Boost Your Hop Flavor with this Simple German Brewing Technique

by Billy Broas



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

Estimated Stats
Batch Size: 5.25 gallons
Efficiency: 72%
Original Gravity: 1.056
Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 5.6%
IBU: 32

Grain Bill
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.

Hop Schedule
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?

Did You Enjoy This Post?

Subscribe to get free updates. Note this is not the newsletter, but blog updates only.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Big Tex August 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Well, I just ran out of homebrew (oh the horror!), and need to brew again soon. (American Amber/Red… with higher than average Munich malt in the grist) I’ve got the goods, just need to do it. But this technique has me rethinking my recipe… slightly. I was intending to dry hop in the keg this time. I hadn’t previously done that, and a local brewery (Diamond Knot) reportedly used to do likewise on their DIPA. Man, it has a wonderful aroma!

Now I’m thinking about doing a first wort addition too. Can you describe the character that you believe FWH gave to your Pale Ale?

Reply

The Fledgling Brewer August 31, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Yet another great video Billy. I’ve never tried first-wort hopping, though I had read about it. Will have to give it a whirl sometime soon.

Reply

Adam August 31, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Billy: Was that dry-hopped APA the one you sent me earlier this month for winning your contest?

Reply

Gumps August 31, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for posting for the Malt extract brewers. I’m going to try the FWH on my next extract brew. Is it embarassing that I still brew from extract after 6 years?

Reply

Tim B August 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Another great write-up and video! That is a great looking recipe also! This is something that I have been wanting to try for a while, but have not been able to decide on a recipe. I honeslty do not like Cascade hops, but I wonder if I use them for this recipe, if I will change my mind??? lol

Thanks Billy!!!

Reply

Chris Starr August 31, 2010 at 10:19 pm

1st wort hopping a saison lite is on my schedule… strissel spalt hops are a so good low alpha noble… if I can bring more of that “nose” through the beer I’ll be SO happy! was going to dry hop it but if I can get that blended through out… WOW!

Reply

Billy Broas August 31, 2010 at 11:54 pm

@Big Tex I’d recommend doing the FWH on its own without the dry hopping the first time. It’d be easy to confuse the effects of the two so this way you can judge the FWH on its own merits. The pale ale has a very smooth bitterness to it, which I really enjoy. It also has a noticeable depth and complexity to the hop flavor. Get that pipeline filled!

@FledglingBrewer Thanks man. Let me know how it works out for you.

@Adam Sure was. How was it? Do I even want to know?

@Gumps Malt extract can make fantastic beer. I read something like 70% of brewers are extract brewers. No shame! You do need a new siphon tube though lol.

@Tim B Thanks Tim. I think you can try this with a wide range of hops. My advice is pick your favorite and go to town. I want to try noble hops next time on a wheat beer, and then maybe Amarillo for an American Ale.

@Chris Never used strisselspalt but that beer sounds like a perfect place to give FWH a shot. I’d guess you’d get similar qualities to dry hopping but see more effect in the flavor and bitterness. The great thing is about FWH is how easy it is. Beats dry hopping!

Reply

Chris Starr September 1, 2010 at 12:37 am

Next time you do a Belgian of any sort TRY STRISSELSPALT! It’s A Great hop! I may even move it over to a American steam or Pale for aroma or now FWH!

Reply

Big Tex September 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I believe a brew pub here in the Seattle are (Big E Ales) is an extract brewer. Something about the needed real estate for the all-grain equipment and grain silo. They produce some good stuff. Tried something called a “cream-sicle” from them a while back. Used some vanilla and orange peel. Great for dessert.

Reply

Adam September 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm

@Billy: The APA you sent was delicious. I can attest to the great hop flavor and aroma that came from your first-wort hopping.

Reply

Jimmie The Mum September 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Man I’m learning so much.
Thanks nephew..

Reply

jagoffbrewer September 1, 2010 at 11:10 pm

how does this compare to adding hops during the mash? i have heard it providing similar affects but haven’t tried it.

Reply

Kyle M September 2, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Awesome. Going to try it with cascade hops for my next american amber ale and maybe a lower mash temp for a drier finish. Thanks for ever expanding my homebrewing skills.

Reply

Billy Broas September 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm

@Chris Now you really got me interested in them. They’re going on the shopping list.

@BigTex I was surprised when I learned how many commercial breweries brew from extract. There was a tiny one back in VA that did it. The beer wasn’t so great, but having the big drums of extract allowed them to also act as a homebrew store and brew on premise. I don’t attribute the quality of the beer to the extract through. I’ve tasted better extract homebrews that their products, like those from Gumps. Sounds like the one you mentioned makes good stuff too.

@Adam Wow thanks man. I’m really glad you liked it, and since I can be pretty biased about my own brews it’s great to have someone else’s opinion.

