DIY Homebrew Project: Experimenting with Dry Hops

One of the things that I enjoy about homebrewing is the science behind it. You can, if you prefer, completely ignore it and focus on the artistic side of brewing. You can also fully embrace the science and engineering side, focusing primarily on numbers and measurements and targets. I prefer a middle ground, a layman’s (or lazy) science approach if you will, where I enjoy knowing and experimenting with some of the science, but not to the point of stressing about it. Overall, this approach is driven by curiosity. I wonder what a beer would be like with one aspect modified, or how one yeast would compare to another. Simple one-to-one comparison is a great way to learn because it lets you focus on one difference between two items. This monthly column will feature ideas for semi-scientific/technical brewing projects that you can do on your own, or with a small group of friends to learn more about brewing. The point is less to make a delicious beer than to brew something with no off-flavors that features the element you are trying to learn more about.

DRY HOPS
Today, we’ll review comparing dry hops. It’s a fairly common practice, and you’ve probably even had some commercial brews that were dry hopped, but when I think of all the homebrewers I know and all of the brews they have made, dry hopping is actually not mentioned that often. Maybe it’s the rush of getting the brew ready to drink, or perhaps hesitation due to concerns about sanitation, I’m not sure. But I do know that dry hopping is one of the easiest ways to transform your brew and take it to the next level.

Most of my previous DIY project articles have involved brewing several batches of beer, or splitting a batch in two. Today, in the interest of taking it further while also keeping it realistic and affordable, we’re going to head into the realm of arts and crafts, and maybe even a new approach to bottling your beer. Can you guess? If so, you’re pretty crafty. That’s right, we are going to use the time-tested mason or jelly jar!

This jar has everything we need: first, it’s made of glass, so it’s easy to clean and sanitize, and is made of an inert material that won’t impart anything to our wort. Second, it has the simplest airtight seal around - just pop on the cap, then twist on the seal. Third, its wide mouth makes it extremely easy to access the wort, for sampling or, in our case, adding dry hops. Fourth, well... do you really need any more reasons? OK one more, these jars are really easy to find in your local Target, Michaels, or equivalent craft store. The pictured pack is 12 1-quart containers, so will hold 3 gallons of wort.

THE PROJECT

Brew a batch of simple pale ale (find recipe below). Make it 1, 2, or 3 gallons instead of your typical 5. I’m going to include a recipe for a 1 gallon batch. If you’ve never tried this before, it really does work! Who says you always have to brew 5 gallons. After brewing, ferment as usual. At time of bottling, set up the desired amount of jars. In the case of this recipe, 4 jars equals about ¾ of a gallon, because you won’t fill each jar up fully (remember to leave some head space and room for the dry hops). Place ⅛ oz of a different hop in the bottom of each sanitized mason jar. Use a cheesecloth bag to hold the hops if you prefer, but at this small level it’s probably not necessary. Using ⅛ oz of hops for dry hopping 1 quart of beer is the equivalent of ½ oz of dry hopping per gallon, or 2.5 oz per 5 gallon batch, which is a pretty decent hopping rate. Dry hop for 1 week, then transfer the wort off of the hops into a newly sanitized empty mason jar. Add ¼ oz table/cane sugar for carbonation per jar. This is the equivalent of 1 oz sugar per gallon, or 5 oz per 5 gallons which is a standard rate. Adjust to your own preferences - in my case, I’d probably go down to ⅛ oz per jar, because I don’t like heavily carbonated beer, I don’t mind beer with little carbonation, and I’d rather have an undercarbed beer than a potential explosion! Let carbonate for an additional 1-2 weeks.

In my mind, the nice thing about mason jars is that you can screw off the top to take a quick sample, then screw back on and it will continue carbonating. Remember that carbonation in beer is the dissolved CO2, so whatever escapes from the top was simply excess CO2 that hadn’t dissolved yet. As long as your beer is fresh, and there is still a sugar supply remaining, carbonation will resume. And in my opinion, the risk of exposure to oxygen and air is minimal. Of course, I wouldn’t do this every day, but you can certainly get away with 1 or 2 samples. Don’t forget that you only need to test one mason jar, so the others can remain sealed for the entire time.

So, after roughly 1 week of fermentation, make sure fermentation is complete by measuring the gravity; in this case a refractometer would be ideal! Then proceed with 1 week of dry hopping, and 1-2 weeks of carbonation, and you will have 4 mason jars, 1 quart each (2 pints), filled with a simple pale ale that has been dry hopped with 4 different hops! You can multiply your gallons to get more: 2 gallons yields 8 jars, 3 gallons yields 12 jars, etc. Also, you can use this technique any time you brew to do a quick dry hop experiment - at time of bottling or kegging, just fill 1 mason jar with the wort and hop/carbonate as described above. The possibilities truly are endless!

SIMPLE PALE ALE RECIPE

Since we are often going to need a base recipe for this and future projects, I’m going to define a “simple pale ale” as the following:

5 gallons
90% base malt, such as 2-row
10% caramel malt, such as Crystal 40
1 oz bittering hop at 60 minutes, such as UK Goldings
154 mash temperature

“1 GALLON” RECIPE

One thing I’ve found with trying to create mini-batches is that you can’t tell your recipe software you are making a 1 gallon batch. If you do, at the end of the brew you will end up with somewhere between ¼ and ½ gallon of usable wort. To be truly safe, you probably need to brew a 3 gallon recipe, but you can definitely get away with 2. To make it simple, I’ll use a 2.5 gallon calculation, so at home you can simply cut any 5 gallon recipe in half. This is a great chance to try the Brew-In-A-Bag method.

4.5 lbs 2-Row malt
0.5 lbs Caramel 40 malt
1 oz Kent Goldings @ 60 min
1 pack of Safale S-04 dry yeast
Mash at 154

STATS
Original gravity: 1.058
IBU: 35
SRM: 8
Est. final gravity: 1.015
ABV: 5.6%


DRY HOPS
Citra - Tropical fruit flavor
Cascade - Grapefruit-y flavor
Amarillo - Tangerine-y flavor
Simcoe - Lemon-y flavor


Why haven’t I provided you with a detailed recipe? Well, I think it’s about time you learned to create your own! After all, I’ve written quite a few posts on how to do it, and all the information you need is
above. For starters, check out
Recipe Writing (P1), Recipe Writing (P2), Beer Smith Tutorial P1, and Beer Smith Tutorial P2. And I’ll tell you what, you read those articles and give it a try, and if you still have any questions, post in the comments below or email me at beerbyben@gmail.com and I’ll help you the best I can. If you do create your own recipe, please post it in the comments below and share with everyone! Look for this DIY  project series as a monthly feature.