter, or after fermentation has
begun, in a process similar to dry hopping (see below).
1. Boil a cup or so of water and tip it into a mug or cup.
2. Add the hops and make sure they are all wet.
3. Cover and leave to steep for a few minutes minutes.
4. Tip the lot into the fermenter.
This is a variation on the steeping method, and involves using a coffee
plunger to make a "hop tea" that is then added to the fermenter. Many people
feel that it's an excellent way of extracting aroma, and is more effective than
1. Pour two cups of water into a coffee plunger.
2. Add the hops and swirl them to make sure they're all wet.
3. Fit the lid to the plunger but don't "plunge" it yet.
4. Wait a couple of minutes.
5. Press down the plunger.
6. Tip the liquid into the fermenter and discard the hops.
With dry hopping, the hops are added directly to the fermenter as the brew is
fermenting. There is negligible danger of infection adding unsanitised hops at
this stage because the alcohol in the brew and the hops themselves have
antiseptic properties and act to protect the brew.
Dry hopping your homebrew is an excellent way to introduce fresh hops
aroma to any style, but pale ales and IPAs are especially associated with the
technique. Whether you dry hop with whole leaf or pellet hops is up to you:
Leaf hops will tend to float on top of the liquid, while pellet hops will
disintegrate into a hops sludge that sinks to the bottom. More than anything,
your choice may come down to what’s available.
Here are three common ways to deliver dry-hopped goodness to your
1. Dry hop in secondary (loose)
Dry hopping in secondary with loose hops is probably the most commonly
employed method. After fermentation is complete, as indicated by a stable
final gravity reading, rack your beer to a carboy, but don’t add the dry hops
just yet. Think about how long you’d like to condition the beer in secondary
and estimate the day that you’ll keg or bottle the batch. Then plan to add the
dry hops about 5 to 7 days before that. The total amount of time the dry hops
remain in contact with the beer is up to you, but there’s little to no benefit
from dry hopping for longer than a week.
When you’re ready to add the dry hops, simply open up the carboy and dump
2. Dry hop in secondary (contained)
This method is just like the first one, but rather than let the hops swim freely
in the beer, you use some method of containment. This makes cleanup easier,
and it helps keep hops matter out of the siphon when it’s time to transfer your
beer for packaging.
Nylon mesh bags work well, but avoid using them with a standard glass
carboy: It’ll be difficult to get the hops back out after they’ve absorbed liquid.
Plastic carboys such as Better Bottles have wider necks and can accommodate
hops bags more readily. If you prefer traditional glass carboys, some retailers
sell long, narrow stainless steel mesh tubes that slide through the neck and
down into the vessel. Be sure to sanitize the mesh bag or mesh tube before
adding the hops.
3. Dry hop in primary
You can also dry hop right in the primary fermentor,
especially if a highly flocculent yeast strain is used and forms a firm cake on
the bottom. Using a mesh bag will make dry hopping a breeze. Then it’s just a matter of removing the bag on bottling day and taking care not to suck up too much yeast with the siphon. Doing everything in primary also avoids potential oxidation that could occur with racking to
secondary. If you use this method , then sanitize the bag and if using leaves, we recommend boiling them couple of minutes to sanitize .
Ultimately, dry hopping is about getting hops in contact with your fermented
beer. The details of how you make that happen are less important, so choose
the method that’s most convenient for your process and preferences.
Dry hopping can also be done after racking a beer.
Ordinary malted grain such as barley or wheat needs to be mashed to extract
its flavour and colour. These grains cannot be steeped and added to kit beers.
Instead, you must use grain such as crystal malt (also known as caramel malt)
or specialty malt such as dark roasted malts. Generally, such grain is used in
fairly small quantities. Even 50g of roast barley will give a light-coloured beer
a copper-like hue, while using more than about 200g of crystal grain risks
adding a cloying sweetness to the finished brew.
Step by step: Steeping grain
1. Add the cracked or crushed grains (your homebrew shop can crush the
grain for you) to cold water in a saucepan and mix them to make sure all
the grain is wet. There should be enough water so that the grain can mix
2. Slowly heat the water to about 70°C, stirring occasionally. Ideally, use a
thermometer to monitor the temperature. Do not boil the grain or heat it
much above 70C, because this will extract tannins from the husks of the
grain and adversely affect the taste of your beer.
3. Once it's reached 70C, turn off the heat and put the lid on the saucepan.
4. After 15 minutes, strain the mixture through a sieve, colander or gauze.
5. Some homebrewers rinse the grain with warm — about 70C to 75C , not
boiling — water to extract more of the flavour and colour from the grain,
although this is not necessary if you used plenty of water at the start.
6. Discard the grain.
7. Return the liquid to the saucepan and boil it for five minutes or so to kill
any bacteria, enzymes or other nasties that were on the grain.
8. Use the liquid to boil or steep hops, if you're using them, or to dissolve
the other ingredients.
9. Continue with the rest of the brewing process as usual.