Making the Perfect NEIPA (Part Two, Hops)

Now for the sexy part of creating an IPA recipe, the hop bill. Part One mainly focused on getting that malt bill where we want it, trying to create that “soft and pillowy” mouthfeel that is so popular now. As I mentioned before, getting that water profile right and picking the right ingredients for your mash are very critical. But today, we get to talk about hops, my favorite part of building any IPA recipe. The first thing we need to decide is what hops we are going to use, then how much and when we are adding them. When I first started brewing 6 years ago, your standard “go-to” IPA recipe was quite different than it is now. Back then, you were going for over-the-top bitterness, and some flavor. You would have additions at 60, 45, 30, 15, 5 and 0 mins left in the boil. Pretty much like any other style of beer, save for the 5 and 0 minute additions. About that time, Mitch Steele (former Stone brewmaster) wrote an article about “Hop Bursting” in Zymurgy. Whoa! I immediately got in Beersmith and started playing around with my recipe for Andromeda IPA, moving the hop additions further and further back, but keeping the same IBU. The results were amazing! As you know, the bitterness level from the hops is directly related to how long they are boiled. So, to achieve the same bitterness level by using the hop bursting method, you need to add more hops, because they are at boiling temperature for a shorter period of time. That’s when we started noticing way more fruity and citrus aromas and flavors. Like, a LOT more. Then, one day, after spending many nights reading the aforementioned Mitch Steele’s book on IPA’s and For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus, it hit me. Hold that thought. You see, this was early 2015, and TJ, Adrian, Chuck, Leland, myself and a bunch of other friends had decided we were going to brew and enter our beers in the Lone Star Circuit, a series of homebrew competitions all over the state. We had been brewing every “Tuesday Brewsday” for quite some time, and would sometimes brew up to 5 batches a week. This happened to be the very last brew day before the biggest homebrew competition in the series, Bluebonnet. The deadline was 11 days away, and I had to brew an American IPA. That’s right, we had to brew, ferment, dry hop, carbonate, bottle, label and deliver this beer to Dallas within 11 days. I already had a batch of Andromeda in fermenters, so I had a solid entry already.  I could take a gamble on this one. So, remember when I said “it hit me”? I woke up that morning and had a crazy idea. What if we don’t put any hops in the boil? What if we just add everything straight into the whirlpool, after flame out? I went to the freezer and found a one pound bag of “Experimental Hop #XXXX (Lemon Zest)” that I had just bought from Yakima Valley. Perfect. I got on Beersmith and created a recipe from scratch, using no hops in the boil, and a pound of Exp. Lemon Zest at flameout, and Vic Secret as a dry hop. I walked out to the garage, where TJ had just arrived and was setting everything up, and handed him the brew sheet. He looked at it, looked at me, looked back at it, looked at me and said: “Seriously?”

“Yes. Seriously. And (not knowing it was actually a thing) we’re going to add the first dry hops during fermentation, because we only have 11 days here, and I want two rounds.” So, that’s what we did. I didn’t particularly care for the beer, but my friends insisted that it make the trip to Dallas. And it won gold at the largest competition of its kind in the world.  At that moment, I knew the shift was beginning. Craft beer drinkers had grown tired of the over-the-top bitter hop bomb IPA’s and were moving their tastes to the somewhat-bitter citrus/juice bombs. Now, in 2018, people are making near-zero IBU IPA’s and people are lining up to get them. So, here we are, trying to come up with the perfect NEIPA. During this experiment, I tried several different combinations. First up was Belma and El Dorado. I had never even tried Belma, but there was a bag of it sitting in the brewery, left over from the Galactic Coast guys, so I looked it up. Whoa! “Strawberry, citrus, melon, grapefruit.” Yeah, that should work. Paired with the stone fruit and tropical flavors of El Dorado, we might be on to something. A 70/30 blend of El Dorado over Belma would be the hop bill for Nehru Jacket, the first in the 7 beer series. The only questions are “how much?” and “when?”

I talked with several other brewers in the area, and decided that a good start would be 3 pounds per barrel of whirlpool and dry hops. So, to make it easy, I went with a pound in the whirlpool, a pound at day 3 of fermentation, and a pound at day 7 of fermentation. Since we are going for very low bitterness and trying to get the most flavor and aroma we can out of this, I decided to divide the one pound of hops designated to the whirlpool into thirds. One third would go in after lowering the temp to 170, the next third at 140, and the last third at 120. I put the hop pellets in a hop filter that hangs over the side of the kettle and kept stirring them with a paint stirrer attached to a drill. By the time I added the second round, the brewhouse smelled like a strawberry patch. Holy shit, this is going to be good! I got the whirlpool down to 100, which took probably 40 minutes, and then ran the wort through my heat exchanger down to 68 on the way to the fermenter. You see, I think it’s very important that the hops “experience” all of the temperatures on the way down. There are so many different flavors and aromas that are extracted at these lower temperatures, and it’s important for the hops to spend some time hanging out. You’d be surprised at how hops can really take on a different attitude at various lower temperatures. Ask me about my Czech’s in the Pale experiment, where I used low alpha Saaz hops, but used only late additions at less than boiling temps one day. To be continued…

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