Ask the Experts
Homebrew expert Brad Smith, author of the Beersmith homebrewing software and the voice behind the Beersmith podcast, tackles questions about buying hops in bulk, multistep mashes, and the differences in filters.
Some of my club members are doing a bulk buy of hops. What is the best way to break them up and store them, and how long will they last?
You can certainly save some money by buying hops in bulk, especially if you have a few friends who can split the purchase. The downside, of course, is what to do with several pounds of hops you may not be able to use immediately.
The first thing you want to remember is that heat, light, and oxygen are all enemies of fresh hops. Heat and direct sunlight will break down many of the chemicals in hops more rapidly, both reducing their alphaacid content and impacting their flavor. Oxygen accelerates the aging process, as well, which is why you find most commercial hops packaged now in foil barrier packages that are often purged with an inert gas such as nitrogen. The form of hops also matters. Whole-leaf hops, being loose and more exposed to oxygen, will not fare as well as pellet hops, which are compressed.
In an ideal world, you want to store your bulk hops in oxygen-purged, foil-lined packages at freezing temperatures. In reality, you’ll likely have to break up and repackage your bulk hops to use in individual batches and to share with friends.
The best method for preparing your hops for storage is to use a vacuum-sealing machine; they are available for food storage at many home-goods stores. Some even work with foil and polyester film (e.g., Mylar) pouches. If you don’t have access to such a device, you want to get as close as you can. For example, you can purchase small polyester film pouches, add a prepackaged desiccant to each pouch to reduce the oxygen and moisture and then seal it. Even plastic freezer bags offer some protection, if you take care to remove as much oxygen as possible. Store these in the freezer to minimize the degradation that light and heat will cause over time.
How long your hops will last is determined by something called the Hop Storage Index (HSI), which varies by hops variety
as well as by the temperature and packaging you use. The HSI measures the percentage of alpha acids lost in six months if the hops are stored at 68°F (20°C). From the HSI, you can use software or an online tool to estimate your alpha loss over time, but in practice, if you package, freeze, and store the hops properly, most varieties will last a year or more.
I have a few older brewing books that recommend multistep mashes. What is the purpose of doing extra steps in the mash?
Multistep mashes are not commonly done anymore, and most all-grain brewers now use a single step, called the saccharification step, with the main conversion taking place in roughly the 148–156°F (64–69°C) temperature range. The reality is that most modern barley malts simply don’t need the additional steps.
Multistep mashes, including steps such as acid rest and protein rest, were once used to help lower the mash ph and create the enzymes needed to help break down sugars in the malt during the main conversion step. Before the development of modern malt science, malted barley, including base malts, often were not fully modified, which means that they lacked sufficient enzymes to convert the malt. These “undermodified” malts often required additional lower-temperature mash steps that would develop the enzymes needed for mashing.
Malting science has come a long way in the past 30 to 40 years, so virtually all malts you can purchase today are highly modified, meaning they have more than enough enzymes needed for the conversion step. In fact, you need to specifically seek out an undermodified malt if you want one for some reason.
You can find out the enzyme content by
looking up the “diastatic power” of your malt on the malt’s 1 data TO sheet. Most 7 of the enzymes come from your base malt, and you only need to be concerned about additional steps if you are using a very large portion of non-barley or undermodified base malt in your beer. For the vast majority of barley-based beers, a single-step mash is sufficient.
I’m considering purchasing some kind of filter system for my beer. What type of filter should I use, and how is filtering best done?
Often you can achieve mature, clear beer without filtering if you have the time available to let natural processes work. However, in a commercial environment, brewers frequently filter the beer to reduce the time needed for their beer to clear so they can get it to market more quickly, as time is money. They also want to remove the yeast from the beer before bottling to avoid shelf-stability issues.
At a homebrew level, filtering is best done between two kegs. Most homebrewing filters are inline filters you set in the transfer line between the two kegs. The
CO2 beer is forced using pressure from the source keg through the filter and into a clean destination keg. You can filter a 5-gallon (19 l) keg in as little as 10 to 15 minutes, which is a quick way to get your beer cleared.
There are several different types of filters available. I recommend staying away from simple water filters because many are not really sized or designed to handle beer yeast and sediment. Ceramic and carbon water filters can also alter the flavor of your beer. Most homebrewing filters are single-use paper filters designed with either a canister or plate layout. Of the two, I prefer the plate-style filters because they offer a wide surface area and are less prone to clogging. Although the paper filters are generally single use, you can filter multiple batches on the same day with one set of filters if you plan ahead.
Perhaps as important as the filter layout is the filter size. To remove all yeast and sediment from the beer, you generally need to go down to 1 micron in size. However a 1-micron filter is also prone to rapid clogging. To solve this problem, the best idea is to use a two-stage filter with a coarse 3- to 5-micron filter at the first stage and a finer 1-micron filter at the second stage.
Before using a filter, you want to sanitize it—along with the hoses— properly and run some clean plain water through it to flush it. This is also useful because some units are prone to leaks, and you want to resolve any leaks before filtering your beer. I also recommend filtering your beer cold if possible. Chill haze in beer is the result of small molecules that bind at lower temperature, so cold filtering your beer will remove more of this haze.
Filtering is not for everyone. As I said at the beginning, you can accomplish the same results in most cases by simply giving your beer additional time, but when you don’t have the time and want your beer cleared quickly, filtering is a good option.