Over the past year I’ve really studied the differences between professional brewers and home brewers. While there are many, one of the big differences in hoppy beers is that pro brewers whirlpool their wort post boil (hot), and home brewers typically do not. Pro brewers often add copious amounts of hops during this time, while it’s rare to see home brewers add hops after flameout, and delay chilling their wort. After thinking about this for awhile, I realized, why not?
For brewers that have a pump, whirlpooling post boil is a handy technique. You simply recirculate your wort through a pump, which creates a gentle whirlpool in the kettle. The hop material and trub will all collect in a nice cone in the center of the kettle, and you can draw clear wort into your fermenter. Ignoring that, I realized that a whirlpool is an extended rest for the wort at hot temperatures. Pro brewers whirlpool their wort between 20 and 60 minutes while the wort remains at 200* or higher. This struck me as odd because home brewers try to cool their wort as fast as possible once they turn off the flame.
Most home brewers (myself included), add a big hop addition at flameout for hoppy beers, but we then immediately starts chilling our wort. We’ll bring our wort down under 140* in a matter of minutes, and I can’t help but feel we aren’t getting much out of those flameout hops. The belief is that we aren’t driving off any aromatics from the hops, but I feel due to the short contact time at hot temperatures, we aren’t getting much hop aroma or flavor. No one dry hops their beer for only ten minutes, do they?
So when I looked at what pro brewers do, I had a big ‘Ah-ha’ moment. Pro brewers add their ‘flameout’ hops during the whirlpool, and allow them to steep in the whirlpool for 20-60 minutes at 200* or higher. Hrm… this seems drastically different. I found that just about every commercial IPA I love is brewed with lots of whirlpool hops. Now this does introduce some challenges. Alpha acids in hops will still isomerize at temperatures above 170*F; you will be extracting bitterness from the hops. Thankfully these chemical reactions occur slower at cooler temperatures, so hop utilization goes down considerably at 200* compared to 212*. Secondly, wort above 140* will still produce DMS, so you shouldn’t put a lid over the kettle.
Home Brew Whirlpool Hopping
So how did I apply this technique to my brew day? First thing I concluded was that the actual act of whirlpooling isn’t the important part here. If you have the means to create a whirlpool post boil, giddy up. It’s not the important part though. The important thing is to allow the wort to steep for a period of time after you turn off heat, but before turning on the chiller. I settled in on ten minutes. Other than that, it’s pretty simple, add your typical flame out addition of hops, and allow them to steep hot in the wort for your predetermined period of time. Once that time is up, chill your wort as you normally would.
I’ve found my beers have a much more pronounced hop aroma and flavor than before. It seems to be more robust compared to the dry-hop character which can be a bit one-dimensional. I’ve tried this with my Pale Ale, IPA, and DIPA, and all three have had positive results from the ten minute rest after adding the flamout hops. Allowing these hops to steep hot has added some additional bitterness, but that’s easily accounted for by decreasing the 60 or 90 minute hop addition. I’d highly recommend every home brewer try this with their hoppy beers. I won’t even consider going back to my old methods now.
Photo credit: donosborn.com