Dry Hopping Rates and ABV in NEIPAs

Dry hopping volume has long been a researched and debated topic in the craft beer and homebrewing world. Since the immersion of the New England IPA, breweries have been pushing the limits of dry-hopping techniques and quantities to never before seen limits. I remember back in my early days of homebrewing when a 2-ounce dry hop in an American IPA felt like a big punch of aroma.

My early NEIPA experimentation had me doubling my previous rates to 4 ounces per 5-gallon batch. This felt like ALOT of hops at the time and was bordering what most would refer to as the max saturation point or ‘all you really need’. I’ve come across a lot of anecdotal advice that usually goes against using an excessive amount of dry hops. If you’re interested in learning more about brewing NEIPAs, read this.

Dry Hop Saturation Point

One phenomenon I’m really curious to explore is the saturation point of dry hops in a given beer. I would tend to agree that at a certain point, more dry hops are not going to pay off or add any additional flavor or aroma to a beer. Brulosophy ran an experiment examining dry hop saturation point and determined extra hops in the same IPA were undetectable. Clearly, there is a point where more is less.

Scott Janish has gone above and beyond per usual and has pulled together lots of data on the science behind dry hopping and has data to back there is a point of diminishing returns. He also goes on to explain that pure volume of beer, regardless of the same dry hopping rates, will change how the hops behave in solution. Scott also points out that there isn’t a relative scale when comparing homebrew vs commercial dry hopping. The evidence suggests that commercial brewers will need to dry hop for longer and in larger quantities to achieve similar extraction levels as homebrewers.

Homebrewers often rely on the pros for guidance to perfect their craft. I’ve been lucky enough to experiment with scaling down a “real” commercial NEIPA recipe and directly compare it to the actual beer. All of that aside, that’s not really the point of this article.

The Takeover of Big IPAs

I know many beer drinkers complain about the general trend of high ABV double IPAs on the market. I love double IPAs, but I’ll admit you start to feel lightheaded after drinking 32 ounces. I’m a firm believer that the double IPA craze was driven by the beer’s ability to retain and deliver intense hop character and aroma over a typical pale ale.

From an observational standpoint, I can’t say I’ve ever had a pale ale or IPA that exploded with hop flavor and aroma in the same way a double IPA does. Something about the pure richness of a high ABV beer tends to deliver more intense tropical hop flavors to your palette. What I want to understand is why higher ABV beers can afford a larger dry hop and deliver more saturated hop flavor and aroma.

Does ABV Dictate Hop Potential?

I had the pleasure of chatting with Trillium’s JC last summer and came away with some interesting insight. While I would have loved to have pumped him for information on his beers…it just didn’t feel right. Plus, we ended up talking mostly about food anyway (I really love food). We did briefly chat about a DDH DIPA that I had in hand and I was explaining my fascination with the pure richness of hop flavor. This particular beer was dry-hopped at a rate of 9 lbs per barrel or 4.5 oz/gal). That’s the equivalent of 22.5 ounces in a 5-gallon batch. Let that steep for a minute.

This information is not necessarily new to me. This article here quotes JC as saying they have a “sliding scale of maximum dry hop charges based on gravity.” JC mentioned that you need a solid backbone for all of those hops to ‘cling to‘. This tip is what turned me on to this entire theory or point of realization. Maybe ABV is the missing link to retaining more hop character in my homebrew?

Hop pellets in a plastic cup

Putting Theories To Practice

To get to the bottom of this as objectively as possible, I compared a high and low(er) ABV beer dry-hopped at the same rate of about 5lbs/bbl or 2.66oz/gallon (these were 6-gallon batches). The grist was the same except for a 10% increase in the total wheat/oat percentage in the higher ABV beer (40% vs 30%). From my own personal preference, bigger NEIPAs need more body to stay balanced. A disproportional amount of adjuncts could lead to thinner tasting beers.

While the hop varieties varied, both hot and cold side additions/ratios were consistent. Both batches also contained 4 ounces of LUPOMAX® hops, which I multiplied to account for the added concentration. For the sake of argument, each batch was the rough equivalent of a 1lb dry hop of standard T-90 pellets. The only other modification between the two batches was the omission of whirlfloc in the higher ABV beer. More on this later…

Both beers featured a single dry hop charge on day 4-5 of fermentation at terminal gravity. The hops were added around 68°F for 72 hours.

