A Beer On A (Secret) Mission

A few weeks back, one of my fellow home brew club members asked me what was probably intended to be a quick casual question.

“Ever tried first wort hopping?”, Ben asked me.

Umm, no. Sort of familiar with the concept, but never done it, not even sure of all the technical aspects. Half an hour of online searches, blog readings, and forum discussions later, I had a recipe.

Now, the idea of FWH is primarily reserved for beers like Pilsners, apparently, but more and more brewers, home- and otherwise, are finding that it adds to many different beer styles. In a nutshell, you add a certain percentage of your hops (usually the late-addition flavoring hops) to the wort as it comes out of the mash-tun, well before the boil. Instead of boiling the hops and extracting bitterness and flavor that way, you let it soak at a lower temperature, creating different isomers and (in theory) preserving flavors and aromas that would otherwise be broken down and boiled away.

Well, if we’re talking bitterness, hop flavor and aroma, that says to me: IPA. So instead of trying for a late-season Pilsner, I opted for an English IPA. No idea if I did it right, but we’ll find out down the road. Here’s how it went.

Her Majesty’s Secretly Served Ale
5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 9 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. 30°L crystal malt
  • 1 oz. whole East Kent Goldings hops (@5% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Fuggles hops (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. UK Challenger hop pellets (@7.8% aa)
  • White Labs Dry English Ale yeast (WLP007)
  • 1 oz. whole Bramling Cross hops
  • 2 oz. “heavy toast” oak chips
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in crushed grains, hold 75 minutes at 155°F. Heat another 14 quarts water to 172°F. Place Goldings and Fuggles hops (in mesh bags) in kettle. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling, removing hops at about 180° (but at least before boil begins). Boil 30 minutes, add Challenger hops. Boil 30 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, pour into a sanitized fermenter. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (70°F) for 8 to 10 days. Steam oak chips for ten minutes (in a vegetable steamer), bake on a cookie sheet at 350°F for ten minutes, then place in the bottom of a sanitized fermenter. Add Bramling Cross hops. Rack beer onto oak and dry hops. Age warm (75 – 80°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar and bottle. Condition cool (45 – 50°F) for four to six weeks.

OG: 1062
IBU’s: 58 (est. based on 10% less utilisation for FWH addition… but I don’t know effectively how to calculate this!)

Notes on style: This is an English IPA. It is light golden in color, not amber like an American IPA. It will finish at about 6% abv, comparatively lower in alcohol than its American cousin. The hops are English, the yeast is English. Not an extreme beer, but a balanced, mellow, kinder, gentler beer. Shaken, not stirred… Dry-hopped and oaked to (hopefully) duplicate the legendary flavor of those beers shipped to India through the tropics and the antipodes…

Alternate brew: Partial mash brewers can do the exact same procedure, of course, but extract brewers may find it a bit more challenging. Here’s what I would do. Assuming you add your extracts to the kettle after bringing the water to a boil, I would let the wort cool back down to 150°F or so after adding the extracts, placing the first wort hops in the kettle and steeping them (with no additional heat) for about 30 minutes. Remove the hops and proceed to boil as usual.

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