A slightly advanced technique that you might come across if you begin brewing using “partial mash” or “all grain” techniques is called “first wort hopping.” This is a technique that caught me off guard when I bought my first partial mash kit – good thing I actually read the instructions for that brew!
What Are First Wort Hops?
“First Wort Hopping” refers to adding hops to the boil kettle and then running the wort in on top of them as you sparge. This all takes place before the boil, where you would normally add the hops. This is actually an old technique that was re-discovered in the last twenty years.
Why Use First Wort Hopping?
There are two big advantages to first wort hopping: it increases the overall bitterness of the beer by about ten percent without adding extra hops, and it produces a more uniform bitterness rather than a “sharp” flavor. Both of these changes take place because the hops are added when the wort is hot but not yet boiling. This causes some processes to occur within the wort to increase hop utilization and prevent some of the more aromatic oils in the hops from boiling off.
What Hops Are Best For First Wort Hopping?
Hops that are low in alpha acid work best as first wort hops because they do not cause a sharp increase in bitterness. Instead, they enhance bitterness while producing a smoother flavor and smell.
Most sources recommend using about 30 percent of your hop schedule as first wort hops. Some say to simply move your first hop additions from the beginning of the boil to the first wort hopping phase, but most (including John Palmer) recommend taking the hops from your late (“aromatic”) hop additions. The later hop additions are typically lower in alpha acid and work better as first wort hops.
What Beer Styles Should Utilize First Wort Hops?
The best styles for using first wort hops are those that emphasize the hop profile of the beer. Typically this includes pale ales, IPAs, ESBs, and some pilsners, but experimentation can be done with other styles. I have even heard of first wort hops working well in Belgian tripels and wit beers.
Do you have any experience with first wort hopping? How has it worked for you?