First wort hopping (FWH) is a German brewing technique that gives the beer great depth of hop character, reduces harshness, and even produces a more intense hop aroma.
The method is performed by letting the hops steep in the kettle as it is brought to a boil.
I started out on my FWH journey by visiting my local homebrew store,The Brew Hut, which is part of Dry Dock Brewing Company. Dry Dock won the best small brewer award at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. The head brewer told me that FWH is indeed a great technique that the Germans have been using for years. Germany knows how to brew, and so does Dry Dock, so I was sold on the method.
As more evidence, I came across this article which describes the process and the results of a tasting panel where 11 out of 12 people preferred the FWH beer vs. a non-FHW beer in a blind tasting. They described the FWH beers as having:
“a fine, unobtrusive hop aroma; a more harmonic beer; a more uniform bitterness.”
Guidelines for First Wort Hopping
- Use your finishing (flavor and aroma) hops for FWH. Place them in the boil kettle before collecting the wort from the mash tun. Let them steep as the kettle fills and leave them in there throughout the boil.
- Use at least 30% of your hops for FWH.
- Use lower alpha acid or noble hops for FWH. The guys at Dry Dock confirmed that Cascade hops were a great choice for my American Pale Ale.
My American Pale Ale has a hop character that I haven’t achieved in previous attempts at the style, so I’m very happy with the first wort hopping results. Below is my American Pale Ale recipe.
American Pale Ale Recipe – All-Grain
Batch Size: 5.25 gallons
Original Gravity: 1.056
Final Gravity: 1.010
10 lbs American Pale Ale
.5 lbs Crystal 40L
.5 lbs Crystal 20L
.5 lbs Victory
.5 lbs Munich 10L
Mash at 154 degrees for 60 minutes.
1 oz. Cascade (First Wort Hops)
.75 oz. Simcoe (60 min)
.5 oz. Centennial (10 min)
.5 oz. Centennial (0 min)
Yeast: WLP001 California Ale Yeast
Malt Extract Recipe
Replace the 10 lbs. of pale ale malt with 7 lbs of pale liquid extract. Replace the .5 lbs. of Munich malt with .25 lbs of Munich liquid extract. Steep the rest of the grains for 30 minutes at 150 degrees.
For the first wort hopping with malt extract, Randy Mosher offers advice in his great book Radical Brewing, “The best thing would be to simmer 1/3 of your hop additions with 1/2 gallon of water with a dollop of extract added for about 1/2 hour, then add the rest of the ingredients and brew as usual.”
I haven’t tried FWH with extract, but I recommend steeping the 1 oz of Cascades along with 8 oz of extract in 1/2 gallon of water at 150 degrees. That will give you close to the gravity of wort that you would get with all-grain before the boil. Then add the 1/2 gallon to the rest of your wort as it heats up to a boil. I’d love to hear how this technique works out for extract brewers.
Have you tried First Wort Hopping?