To summarize the high points:

NEIPA 6.8% – 6 gallonsNEIPA 8% – 6 gallons
70% 2 row, 15% malted wheat, 15% oats, acid malt for pH 60% 2 row, 20% malted wheat, 20% oats, acid malt for pH
12-ounce dry hop of Citra, El Dorado LUPOMAX, Vista12-ounce dry hop of Citra LUPOMAX, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, HBC 586 LUPOMAX
Verdant IPA YeastS-04 Yeast
WhirlflocNo Whirlfloc
Ca: 108 Cl: 150: S04: 75Ca: 108 Cl: 150: S04: 75
30 min whirlpool @ 185°F – 3-ounce charge of Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy30 min whirlpool @ 185°F – 3-ounce charge of Motueka
OG: 1.065 – FG: 1.013 OG: 1.077 – FG: 1.016
If you want to run a similar experiment, use code ‘hazy10’ at yakimavalleyhops.com to get 10% off your order!

I’m aware that this is not a perfect experiment. There are variable changes in yeast, grist, and hop variety. That being said, all other processes, temps, water profiles, and fermentation timelines were exactly the same. All of the hops used in this experiment are capable of delivering big hop flavor and aroma. If what I suspected was true, there should be a significant enough difference in flavor and aroma, regardless of hop selection.

The higher 8% batch had a noticeable increase in both flavor and aroma. Sampling these beers side by side revealed a significant difference in flavor and tropical qualities. I would describe the 6.8% batch as very light and citrusy, lacking body, and fairly subtle in terms of the flavor profile. The 8% batch had improved mouthfeel and a greater depth of overall flavor. Tasting in a blind tasting, these beers could be easily distinguished.

I gave my wife a sample of each beer to get her feedback. I didn’t tell her if they were commercial beers or homebrew. All I asked was which she liked better. She preferred the 8% beer and described it as “having more going on.” She agreed the 6.8% NEIPA was much lighter and less flavorful overall. She also described the 8% NEIPA as having more bitterness, which I would agree with.

Hop Terpenes

Of course, I turned to the homebrewing community for answers and other feedback. Hop terpenes are a clue that could potentially offer a more scientific explanation to my findings. There are terpenes present in the essential hop oils that are responsible for flavor and aroma in beer. Per this article on Craft Beer and Brewing, these highly aromatic compounds are very water-insoluble and rarely make it to the finished product unless added during dry hopping.

So what does that mean? A greater concentration of alcohol could lead to more terpenes in solution, providing more flavor and aroma in the finished beer. This is just a theory, and I’m sure it’s not the only factor at play here. I also think malt backbone, final gravity or general richness of character are likely more complimentary to hop flavor and aroma.

I find it surprising that a 1.2% difference in alcohol would single-handedly be the only reason behind the difference in perceived flavor. There has to be another explanation as to why this beer is so much more hoppy.

Whirlfloc

Whirlfloc is another hot button when it comes to brewing NEIPAs. I was a firm believer in the practice of adding whirlfloc until it dawned on me that something was missing from my beers. Outside of pure haze production, I’ve noticed a difference in flavor, mouthfeel, and aroma when omitting whirlfloc. My personal theory is whirlfloc is knocking too many proteins out of suspension and potentially taking hop polyphenols along for the ride. Even though whirlfloc is a hot side addition, it’s ridding your wort of polyphenol binding proteins, carrying the effects to your finished product.

Using whirlfloc will dramatically reduce hop burn in a much shorter duration, leading me to believe certain flavors never have a chance to evolve over time. I know many commercial breweries claim to use hot side kettle finings, but I’m wondering if the volume of scale is having a different effect at the homebrew scale. This is a larger topic for another post I hope to expand on soon.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Overall I think this experiment revealed a lot of valuable insight. Even though there were 3 distinct variables at play (whirlfloc, grist, ABV), grist and ABV were in line with structuring higher ABV NEIPAs in general. To put it simply, a 12-ounce DH charge clearly appeared to benefit the 8% NEIPA significantly. The same DH charge likely doubled the perceived flavor and aroma in the 8% NEIPA.

