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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hop Bursting (Part 2, How the Brewers Do It)

This is a follow up post.  To read the first part go here.

Yesterday we discussed the newly en vogue technique dubbed "hop bursting," wherein a brewer uses very few early-addition hops (or none).  Instead, she dumps in loads and loads of late-addition hops, partly to eke out a few IBUs, and partly to saturate the beer in juicy aromas and flavors.  All well and good, but as a practical matter, how does one do it?

First Wort and Mash Hopping
I turned first to Ben Edmunds, who made three different versions this winter (including possibly the first titular "hop burst" beer).  He and the Breakside brewers approached it in a quasi-scientific way, keeping several of the variables constant (malts and hops differed, but the water, IBUs, and ABV were identical).  I would expect nothing less of them.  In all cases, they used either a first wort hop or mash hop addition.  (Ben observed, correctly, that "I imagine there are some folks who think that First Wort or Mash hopping would knock these out of the 'hop bursted' category."  No doubt they will--but as I think we'll see, that is almost certain to become standard at the commercial level.)  In mash hopping, you put the hops in with the mash where they don't get to boiling temperatures and don't go on to the kettle.  In first-wort hopping, you throw the hops in while the beer is coming over from the lauter and then heating up to a boil--it's standard in the Czech Republic.  In both cases, breweries believe the hopping is gentler and milder.

Here are the three different hop schedules they tried:

1) First wort Hop, 15 min addtn, 5 min addtn, whirlpool addtn, 2 x Dry Hop
2) Mash hop, whirlpool addtn, 2 x dry hop
3) Mash Hop, 20 min addtn, whirlpool addtn, fermenter hop, dry hop
Their conclusions?
  1. Two dry hops (or a fermenter hop and a dry hop) create aromas that are almost never achieved with a single dry hop, even if the single dry hop quantity is doubled.
  2.  Mash hops seem to provide more residual hop flavor than first wort hops; hop utilization (and bitterness) from first wort hopping is significantly higher than from mash hopping.
  3. Varietal and quantity of hops still seem to be more important than any particular sequence of late kettle addition hops.
  4. All of these beers had a danker, "fresher hop" flavor than beers where we used more classic "flavor additions" at 30 mins.

"Different" Bitterness
As you can see, Ben was finding different qualities in the flavors and aromas depending on how the hops were used.  One of the theories about hop bursting is that it provides a "softer" bitterness.  There are so many different elements that go into our perception of hoppiness that I'm skeptical of this claim.  Zach Beckwith at Three Creeks in Bend Sisters is, too.  His comment:
At Three Creeks we have been playing with hop bursting in a number of beers over the last 5-6 months.  In my experience the notion that eliminating the bittering charge creates a "softer" bitterness is unfounded; more accurately I would call it a "different" bitterness, more of a late hitting, lingering bitterness.  I attribute that to the use of massive quantities of the new school hop varieties that more often than not have alpha acid values at 10%+.  My two cents is that at least with our beers we've had the best results with our Hodag CDA where a maltier backbone seems to minimize that "different" bitterness.  I have incorporated a "modified" hop bursting in our Raptor Rye IPA with great results, simply reducing the bittering charge.  I would also like to mention that Stone may not have invented hop bursting but Mitch Steele has popularized it recently with his IPA book and a recent Zymurgy article on the subject.  A key component Steele points to is using a great number of varieties as well as quantities of late hops.
If you didn't read that whole paragraph carefully, let me draw your eye to the last sentence, which echoes Ben's final point about varieties.

Foam Stability
Finally, I'd like to give the last word to Mitch Steele, Stone's brewmaster.  In comments on the original Facebook post, he acknowledged Stone's inspiration for Go To IPA. 
Hop Bursting is a term and process that homebrewers developed a few years ago. We take much inspiration from homebrewing, many of us at Stone are/have been homebrewers. And lots of commercial brewers use this technique--though they may not call it that. I think for certain beers, it really works.
We had a further private exchange, and I asked whether there were any bittering hops in Go To and he mentioned a small amount of first wort hops.  These aren't used so much for bittering, though, as to keep foam down in the kettle.  As I was doing my Googling, I found this reference several times.  It may well be that homebrewers can get away with no early hops, but on a commercial scale, this may be a problem.  Since the definition is still forming, I'd suggest being a little loose about whether or not mash, first-wort, or even standard bittering hops disqualify a beer from being called "hop burst."  The goal should be to produce a sensory effect, not adhere to an arbitrary standard.  In other words, the proof is in the mouth, not the recipe.

(And if you'll forgive me one parenthetical indulgence, I'll add my own two cents.  Based on my own experience with my pale, mash hopping seems to accentuate that saturated quality of flavor the most, but it's pretty easy to overshoot it and end up with a beer that tastes like orange juice.  I do like a little touch of bittering stiffness in there to round things out.  My preference is mash hop plus a dash of bittering hops, then come in strong at 20 minutes.  I will try Ben's dual dry-hop this year.  Please feel free to share your own experiences in comments.)

Thanks all--I don't know about you, but I am a smarter man today than when I started the week.


  1. I'm not out to bash Breakside, and I'm sure those beers are great beers, they tell us nothing about perceived bitterness since the malt bills are different. ABV is far less important in this case then TG.
    Lets make two 5.25% beers with 30 BU's. The first, made with pils and a splash of acidulated, will start out at 12 P. The other will be a 14 P beer with pale, C-60, and some black malt. Which one will "taste" more bitter? Which will have "softer" bitterness?
    Now, I'm using extreme examples of course--I'm sure all three beers were some kind of pale ale--but you see my point? Something as small a percent or two of sager or a switch from light to dark crystal can have a big impact on the perception of bitterness--to say nothing of the quality of that bitterness.
    What I find far more interesting is their conclusions about the method of dry hopping Of course, as you said, they switched the hops around between beers, but I've heard similar things from other brewers. Be interesting to see if it makes a difference when you use a certain hop (eg, simcoe is less cat pissy if it's the 2nd dry hop).

    I'll restate, I'm not trying to bash Breakside. Those guys are very accomplished brewers--I KNOW they have a better lock on the craft than I do. I guess I'm just saying I would like to see a "real" experiment.

  2. Well done on this 2-part series; loved it!