By Vito Delucchi
It goes without saying good tasting water is a huge component in making hop water. Hopefully your water source is relatively low in TDS’s (Total Dissolved Solids) and does not need much treatment past a good carbon filter to remove any chlorine. If you have access to RO water and or are familiar with your water profile we’re essentially trying to have about a 2:1 or even 3:1 Chloride to Sulfate ratio. This is something you can play with, but the team at Lagunitas said they were shooting for this to help soften the bitterness and not accentuate it by having a higher sulfite level. If you brew IPA’s this is a pretty common concept when it comes to brewing water. We will be boiling the water for several reasons. First being we want sterile & de-aerated water to help prolong its shelf life. The other thing we’re going to want to do is extract some (8-12 IBU’s) to give it a slight hop bitterness and help promote its antibacterial properties as well. Speaking of, we will also be acidifying the water into the 3.2-3.6 pH range. This will help with the taste and ensure it’s completely safe against any bacteria for weeks or even months. You can use different food-grade acids to achieve this pH, the most common being lactic acid. I’ve also used citric acid from freshly squeezed limes and really enjoyed the flavor it brought to my hop waters.
I've made several batches of hop water now and my initial batches did not include any fermentation steps. I simply added all my hops in the kettle i.e. whirlpool to hit my IBU’s and chilled then kegged, carbonated and served. As I previously mentioned I also did things like lime juice / zest and thought these batches turned out delicious. So you don’t need to rack into a fermenter, pitch yeast etc. BUT having now done side-by-side tasting of both methods it’s clear the biotransformation that happens with brewers yeast takes the dank & vegital hop flavors and not only softens them, it moves them more towards fruity notes. Having shared both of these types with many individuals it seems like the biotransformed version is more universally approachable and liked. Whereas the non fermented version was liked more by hop heads and IPA drinkers, being described as putting your head into a bag of fresh hops. Below the steps and recipe reflect the biotransformation method as that is what Lagunitas does and it’s delicious. I just wanted to share other methods I’ve done and enjoyed to let you learn and decide for yourself what you like better. Speaking of which hops you like better, in the recipe we brewed together “Wizard Mullet '',' we used Nectaron Hops. In talking with the team at Lagunitas they said they tried a bunch of different hops before they found what they settled on for Hoppy Refresher. Unfortunately I was unable to acquire the exact recipe, but the process and steps outlined below are pretty close, except for the actual hops. I’ve been playing with Citra & Eldorado and really enjoyed that combo. The last thing to note on the hops & process is the hop dip step. They said this helps drive off the merecene reducing the vegetal taste/aroma. It’s essentially steeping your dry hops and there are articles out there outlining how & why you want to do it. Again, on some of my previous batches I never performed this step as I never performed any biotransformation/dry hop steps on them at all. The flavors are quite different and something fun to experiment with.
Regardless if you choose to ferment/biotransform your hop water you're going to need to carbonate it, cause…it needs that fiz! I’m sure you could bottle condition it, but I am just going to go over kegging and force carbonating hop water for now. Since there is no residual sugar or alcohol you are really going to want to highley carbonate it. I’ve tried carbonating them to the typical 2.2-2.5 ale range and it’s just not that enjoyable. Hop Water really should be in the 3 to 4 volumes of CO2 range to taste like what you're getting in commercial canned examples. So depending on the temperature of your Hop Water you will need to pump that regulator up to 30+ psi. The tendency of most would be to reduce the pressure and serve it around 12psi or so. What will happen though is over time that highly carbonated water will start to taste flat as the CO2 in solution equalizes with it’s new head pressure. So be sure to keep it on a separate higher (30+ psi) line to keep tasting delicious and refreshing!
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