12 ounces of hops in a 6.8% beer is probably a waste of hops and money, at least in the manner they were added. The key thing to note here is the last part of that sentence. There has been evidence that 2 shorter dry hops are more beneficial than single larger charges. This is due to scientific evidence that terpenes may reabsorb back into the hop matter if left on the hops for too long. If this is true, double dry hopping could be the answer to extracting more flavor out of the same amount of hops.

From my own trials, I’ve noticed that layering LUPOMAX or concentrated hop products on a secondary charge have greatly improved dry hop flavor. In fact, a second dry hop addition was still noticeable after weeks of being in the keg. Prior to my second dry hop addition (samples), I experienced immensely different flavors in the final beer. The double dry hop addition was detectable and easily distinguishable from the original charge.

I’d be willing to argue that any beer could potentially benefit from two separate dry hop charges as opposed to a larger singular charge. My advice would be to always split your DH charge up and save LUPOMAX or Cryo additions for the second charge.

9 thoughts on “Dry Hopping Rates and ABV in NEIPAs

  1. Nice findings! Thanks for sharing your experiments — super insightful

    Would there be anything you’d change, if you had to redo the experiment next time?

    Specifically if you had to try improve the aroma for the 6.8% beer (besides omitting the whirlfloc). I’d love to be able to drink more beer, and would preter to not be hammered after a couple

    For what it’s worth, I’ve also had mixed experiences with Verdant IPA yeast, it had over attenuated a couple times and the beers ended up a bit dryer than I’d prefer. Not sure if that was your experience either.

    Cheers!

    1. Good questions. Personally, I’d likely do what you suggested and skip whirlfloc. I’d increase oats like the higher ABV beer and split my DH charge into two consecutive charges. Maybe 4 and 4 ounces. I don’t know that you would need more than that. This was my first time using Verdant..I’m honestly a big fan of S04 and have liked the results in the batchs I’ve brewed with it. My vote is that or Juice.

  2. I was excited to read this article but I have to say, the poor experiment design really killed it for me. There is such extreme difference in the flavor profiles and oil concentrations of a given hop, you really can’t draw any conclusions from two different recipes. To really measure this, you need to brew the exact same recipe twice with only the abv changing. The best way to do that would be to add dextrose to the boil kettle on one batch so that the grain bill stays the same too.

    1. Not all experiments need to be lab perfect to gain insight into general trends or observations. It wasn’t really meant to be a perfect experiment so take it for what it’s worth. Unless you actually tried these two beers, I don’t think you can make your own conclusion at all to be fair. I understand hops have different profiles, but it’s hard to argue with Citra and El Dorado.

      1. This was a nicely written article and an insightful experiment, but you are being a little bit too defensive in your last reply. That commenter is not wrong. Your experiment would have painted a much more conclusive picture if all of the variables had stayed the same throughout. It doesn’t mean your analysis or conclusions are without merit, but let’s be honest there were a lot of variables between the two beers, and I cannot personally agree that the most influential variable in this experiment was the ABV. And that is due to the way this experiment was conducted.

        1. I 100% agree with you that ABV alone is not the sole factor here. When it comes down to it I think it’s the sum of all parts, ABV being one of them. I alluded to that in the article. I didn’t mean to be defensive but I also think Aerl was being a little unfair dismissing the results right off the bat.

  3. Alcohol extracts flavor. Thus, more alcohol means more flavor. That’s all you need to know here.

    If you need proof, try a controlled hop extract eliminating all variables, except hops and soluble solution. Put five oz hops in 20 oz of 80 proof vodka for two days. Control against five oz hops in 5oz vodka mixed with 15 oz water for two days. The higher alcohol solution will extract more essential oils and flavor compounds.

    Lower alcohol beers will always have less extract potential compared to high alcohol beers, regardless of hop quantity. The variable to experiment with to achieve similar results is time. Do a 4oz dry hop in a 5gal batch of IPA at 8% ABV for five days, then a 4oz dry hop in a 5gal batch of IPA at 4% ABV for ten days. The higher ABV will naturally have more mouth feel resulting from the higher viscosity alcohol but the dry hop character should be roughly equivalent.

    Thus, more alcohol, more extract potential. This is why the commercial micros tend to go for the higher ABV double IPAs. They extract more hop character out equivalent hop quantity in less time, so it’s more cost effective, or what some might call a laziness crutch. Homebrewers have the advantage of not being profit-oriented and we have time on our side, so we can achieve great hop character with a hop-driven session IPA. You just need one additional ingredient: patience.

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