Friday, March 1, 2013

History, Mystery and Hops

The title of this post sounds like a kids show.


I can easily find that on July 12, 1880, Whitbread used 2.09 pounds of hop in their X ale. I can check the 1901 Amsdell records to see that they used only "new" hops in their Diamond Stock Ales at the turn of the century. I can take this research all the way back to Matthew Vassar's 1830s, and see that he purchased his hops from a grower—among others—named Taylor.

What I can't see is how any of these hops were actually used when it came time to make the beer.

By modern standards, hopping additions noted in the recipe, is essential information. Looking at a modern beer recipe, your going to see how much of what type of hop was added at what time during the boil. This hasn't always been the case. As thorough as antique and historic logs are, there seems to be a universal omission of the "whens" and "how much" as they pertained to hops. There seems to be everything else mentioned, just not the technical aspect of the hops*. What's also interesting about this phenomenon is that it happened in both the United States and in the U.K.

There are plenty of anecdotal clues to hop additions. In an email exchange with Alan this week he reminded me that some of the Albany noted in there 1835 New York State Senate testimony, to only using the "...palest of hops..."so as to not end-up with green-tinted beer. He surmises that those pale hops were need because it was not unusual for 19th-century brewers to boil there gyles for an hour-and-a-half or two, and sometimes even three hours—basically the longer the hops boil, there greener the beer. However, you might also choose pale hops if you were using upwards of ten pounds of hops per barrel, which wasn't totally unheard of in 19th-century British brewing.

Historic brewing publications and manuals are rife with information about when to add hops. A simple search of "hop additions" on Shut up About Barclay Perkins reveals multiple entries from books written during both the 19th and 20th century—some as early as the 1840s—clearly stating a number of ways to go about adding hops. That information however, is still missing from the actual written recipes. Therein lies the rub. We know that brewers of the past knew that adding specific amounts of hops at certain times during the boil affected the beer, yet that information never makes it into the logs. It's the beery equivalent of compiling a list of addresses, but not including the postal code.

Truthfully, I don't have the foggiest reason why.

Fortunately, this lack of data does give the modern brewer a bit of leeway, when it comes to re-creating historic brews. Since there isn't anything specific to go by, then the modern brewer or home brewer can add there own personal spin on antique recipes when it comes to hopping their brews—just ask Ron and Dann. Most of the old logs do note hop amounts, and I've noticed when reading old beer recipes, is that enormous quantities of hops were used—far more than you would see today, even in the happiest of hop bombs. Following the notated hop amount in historic logs, sometimes results in brews with IBU levels in the 130 and 140 ranges.

Take that Heady Topper.

There are a few thing to keep in mind when hopping these re-creations. Firstly—modern noble hops, Golding and Cluster varieties range in alpha acids between 3.5 to 6-ish%. If these hops—which can be traced back to at east the 19th century—are any indication of the strength of historic hops, then it stands to reason that other heirloom hops weren't particularly strong, either. As a point of fact, Bailey—of, mentioned just the other day, that he was reading an article—written as late as 1969—that noted, as hop utilization increased, overall demand for hops dropped, in the U.K.

It also wasn't uncommon for 19th and early 20th century brewers to use year-old, two-year old and sometimes three-year old hops. In fact, when you see the term fresh or new hops in 19th century records, those terms mean hops from the previous years harvest. So, if you were brewing in May, your "fresh" hops were harvested and dried the previous September, then sent to you in a barrel or bound in a bale—by the time you used them, they were nine months old. I'm going to assume that they were probably not refrigerated, either—especially before 1880. Just like the spices in your kitchen, hops loose their potency with age, but brewers were never going to throw away perfectly good, dried hops that could still give-up some bitterness, even if they were three-years old. Waste not want not.

Personally—when making a historic beer—to compensate for age degradation, I reduce the hop amount by 25-50%, depending on the era from which the beer was made. For earlier beers, I reduce by a greater amount, and for more modern beers I reduce by, usually, a quarter. As far as the additions themselves, I have no rule of thumb. I simply adjust the times and amount to what seems like would compliment the malt, adjuncts and sugars most pleasingly.

All said and done, I think one of the reasons I'm drawn to historic brewing is because of the gaps in hop information. That missing data gives me the chance to think like one of Fuller's brewers in 1875, or those at Amsdell in 1904. I've had the malt quantity, and the gravities, and fermentation durations laid out for me by a nameless scribe from a hundred and fifty years ago, but the hops—those "palest of hops"—are mine all mine, to do with as I see fit.

They're my little connections to a time gone by.

*Ron will tell you, that there is a notable exception to this—perpetrated by his beloved Barclay Perkins who, during the 1920s, lovingly annotated their logs with plenty of information about hoppy "whens" and the "how much." 


  1. Wound't it also make sense to age whole hops when planning a series of revival beers? I don't think it is quite the entire picture to say that potency is lost so much as characteristics change. Old hops give a great, if different, characteristic to beers that reducing volumn alone will not necessarily capture.

  2. That's it! A new business model. A heritage vintage hop aging facility serving the needs of a few key buyers and brewers. It can happen.

  3. It's a bit of a niche market, but really, how could it fail?

  4. Could it be, could it just be that the "when" isn't mentioned because it was self-evident? Hops were all, or almost all, thrown in at the beginning of the boil, or weren't they?

    1. Not necessarily, Here's an excerpt from "The Scottish Ale Brewer", written by W.H. Roberts in 1847 (taken from Ron's blog)

      "Our practice in brewing, from January to March, was, to allow ten pounds of hops per quarter of malt, when the wort was from 95 to 100 of specific gravity. Four pounds of the hops were put into the copper when the wort was about 200° of heat, and boiled briskly for the space of twenty minutes; the remaining six pounds were then added, and allowed to boil thirty or forty minutes, according to circumstances. If the gravity of the wort was from 85 to 90, we only made use of eight instead of ten pounds of hops per quarter, boiling four pounds for fifteen minutes, and the remaining four pounds from forty to fifty minutes, as mentioned above. But if the gravity of the wort was only from 70 to 80, seven pounds a quarter only were employed. Two pounds of these were boiled for twenty minutes, and the remaining five pounds put in and boiled for forty or fifty minutes, as before."

      That's a fairly complicated system to not be noted in the recipe—especially when everything else is logged. As I said, brewers new that adding different amounts of hop at different time affected the brew, but explanations, like this, pop up in manuals and book, but rarely in the logs themselves.

    2. Aha.... forget I've said anything then...

  5. While hops not have been refirgerarted, they were kept cool. It took me ages to figure out what C.S. after hop entries meant. I eventually realised it meant "Cold Store", that is hops that had been stored cool. Based on figures that I have from between the wars, there was very little deterioration of hops stored this way.

    The alpha acid content Fuggle's kept in a cold store for 14 months dropped from 6.28% to 5.84%. The alpha acid in Fuggle's stored for 14 months in a warehouse, on the other hand, fell from 6.67% to 3.48% ("Brewing Science & Practice" H. Lloyd Hind, 1943, page 349).

    1. What's the earliest CS notation you've seen? The numbers from HInd range from a 7% loss to nearly 50% loss.

  6. As with Craig's point above- most modern resources I am aware of show a pretty steep drop off in AA/bittering potential- though it also levels off pretty quickly. I think there's a table in Stan's book which illustrates it well.

    To Alan's point- indeed, old hops aren't just less bitter, they're often described as cheesy which makes sense as their oils oxidise and become rancid. While I know old hops are traditionally critical in lambic production, I am not sure the old hops flavor would please the modern palate if their flavor or aroma properties were well-expressed. That said, if they're mainly used for bittering, it might not matter much.

    Craig, I have some pretty well-aged hops if you want them for any prototyping!

  7. Lots of interest questions arise from the post and comments.
    .. at the risk of stating the obvious, much is found about the oxidation of hops in chapter 07 of Stan Hieronymus' 'For the Love of hops'
    .. the topic of 'cold or cool storage' bring to mind that 19th century Colorado Territory immigrant braumeisters imported aroma hops from Germany and Bohemia. It is possible these hops were shipped cool but is that likely? Ditto re later shipment of hops from California to Colorado.

    I checked digitized [ucblibraries] Sanborn fire insurance maps of the historic Boulder, Colorado, brewery.[1883, 86, 90, 95, et cetera] to no available. Hops storage is not identified. But, the Ice House and Beer Cellar accounts for >1/3 of the brewhouse; so, cool storage seems more logical than not.