Saturday, December 28, 2013

Brewing Without A Net

I've been using pellet hops in hop bags in the boil since the beginning of my brewing habit. I first purchased the medium sized nylon type from MoreBeer and soon discovered how limiting the size was. After the boil, the hops had expanded into a fist tight ball that pressed against the constraints of the bag. No me gusta! So, I started using 5gal. paint strainer bags a couple years ago to give the hops some more room to be exposed to the hot wort. My thinking and hope was that I could achieve a higher degree of flavor and aroma. You can go here to see other ideas or here to see my 'hop spider' solution. But there were problems with using these techniques, mainly that even with the larger bags the expanding vegetative mass appeared to seal off the flow of wort through the hops. I haven't done any studies to prove this so don't hold me to this theory but just from the looks of it I'd say I'm not getting my fair share of the available goodness from the hops.

Hops, hops, hops
Last week, I brewed my typical Belgian tripel and did away with the hop bags entirely and instead simply threw the pellet hops in loose. I wasn't real concerned with getting the most aroma from these hops for this recipe but used the brew day as a way of testing the 'loose hops' waters so to speak. Overcoming my main concern was my agenda here, that the hop material running through my chiller would gum up the works. I was really afraid of this. Yes, afraid. But, I witnessed the whirlpool technique that I've heard about so often while I was at Sante Adarius Rustic Ales a couple weeks ago and saw that a pile of hop debris will collect in the center of the boil kettle if a vigorous stirring in a clockwise direction (must be clockwise and not counter-clockwise, just kidding) was performed to create a whirlpool at the end of the boil and the wort left to settle and come to a rest after ten minutes or so.

I did this at the end of the boil for my tripel. Then I purged the kettle pick-up tube of any dregs by opening the valve for about a second. Some debris came out followed immediately by clear wort. I then closed the valve and hooked up my quick disconnect line and transferred the wort though my chiller to discover that the wort was nice and clear as it entered the fermentor. At the end of the transfer there was a nice clump of hop debris left behind in the center of my kettle. Oooh.

Of course I knew this would be the case but naturally I had to prove it to myself and I still worried the entire time I transferred that I would clog up my chiller. Really.

But today was different, and so the fear returned. The tripel recipe was only slightly more than 2oz. of hops for an 11 gallon batch and consequently a relatively small amount of debris was left behind as a cone. Today's pale ale recipe was over ½ a pound, significantly more.

What to do if this clogs my chiller in mid stream so to speak? I had no answers but boldly went ahead with only my weak faith to comfort me. Fortunately, I didn't have to come up with a back-up plan because the cone formed nicely albeit largely and the wort flowed clear. As I got down to the last couple of quarts the pickup tube wanted to draw off the hops so just before this happened I quit the transfer and called it good.

Ending transfer as the hops started to be drawn

The big benefits of changing my approach to hop additions is that I will hopefully introduce more aroma and flavor and just as importantly I won't have to use the bags anymore, which are a pain to mess with and I especially won't miss the cleaning. This pale ale will be ready in a month and I'm looking forward to tasting the difference. I may end up with a higher ibu count brewing this way and so may have to back off on the first wort hop and bittering hop additions. I'll let you know how it tastes when I get there. Cheers!

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