While it’s most common to boil the hops or “dry hop” by adding them to fermenter, there’s another technique of adding hop aromas to your brew called First Wort Hopping. Hops are many homebrewers’ favorite ingredient. Aromas of citrus, pine, resin are unique, pleasing at first smell, and somewhat addictive. Once you get the hophead bug, it’s hard to turn back! Some brewers claim the first wort hopping provides a better overall hop profile than the typical bittering, flavor, and aroma additions.
Let’s investigate what first wort hopping is all about:
What is First Wort Hopping?
First wort hopping is a technique which involves pouring the runnings from a mash over hops. This is usually done by taking some or all of the finishing hops and adding them to the kettle as hot wort runs into it.
Some brewers claim that first wort hopping (FWH) improves the aromatic hops qualities in the finished beer. Marty Nachel points out that “In fact, one study among professional brewers determined that the use of FWH resulted in a more refined hop aroma, a more uniform bitterness (i.e. no harsh tones), and a more harmonious beer overall compared to an identical beer produced without FWH.”
But how does first wort hopping work?
According to John Palmer, “The aromatic oils are normally insoluble and tend to evaporate to a large degree during the boil. By letting the hops steep in the wort prior to the boil, the oils have more time to oxidize to more soluble compounds and a greater percentage are retained during the boil.”
In other words, the pre-boil steep helps to keep aromatic oils in the wort. Palmer recommends using only low alpha-acid hops for first wort hopping and at least 30% of the recipe’s hops for this addition.
As Bradley Smith of BeerSmith points out, there’s a lot of debate surrounding first wort hopping and its effect on beer. The best thing to do is try it out and decide whether or not it works for you.
- Since most homebrew recipes only call for 2-4 oz. it may require a digital scale to weigh out the 30% or so of hops used for first wort hopping.
- Use low alpha-acid hops, such as the noble hops for first wort hopping. These usually have a best aromatic qualities.
- First wort hopping is mostly a technique for all-grain brewers, but that shouldn’t keep extract or partial mash brewers from giving it a shot. Either make a “hop tea” while heating water for adding extracts, or steep the hops at the same time as steeping specialty grains. It’s an experiment, so take notes on the results and decide for yourself whether the technique works or not.
Have you used first wort hopping in your homebrews? How did it turn out? Share in the comments below!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.