Delivering high levels of fresh hop flavor and hop aroma have become calling cards for U.S. craft brewers. While German beer makers were the first brewers to start using wild hops in the early 8th century, it’s been American innovators who have taken both hop production and hop-infused beers to new levels of experimentation and flavor.
Just visit Tröegs Brewing Co. in Hersey, Pa., and marvel at its HopCyclone, a specially designed dispersion tool for dry hopping, to be used in conjunction with it large fermentation vessels. The HopCyclone device creates an inward spiral effect to better disperse the hops into the beer, intensifying hop aroma and flavor. Learn more by watching this video right here.
For more than 100 years, pioneering Americans have been creating similarly impressive inventions in hop-focused machinery. Rewind to 1909 and the invention of the mechanical hops separator, patented by Emil Horst in Elk Grove, Calif. (OK, he did emigrate from Germany). Emil Clemens Horst had, at one time, the largest number of acres under hop cultivation in the world. He revolutionized hop growing and processing with his patented mechanical separator that harvested the hops while discarding the vines and leaves.
Today, a whole new generation of American craft brewing pioneers has taken up the torch for innovative hop equipment. A forward-hops taste (and the IPA category of beer) is almost a hallmark of U.S. craft beers, but how exactly do brewhouses come up with these unique hopping flavors, techniques and machines? Well, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery is one such innovator, and we asked them to tell us about the brewery’s distinct approach toward hopping.
“Here at Dogfish, we use a proprietary method called continual-hopping,” explained Justin Williams, a member of Dogfish Head’s marketing team. “Instead of the traditional large upfront dose of hops for bittering and a late one for aroma, we add small doses throughout the boil. That allows for really hoppy beers without crushing bitterness.”
Dogfish Head’s continual-hopping method and its equipment (machines like Me So Hoppy and Sofa King Hoppy) have been inducted to CBB’s new series Innovative Hopping Equipment (our little hall of fame for hopping equipment, techniques and production). Here’s a breakdown of the mechanics and theories behind Dogfish Head’s continual-hopping mantra and other unique hop methods at its brewery in Milton, Del.
The equipment — Sofa King Hoppy (say it real fast)
To actually perform the proprietary method called continual-hopping, Dogfish uses a pneumatic canon on its 100-barrel (bbl) brewhouse called Sofa King Hoppy. In its new 200-bbl brewhouse, about to come online, a new continual hopping device was custom built by German manufacturer BRAUMAT.
“We don’t have a name for that one just yet,” Williams said. Sofa King Hoppy shoots small, even doses of hops into the wort of Dogfish Head IPAs. Small doses throughout the boil defer overwhelming hoppy and bitter tastes.
How does it work?
Sofa King uses sterile compressed air to blow pellet hops into the boil kettle. “We load a pre-weighed amount of hops into a large cone — think steep funnel — that is above a butterfly valve,” said Shane Roberts, brewer at Dogfish Head. “The butterfly valve opens for a few seconds, then closes. Some of the hops have now ‘loaded’ into a pipe that runs to the boil kettle. Once the valve closes, compressed air is released for four seconds in the line behind the hops and blows them into the top of the boil kettle. The cycle of opening the valve and blowing air happens throughout the entire boil.”
The Eureka! moment — Cooking and magnetic football
“It all started with one of those vibrating magnetic football board games from the ‘70s,” Williams said. “Our founder, Sam Calagione, was catching bits and pieces of a cooking show one day as he brewed on the glorified homebrew system he used to get Dogfish Head off the ground. The TV chef was making soup, and instead of spicing things up with one big dose of salt and pepper, he was constantly throwing in small doses.”
Light bulb! Calagione decided to use the same technique with hops, but he didn’t want to stand over the boil kettle for hours at a time. So, he went to the local Goodwill, bought one of those vibrating football games and rigged it up to a five gallon bucket with small holes punched in the bottom. The football game shook the bucket, releasing a small but continual stream of hops into the boil. Boom, continual hopping was born.
“The technology has evolved over time, but the theory has remained the same,” Williams said. “Deliver hops to the boiling wort for the duration of the boil in small, even doses.”
Innovate hopping equipment runner-up — Me So Hoppy
No other hopping method rivals dry-hopping in its ability to deliver high levels of fresh hop flavor and aroma. Dry-hopping is the technique of adding hops to beer after it’s been fermented. It allows the very volatile essential oils of the hops to be absorbed into the beer without subjecting these oils to the very violent environments of boiling wort or vigorous fermentation, both of which make the most delicate and desirable compounds in hops run far, far away.
“Dry-hopping is not without its risks,” Williams said. “It can introduce damaging air to the fermented beer, resulting in stale flavors and, equally detrimental, beer-spoiling organisms.”
To help fight that, Dogfish built a piece of equipment called Me So Hoppy that allows the brewery to dry hop beer in a closed system using inert gas to blow the hops inside the tank. “It’s great for beer and even better for beer drinkers,” Williams said.
How does it work?
Me So Hoppy is a pressure-rated chamber that has a large opening with a lid on the top, a manual valve on the bottom and a venturi nozzle to dose the hops inline.
“We load pellet hops though the opening on the top,” Roberts explained. “We apply CO2 pressure to the venturi device and apply just enough positive pressure on the vessel to not cause a vacuum. When the valve on the bottom is opened, the venturi device sucks the hops into the line and then blows them into the top of the fermentation vessel.”
The hops are left in the tank, and the CO2 is vented. Me So Hoppy is a modular system that can be moved to the tank that needs to be dry-hopped. “Our larger tanks have a dedicated pipe that we connect to Me So Hoppy,” Roberts said. “On our smaller tanks, we attach Me So Hoppy to the blow-off arm.”
What beers are brewed?
Dogfish Head’s IPAs — 60 Minute, 90 Minute and 120 Minute — communicate the length of time each of those beers is boiled and clue drinkers in to just how many hop-additions go into the brew. Indian Brown Ale, Burton Baton, My Antonia and Aprihop also are continually-hopped beers brewed by Dogfish Head.
Advice about hops and hopping
“What can brewers do to have a little fun?” Williams asked. “Find great mixes of hop varieties, or on the flip side, use just one. They also can watch for and play with experimental varieties.”