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Tips for Your 2020 Learn to Homebrew Day

by | Nov 6, 2020

Contributed by Denny Conn from Experimental Homebrewing.

Keeping the Homebrew Community Spirit Alive

Learn to Homebrew Day was established by the American Homebrewers Association in 1999 to help promote the hobby of homebrewing by having experienced brewers teach others how to brew. It was originally a time for homebrewers to gather, share tips and beers, and experience the camaraderie that comes from homebrewing.

Like so many other things, this year’s event will be a bit different. This year, new brewers will be on their own in some ways, but the camaraderie will still be there. Many clubs are hosting online brewing sessions, so you can watch and interact with other homebrewers. And there’s nothing to stop you from putting your own session online!

If you decide to brew, the first thing to do is sign up at the American Homebrewers Association website. There you’ll also find this year’s official recipe, Mad Jack’s Hoppy Amber Ale, devised by Annie Johnson and Tony Oschner. It’s available in both extract and all grain versions. I don’t know for a fact, but given that both Annie and Tony hail from the Seattle area, it’s a pretty good guess that it’s a takeoff on Mac and Jack’s Amber Ale, a Pacific Northwest staple for many years. Of course, if you want to brew some other recipe, like I am, feel free! The point is to just brew, let others know about it, and share the experience and advice.

Dry Hopping Tips

This year’s recipe uses some real PNW classics for hops, Centennial and Cascade. I mean, who doesn’t like Centennial and Cascade? And if you don’t, don’t tell me! The recipe calls for dry hopping with Cascades, so let’s dive into that topic as you plan your Learn to Homebrew Brew Day!

The traditional method of dry hopping was to put the dry hops into the beer for a couple weeks at room temperature. But recent study by Tom Shellhammer of Oregon State University and Scott Janish of Sapwood Cellars Brewery have brought to light new methods that, while seemingly unorthodox, produce outstanding results.

The idea is to dry hop at cold temperatures for periods as short as 48 hours. The idea is that maximum oils can be extracted in as little as 6 hours and past that you get little additional extraction. In addition, with long contact times the oils can actually start being reabsorbed by the hops, while harsh polyphenols are extracted. That’s the source of the infamous “hop burn” in so many NEIPAs. Some hop oils may also decrease more over time than others. You can learn more about some of the data that supports these findings as well as other tips in YCH’s Virtual Harvest session, “Dry Hopping Best Practices.” 

Like probably a lot of you, I was skeptical when I first read about the technique, but I decided to give it a try. It blew me away. I’ve brewed 573 batches in the last 23 years and many, many of them were west coast style IPA. I thought I had tried about every technique to get the maximum aroma and flavor from my dry hops, but this was a new level. Forward, intense, long lasting and smooth. Just what I look for in dry hops.

My method has become this…after fermentation I cold crash the beer to 35F. I use conical fermenters, but you can use a temp controlled chest freezer, a fridge, or just put the beer out in a cold garage. The exact temp isn’t crucial but get it as cold as you can short of freezing. After about 3 days at 35F, I dump the trub from conical (if you’re not using a conical, don’t worry about it), then add the dry hops. 48 hours later I keg the beer. I have let them sit as long as 72 hours, but didn’t feel like there was much gained by the extra day.

Credit: Wolfe, Peter H.; Thesis: “A Study of Factors Affecting the Extraction of Flavor When Dry Hopping,” pgs51-53.

Another thing I’ve been experimenting with is crushing the hop pellets before I use them. During another one of the sessions at this year’s Yakima Chief Hops Virtual Harvest, someone had mentioned that as a way of getting maximum extraction from the hops. I’ve tried it a couple times so far, and while I haven’t done side by side brews both with and without crushing, my initial tests indicate that it’s a viable technique.

So, when you dry hop your LTHB Day beer, give this a try. I hope you’ll be as excited about it as I am.  Your beer and your mouth will thank you.