@Jimmie I try ; ) If I only knew as much about beer as you know about cigars…

@jagoffbrewer I had the same question when I heard about this. I haven’t tried mash hopping either, but also heard it provides similar effects. That’s a good idea for a new video actually. Maybe making the same recipe, but with mash hopping instead of FWH. Good idea! To answers your question I did some looking around and found this thread: http://www.thebrewingnetwork.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=&t=14337

The people who have done both seem to favor FWH. They say the conditions in the wort vs mash (pH & temp) are better to extract the hop flavors, which makes sense. Let me know if you try either one and how it turns out. Thanks for the great question.

@Kyle That sounds like a good plan. I’m always looking to improve my brews and for this recipe I may lower the mash temp, but I mainly need to ferment it cooler. It has too much yeasty flavor for my liking.

Definitely stop back in and tell us how it works out, and you’re welcome for the homebrew ninja advice ; )

Reply

DanPlante September 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Great video. I will be using this technique on my next brew. Not sure what I will be doing but it will involve First wort hopping!!!!! Thanks for the great info

Reply

Roscoe December 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I have only brewed extracts and I’m interested in the FWH technique, it sounds great, but also sounds like it wouldn’t work. I love the hop flavor and aroma and as you said, it would seem to only provide bitterness. Should anyone try this with an extract, please post the results.
Billy, you mention brewing with Amarillo, I only have a few left of one that I brewed with Amarillo (called Funky Armadillo) and it was my favorite so far, I am about to brew it again! It uses 1oz for flavor and 1oz for dry hopping, would you try FWH with the dry hops and leave the flavor hops in place, or what? This recipe used 1oz of Magnum for bittering hops. Dry hopping makes it tougher to get clear beer as it can stay to the top of the carboy until it gets disturbed and some of it sinks and get siphoned in the bottling bucket. What do you think?

Reply

Billy Broas December 29, 2010 at 10:17 pm

@Roscoe It really does sound counter intuitive. You would think having the hops in there for the whole boil would provide bitterness, but by some magic I don’t fully understand, they don’t. If you’re doing extract give it a try following the instructions at the bottom of this post. I think doing that mini batch while steeping the hops would give you the same effect.

For your Amarillo recipe, you could try shifting the dry hops to a first wort hop. It’s tough to predict the exact out come which is why I always preach experimenting til you get it right. Also, for siphoning the wort without pulling through the dry hops, you could always put the hops in a hop bag and dry hop that way. Or alternatively, when you siphon tie a hop bag around the siphon so it acts as a filter. Good luck!

Reply

BRep January 5, 2011 at 12:25 am

Thanks for the tip. I just finished brewing an extract bohemian pilsner (saaz hops) using the technique at the bottom of the article. Unfortunately, I don’t have a control to compare it with, but I’m anxious to taste the results nonetheless.

Reply

Billy Broas January 5, 2011 at 10:42 am

@BRep Hey cool to hear you tried the technique. That’s a good style to try it with. Definitely stop back and let us know how it turned out. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

BRep February 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm

UPDATE: Firstly, I found out later that I had ordered a Dutch Pilsner recipe instead of Bohemian Pilsner. I don’t think it makes a huge difference for the purposes of testing out FWH. The beer is excellent, really good flavor and aroma. However, I think it is a little more bitter than it should be. It’s not overpowering bitterness and if anything it adds some character to the beer, but it is noticeably more bitter than your typical Dutch Pilsner (also noticeably less skunked than your typical Dutch Pilsner). If I do it again I’ll probably scale back the amount of FWH hops a little and see how it turns out.

Reply

Billy Broas February 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Hey thanks for coming back and giving your feedback. Good to hear it came out excellent. As for the bitterness, it could be the amount of hops, but also look into your water chemistry. If the water (and mash pH) isn’t just right then it’s hard to nail the style. You could have extracted some astringency which gives the perception of unpleasant bitterness.

Reply

Paul August 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I want to try making a pale ale using the FWH method. I have 2oz. of cascade hops and 3oz. of fuggle hops,and my nearest beer store worth its weight is 75 miles away. I would be making a 5 gallon batch, do you have an idea on using these to do the deed.

Thank You

Reply

Billy Broas August 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I think you could do a pretty similar hop to what I posted above. Do an ounce of Cascade for the FWH and then do a 60, 10, and 0 addition. I’m not a big fan of Fuggle so I would probably only use the Cascade, or use the Fuggle only for bittering. If you like the flavor though you can use them later in the boil. Hope that helps.

Reply

starrfish August 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm

doing a session saison AGAIN! 1 oz low alpha strissle spalt in FWH! wow brings up earth hop in final! highly recommend!

Reply

Billy Broas August 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Good to hear from you Chris. It’s been a while since I’ve done a saison and I need to brew soon. Good timing my friend.

Reply

starrfish August 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Really makes a difference on a session saison! Not so much on a full big saison… but pull it back to a hot brewed session, and wow earthy raisin is enhanced by the FWH strissel spalt! may take this camping in a keg in october! Unless she goes over 6.5% then we get nuts! (+ our daily rum drinks) If I get good efficency it could happen with current SC temps & wyeast 3711!

Reply

Paul October 5, 2011 at 3:05 am

I tried the FWH with a dollup of extract as prescribed, it turned out awesome. Best batch I have made.

