Craft Brewers Embrace Hop Extracts - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Craft Brewers Embrace Hop Extracts

hop extracts
Lupulin, or hop oils, are found inside the fresh hop cone. | Photo by Emma Janzen

In recent years, fresh hops have become synonymous with craft beer. But recently, an increasing number of craft brewers have been countering the whole leaf dried hops and working with hop extracts—the lupulin and oils from the hop, separated from the whole cone. “Hop extract has been used for decades by many major brewers worldwide, primarily for bittering beer, but brewers are now recognizing the possibilities of using hop extracts for flavoring their beers beyond just bittering,” says Tim Kostelecky, Hops & Brewing Technical Specialist for John I. Haas, Inc. The on-site hop extraction facility was installed at Haas in 1992; today they transform about 15 million pounds of hops into extracts every year. “To give some perspective, that’s enough to bitter about 45 billion 12-ounce bottles of international-style lager beer to 20 IBU,” says Kostelecky.

After hops go through the CO2 extraction process (Haas’ process is proprietary), the extract comes out gooey like molasses. When smelled straight off the line, a distinct hop character lingers in the aroma, but it’s darker—not the typical vegetal smack you get from the whole cone. Kostelecky says new generations of brewers are coming around to the idea of using hop extracts because unlike artificial flavorings, these extracts are simply a different form of the same raw material. “Craft brewers have long held to the creed of minimum processing of the raw materials that go into their beer, but they’ve recently become aware that CO2 serves only as a medium to physically separate the aromatic oils and bittering resins from the hops with no further processing,” he says. “CO2 extraction is really just an elaborate method of ‘squeezing’ the important stuff from the hops.”

Brewers like Matt Gallagher from Half Acre agree that the reputation of extracts is quickly changing among craft brewers. “When we started brewing 10 years ago, [hop extracts] were generalized as something large breweries that only care about cost use. They were thought of as a cheap alternative to whole leaf and pellets,” he says. “That stigma is now gone, and as more breweries find unique ways to incorporate hop extracts into their beers, they’ve become more accepted.” Half Acre uses extracts for bittering and to decrease the amount of plant material in the brewery. Kostelecky says hop extracts are about four times as concentrated as pellets, which reduces shipping costs as well as storage requirements, creating more room to brew beer. They also use extract late in the cycle to add more intense hop flavor, aroma and mouthfeel, Gallagher says.

Exract gets added to the kettle at Block 15 Brewing. | Photo by Seth Steiling.
Extract is added to the kettle at Block 15 Brewing. | Photo by Seth Steiling.

In Corvallis, Oregon, Block 15 Brewing uses extract in combination with pellets, dried cones or sometimes LupuLN2 power to strike a perfect balance of flavor and aroma. Brewer Nick Arzner says Block 15 has been using extracts for about six years. “For hop-forward beers where we’re focusing on big hop flavor, we’ve played a lot with moving variety-specific extract toward the end of the boil. This not only increases efficiency but lends character to the beer that is different than pellet hops.”

Jeremy Kosmicki of Founders Brewing points to other benefits. “Extracts store incredibly well,” he says. “They don’t require refrigeration and have a shelf life that is many years longer than a pellet or especially whole leaf. And though there’s a fee that comes with the extraction process, the amount of extra beer recovered from each batch that is normally lost to absorption by the vegetative component of the hops will easily pay for those costs and much more.”

Kosmicki also says it’s often hard to tell the if a beer is made with extract. “We definitely did our due diligence and compiled a lot of sensory panel results before we completely committed to making hop extracts a part of our process,” Kosmicki says. “We found that the beers with extract were generally indistinguishable from the beers with pellets, save for some of our more trained palates who commented that the hop profile, particularly the bitterness portion, had a cleaner and smoother impact.”

Will extracts ever be used in craft brewing as much as they are in macro brewing, and if so, could that be a point of concern? Arzner says, “As long as we use extracts to push our craft forward, I don’t believe there’s a risk.”

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