How to Select Hops for Brewing

There are really only two reasons why brewers use hops… to give the beer its bitterness and to add aroma…

… but what many new brewers don’t know is that there really are two ways to get bitterness out of hops… one is by using fresh hops and the other is by using aged hops…

Everything on this Brewing Hops Guide will keep this thinking in mind, because it directly affects how you look at a hop profile… it affects how you go about selecting hops, how to go about using them, storing them and classifying them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’…

To start off, I’m going to start sharing what I look for in a hop profile while keeping in mind the different uses of hops…

[headline_georgia_small_left color="#000000"]How to Select Fresh Hops for Brewing Hoppy Beers[/headline_georgia_small_left]

One of the very first things that brewers are taught is to select hops based on the soft resins called Alpha Acids. Alpha Acids or AA% is what bitters up your beer when you add the hop during the boil and make the alpha acids soluble…

Now, the thing about alpha acids is that they are the most abundant when the hop is fresh and preserved…

From the moment the hop is harvested, the levels of alpha acids begins to drop… since this is what bitters up your beer, you want to make sure that you use a hop that is not just as fresh as possible, but that has been very well preserved!

Ideally you would pick the hop off the vine yourself and take that straight to the boil…

Since not everyone grows their own hops, well we have to look at buying hops…

Most home brew supply stores know that oxygen and temperature are detrimental to the AA% levels of hops… they will therefore package their hops in a sealable container to keep oxygen away and they will store them in a fridge… ideally, frozen…

If you can’t get fresh hops from a vine, the second best option for bittering hops is pellet hops and let me explain why…

Pellet hops have been finely milled and pushed through a die to make the little pellet… since the pellet dies are cooled it keeps most of its original level of alpha acids (if not all)…

… and there are in fact two types of pellets

T-90

T-45

T-90 are the ones most home brewers have access to where everything from the lupulin gland and vegetative matter are milled to make the pellet… these keep the same AA% as the original¬† hop cone…

T-45 are pellets mostly available only to micro-breweries, and they are pellets that have about half the vegetative matter removed, which could almost double the amount of AA% of the pellet…

Now, what makes pellet hops better than whole or cone hops is that they store better… the way they are compacted reduces the amount of the hop that is exposed to oxygen, which means it keeps its original level of AA% better than whole hops…

Now that is for bittering hops…

For aroma hops, you want the oils… and the oils don’t degrade as much as the Alpha acids but it’s still better to stick to fresh hops for aroma. For aroma hops, I do prefer to use whole hops, specially if I am dry hopping…

What you want to look for when choosing fresh hops is the level of Alpha Acids (AA%) and the levels of humulone and co-humulone… you want higher AA% and humulone, and you want lower levels of co-humulone…

Now, let’s turn to aged hops

[headline_georgia_small_left color="#000000"]How to Select Hops for Aging and Brewing Hoppy Beers[/headline_georgia_small_left]

For the most part, aging hops is a topic that doesn’t get much attention and it’s usually linked to brewing beer styles like Lambics…

… but aged hops is actually quite popular in places like Germany for common beer styles like lagers…

When you age hops, AA% declines and oxidizes, but so do Beta Acids…

When you age hops, AA% becomes useless, but Beta Acids become useful…

As beta acids oxidize, their bittering potential increases… so we start to look at hops the opposite of how we look at them when we are selecting fresh hops…

First we begin by looking at low levels of Alpha Acids and high levels of Beta Acids levels or BA%… we prefer hops with a low alpha to beta acid ratio like your noble hops that are 1 to 1…

They key thing to know is that Alpha acids may give off a cheese-like flavor when they age, so we want to choose hops with low levels of AA%…

Now, in order for Beta Acids to oxidize and gain bittering potential, we want to expose them to oxygen so we in fact prefer to buy whole hops because a greater area of the hop is exposed to oxygen…

To store these hops, we want to take the opposite approach of storing fresh hops… we don’t want to seal them and we want to store them at higher temperatures, but keep them dry…

I personally store mine in the pantry in the garage inside of a brown paper bag… this keeps moisture away and the brown paper bag is permeable meaning it allows oxygen in… and we need oxygen to oxidize our Beta Acids…

Again, this is for bittering, hops… if you want aroma, then fresh whole hops with good levels of oils is what you are looking for…

To Summarize

[two_columns_1][content_box_light_blue width="75%"][headline_georgia_small_centered color="#000000"]Brewing With Fresh Hops[/headline_georgia_small_centered]

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  • Use hops with High Levels of AA%, Humulene
  • Use hops with Low Levels of co-humulone
  • Use pellet hops for bittering
  • Use whole hops or hop plugs for aroma (fresh)
  • Store pellet hops in sealed bags and cold temperature
[/green_plus_2_list][/content_box_light_blue][/two_columns_1] [two_columns_2][content_box_light_blue width="75%"][headline_georgia_small_centered color="#000000"]Brewing With Aged Hops[/headline_georgia_small_centered]

[green_plus_2_list width="100%"]

  • Use hops with High Levels of BA%
  • Use hops with Low Levels of AA%
  • Use whole hops for bittering
  • Use whole hops or hop plugs for aroma (fresh)
  • Store pellet hops in brown paper bags and warm temperature
[/green_plus_2_list][/content_box_light_blue][/two_columns_2]