Behind those deliciously drinkable IPAs are the magic of hops, the cone flower of a vining plant that adds complexity and bitterness to the brew.
As the current darling beer ingredient, brewers are using techniques, old and new, to add more hops to their pours. One of these methods is dry hopping.
A basic beer process includes boiling wort — a sugary water made from malted barley — and hops. Yeast is then added, and the mixture is allowed to ferment. Hops can also be added as a late addition to the boil but when a beer is dry hopped, additional hops are added to the beer during fermentation.
“Dry hopping has been a huge thing in the last five years, much more so than it ever has been,” said Steve O’Brien, head brewer at Elm City Brewing Company in Keene.
Dry hopping allows for the aroma of the hops to shine through without the characteristic bitterness that comes from the release of the alpha acids during the boiling process. Adding hops after the boil process is “like cold-brewed coffee in a way,” said O’Brien.
Craft brewers all over the world are exploring the outer limits of ratios of hops to flavor, figuring out the greatest flavor gain with the most conservative use of hops. Hops are not only an expensive addition to beer, but they also decrease yields since the hop pellets absorb the beer during the fermentation process.
“A lot of these heavily dry hopped styles that we are seeing nowadays are using hops that are harder to find, meaning they’re really expensive,” said O’Brien.
Double IPAs, known for their high alcohol content and assertive flavor, can also be dry hopped as a finishing technique. The increased malt and hops that create double or imperial IPAs, as well as dry hopped beers, mean a more expensive beer.
To help customers defray those increased costs and buffer the higher alcohol contents, Frogg Brewing offers its beers in a 10-ounce pour instead of a 12-ounce pour.
A love of diversity at Frogg Brewing
Frogg Brewing in downtown Marlborough is currently brewing three double-hopped beers including F Bomb, a double IPA dry hopped beer; Judge Juicy, a triple IPA that includes three different varieties of hops; and Space Frog, a pale ale that uses the rare and difficult to source Australian Galaxy variety of hops.
Stephanie and Michael Guitard opened Frogg Brewing with experienced brewer Alex Rice in October 2018. Before becoming head brewer at Frogg Brewing, Rice graduated from the Siebel Institute of Technology, a historic beer institute, and worked at Wormtown Brewery in Worcester, Mass.
Michael Guitard fell in love with the diversity of beer in his world travels and this has influenced the way Frogg Brewing operates. The brewery sells “a lot of flights” says Guitard. The flights, a sampling of 4-ounce tasters, aim to introduce customers to the diversity of available beer.
Each beer made at Frogg Brewing, from the grinding of the malt to the dry hopping and fermentation, is a personal reflection of the work of its head brewer, Alex Rice.
“When it is good, it's on me. If it’s bad, it's on me,” said Rice.
Rice is looking forward to this fall and the short hops harvest season when he can explore making a “wet-hopped” beer with fresh hops. This highly seasonal beer is hard to find on tap, let alone on shelves.
If you are looking to explore a wet-hopped beer before fall, the only one Rice knows of that makes it to commercial shelves is Lagunita’s Born Yesterday.
Innovations with Historic Techniques at Elm City
Elm City has been resurrecting historic brewing traditions since Debra Rivest opened the brewery and restaurant in 1995 and dry hopping is just one more old technique made new again. Dry hopping has historically been used in IPAs to extend their shelf-life due to the powerful preservative qualities found in hops.
Elm City doesn’t need to worry about transporting its beer long distances since most of it is sold on tap and locally in growlers, but the brewery’s current stock can take full advantage of the additional flavor of dry hopping.
O’Brien started at Elm City in July 2018 and has continued the brewery’s experimentations with dry hopping in higher quantities. O’Brien currently offers two dry hopped beers: C Monster, a dark gold American IPA that uses three different hop varieties; and Shockwave, a double IPA dry hopped with Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo hops.
“Dry hopping has evolved,” said O’Brien. “It’s certainly nothing like it used to be. Breweries would throw some hops in there to give it some character and flavor to your glass, but now it is a main component of these New England IPAs and other big juicy beers.”
Next week, O’Brien begins brewing one of Elm City’s staple beers, Lil’ Seshy, except this time with all locally sourced ingredients. The beer will be made with malt from Valley Malt in Hadley, Mass., and hops grown on Four Star Farms in Northfield, Mass.
This local Lil’ Seshy should be available on tap in late May and O’Brien hopes will be a regular on the beer list.
Interested in trying out some local brews that use dry hopping to enhance aroma and flavor? Find them on tap Frogg Brewing in downtown Marlborough and at Elm City Brewery in Keene. For more information, visit online at www.froggbrewing.com and elmcitybrewing.com