How Many Hops Are Too Many?


By Thom Cannell

When is too much, too many, or not enough? When it comes to hops, the number of varieties and quantity, this question absolutely applies. For several years many, if not most homebrew recipes have called for an amazing variety of hops, with many IPA recipes calling for four, five or even six different hops. What’s interesting is that when looking at flavor and aroma descriptions, they are aligned. This not to mention that using quarter, half and smaller hop additions raises the cost of recipes to new heights. How can you achieve balance and structure—both are stern words if you enter your beer in contests—without added expense, the loss of precious wort to absorption, and still create the beer you want?
We polled three professional brewers, all craft and of varying size, for viewpoints. Edan Valkner, head brewer at Harper’s Ferry Brewing in Purcellville, Virginia said, “From a home brew perspective, when you're using small amounts of hops, I mean economically, you're already purchasing a lot of excess products that you're either not going to use or may go stale in the refrigerator. There’s oxidization and a litany of problems that may go on down the road.” “In the actual brew, once you start introducing those separate hops over the course of the boil, you're going to lose a lot of those individual characteristics because first, you're introducing a very small amount, and over the course of that 60-minute boil you're not going to have enough differentiation in your extractions or your utilizations to make as much of a difference as one might think. So, using a little more distinctive hop to try to give your final wort a little more distinction is probably a better bet. I think the result will be a cleaner flavor than what you would experience if you added several small additions.” From this viewpoint, we suggest deciding on the flavor and aroma characteristics you desire and use three, probably two hop varieties that best deliver what you want.”
Edan, right and associate brewer Sean Foley
Jordan Weisberg brews in Fort Myers, Florida at Point Yebel Brewing Company and told us, “What's cool now is that there's so many options for oils and other things that'll give you more volume in your finished product. So, you're saving money, especially on a commercial scale, …but you're going to get five more kegs out of it or 10 more kegs and you easily make that money back.” Few homebrewers have this scale, small quantities make the concept attractive.

Jordan pours me a pint in the tap room

With multi-hop recipes, “It would almost be like a hop soup, with all the different types of hops being added. And then I realized that you don't even get to enjoy the hops you picked and paid so much money for. It's hard to tell which one you're enjoying and which one you don't like … and I think that usually you can get what you want out of two or three hops instead of a bunch of small additions of six or seven.”

Point Yebel brew house

From UK perspective, Rob Story owns the CAMRA award-winning Trafalgar Pub and brews Oden’s beers on the Isle of Man. “I don't see the point in adding five or six different hops. I think the most we do is three, other than our one single hop with Idaho Seven. I dunno why, but they all our beers tend to have three hop additions. After that, you're just starting to get confused. I think what really counts is how much you're adding, also how you're adding your hops.”

A true Manx pub, Storey's Trafalgar Hotel is in the running for best CAMRA UK pub of 2023

Even for his low ABV beers, hopping is firm, with standard bittering and aroma additions. True to tradition, some beers are dry hopped in firkins.
Proper pints, eh?
Edan spoke about the trend to late additions, saying “you are getting more flavor out of your whirlpool additions and you're not going to have as much difference in your utilizations because you're really extracting those terpenes and those volatiles. So, I don't see a big benefit in muddying up those flavors because we're only capable of tasting so much at any given time. If we overwhelm our tongue, we're going to gravitate to the thing that is most prominent in that particular profile.” “We limit the number of hops in any given beer because I'm looking for something that's going to have distinction, and if it comes off as a muddy or with an indiscernible flavor the average person may say,” Oh—well it tastes hoppy.” But is that hop oniony? Or is that hop citrus seed? Does it have more floral characteristic? And they may not be able to pick up on any of those nuances because there's just too much going on. So, if I can use two or three hops over the course of the boil, in the whirlpool, and have something that shows up distinctively and somebody says it was a kind of cool utilization or use of Mosaic or Citra or Azacca, then that's something that it may attract them to that beer. Or guide them if they're in the home brewing realm to use something that may be a little more distinctive and a little more flavor forward.”

Jordan had similar thoughts. “I guess when you're enjoying a beer, you almost don't want to have to pick out what it is. You want to just enjoy it. Not really over analyze. But when you're brewing, there really are a lot of hops that are similar, and so many that are so different. SRO is very identifiable; coconut. Remember when Ace come out? That was very much dill, lemon dill, kind of a character going on. Motueka is very lime, Citra is very just Citra; when you taste it, you know what it is. Galaxy was Galaxy. Yet when people do a Mosaic, Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin it can get a little muddled. If you just use the Nelson for the dry hop and do Mosaic and Galaxy in the boil, I think it's a better option than throwing 'em all together.”
Rob has a somewhat contrarian viewpoint, favoring malt over hops for his brewery and his beers. “I don't like the fad you get in London and Manchester now for these hop teas where there's almost no hop added in the boil or in the whirlpool. It's all dry hop, and I think they all just taste similar. But there's a few hops we've never used that I'd like to try, like Centennial. Mostly, my big hops are Mosaic, some British hops, and Bobek from Slovenia.”

Proper pints, pulled from a proper beer engine

Eden talked about his overall hop addition philosophy; “I'm going to look for something that's going to be roughly citrus or roughly tropical in terms of a broad flavor profile, as opposed to saying papaya or grapefruit peel, and use those as kind of a blanket flavor profile. As long as those hops display similar characteristics, I'm more apt to use them — unless I'm looking for some complimentary flavors where I go back to the classic cascade and centennial, a tried-and-true blend because you have that piney and citrus, and they work together exceedingly well, which is why it's probably one of the most used flavor combinations in the hop world.”

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