Thank you

Paul

Reply

Billy Broas October 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

Paul, it’s great to get feedback on the dollup method. Happy to hear it turned out so well.

Reply

Norman January 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Billy,

How would FWH work with a partial mash recipe? Would I be doing FWH while I steep the grains? I am very new to brewing and I am trying to get as much knowledge as I can to better my brew. Thanks in advance for your help.

Reply

Billy Broas January 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Hey Norman,

Great question, I’m surprised no one has asked it yet.

It depends on how you do your partial mash, but the way I (and I think most people) do it is using two pots, one for the mash and one for the sparge water. When the mash is over, I lift the bag out of the mash tun and place it in the sparge water for ~ 10 minutes.

For FWH, I would add the hops to the wort in the mash tun at this point. Put the mash tun on the burner and start to heat to a boil. When you’re done sparging, pour that wort into the mash tun (now the boil kettle).

This is just off the top of my head, I’ve never tried it. The general idea is that you steep the hops in the hot wort as it comes to a boil, so this gets it pretty close. Hope that helps.

Reply

Norman January 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm

@Billy – Thank you so much. I have learned so much from you website and tend to head here with any questions I have. Keep up the great work. I will be back to your site many more times for leisure and learning! Cheers!!

Reply

Billy Broas January 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Happy to help a fellow brewer Norman. FWH really is great. Ryan also wrote a post about it over on The Academy if you’re looking for more info: http://homebrewacademy.com/first-wort-hopping

Reply

Mick August 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

So I tried typing this recipe into BeerSmith 2.0 and I get very different numbers for the IBU contribution for the FWH Cascade addition. Under the First Wort option I can set the time anywhere from 0-60 minutes but what is confusing to me is that all these FWH will be in the boil for the full 60 minutes so how will the time of 0-60 minutes vary? Thus, should I let the first runnings flow over the FWH and collect this in a separate container and then add it to the boil at the specified time of 0-60 minutes?

Reply

Billy Broas August 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

Hey Mick, I was curious about the “time” field for FWH and I couldn’t find the answer in the help section. Finally found it in the comments of this post: http://beersmith.com/blog/2008/03/17/the-first-wort-hop-beer-brewing-techniques/. Brad says to use the total boil time (60 min). You don’t need a separate container – just let the first runnings flow over the hops and then leave the hops in there the entire time. Hope that helps.

Reply

FedoraDave November 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I’ve been intrigued about FWH since I first learned about it, but I didn’t understand the full effect of it on the beer as a whole until I saw this video. I’ve developed a recipe I consider my “House Beer”; just a simple blonde ale, almost a SMaSH brew, with just a little specialty grain and rye thrown in for variety. I use Simcoe hops exclusively, for bitterness, flavor, and aroma, dividing them as follows: 1/4 oz for 45 minutes, 3/4 oz for 22 minutes, 1/2 oz for 7 minutes. Do you think 1 1/4 oz is too much for FWH in this case, especially given the smaller amount and shorter time in the bitterness boil?

Sorry I’m so late to the party, but I only caught onto your blog recently. I like what I’m reading and seeing here, so I’ll probably be commenting regularly.

Thanks in advance for your reply.

Reply

Billy Broas November 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I might do an ounce and then if you don’t have quite the hop character you want, you can throw some dry hops in the fermenter. Depends on the alpha acid % of the Simcoe too – they always vary a lot when I buy them.

Love the comments! Keep ‘em coming, and glad you like the site.

Reply

Ashley November 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm

What about steeping the hops for 60 minutes below boiling then adding that in (as a separate addition) to the wort after it is done?

Reply

Jeff Trytko April 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

Thanks for the advice on FWHing with extracts! I tried this with a blonde ale using Glacier. For a 4 gal. batch, I used just 1 oz. Other hops were .5 oz Sterling at 60 min and then .5oz Saaz dry hop. I wish I had used more in the FWH, or a hops with higher AA%, because the flavors did not come out as expected, though still citrusy, almost apricot. Still a good drink-worthy beer.

Reply

Steve Wilkins October 8, 2013 at 3:29 am

Hi Billy, interesting stuff. I first wort hop my beers with this method and have been doing so for some time. I primarily brew lagers – full grain. You have to be so careful with lagers, any slight faults show up but in particular resinous, earthy and grassy flavors from hops and especially low alpha noble hops, are not wanted and can completely ruin a good lager. Hence, no late hopping at all in my beers. FWH is the best method so far but I’ve come to the conclusion that if you really want that typical, wonderful hop aroma and flavor that you get in Euro beers then you have got to switch to a flavor/aroma extract (not bittering extract) which does not seem to be available to homebrewers anywhere in the world. Good vid BTW.

Reply

Billy Broas October 8, 2013 at 11:46 am

Thanks Steve, glad you enjoyed it.

Reply

Jon Carter December 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

Great article Billy. I never heard of this until I had to Google the acronym “FWH”. I’m researching a Jai Alai clone recipe and it looks like it calls for this technique. I recently purchased Palmer’s homebrewing book and I’m hoping it goes into detail about how it actually works. Thanks again!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: