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What is Hop-Bursting?

Are you tired of run-of-the-mill home brewed beer, but not sure how to kick your brews up a notch without an investment in equipment?

There is a great way to change the character of your home brewed beer without a large investment in time and equipment. In fact, just a few extra dollars and a slight tweak to your schedule on brew day can produce a beer with robust flavor that will stand out from the home brews that your friends make.

The process in question is called “hop bursting.”

It turns out that hop-bursting, which is sometimes called “late hopping,” refers to adding a “burst” of hops during the last part of the boil.

Typically when you are brewing beer you bring the mixture of water and malt to a boil and then add hops for at least an hour. This is because it takes at least 60 minutes of boiling to release all of the “alpha” acids in hops that add bitterness to the beer.

It is common to also add hops at the very end of the boil, which contributes to the hop aroma of the beer. The aroma is caused by a separate oil in the hops, called “beta” acid, which evaporates out if boiled for too long.

What brewers have found is that a great deal of hop taste and aroma can be added to the beer without contributing much bitterness if you avoid adding hops at the beginning of the boil and instead add a large burst of hops in the last 20 to 30 minutes of the boil. This can dramatically increase the hops that you need to brew with, but it makes for a more robust and “smoother” flavored beer.

Boiling the hops for 20-30 minutes is not enough to release much of the bitter alpha acid, but it is long enough to evaporate off some of the aromatic beta acid. This balances out to provide a little bit of unique flavor. This is why it is important to add a large burst of the hops at this time to get the enhanced flavor of the beer.

How large a burst of hops is needed? If all of our hops are added in the last 30 minutes of the boil, as opposed to mostly at the beginning of the boil, you would need to add between two and three times as many hops to achieve an equivalent bitterness. This number does depend on the hop varieties being used in the recipe.

Note: it is very important to cool the wort quickly at the end of the boil. The longer the wort sits at a high temperature, the more bitterness will be released into the beer.

You may be wondering whether the same results can be achieved with “dry hopping” the beer by adding hops during fermentation, but in fact this process results in a much different flavor to the beer. Dry hopping generally gives a more “grassy” character to the beer, while hop bursting will provide a more “floral” character.

The generally recommended hop selection for hop bursting is hops with low- to mid-range alpha acid content that have a pleasing aroma. Two of the more popular varieties include Cascade and Centennial. Using pellet hops (as opposed to whole-leaf or cones) is ideal for hop bursting because the pellets break up quickly and allow the acids in the hops to be released and utilized efficiently in a short time, maximizing the flavor imparted to the beer.

Have you ever tried hop-bursting while brewing beer? What were your results?


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