Hops give beer its bitterness along with its distinctive floral, herbal, and fruity flavors. As an agricultural product, hops vary crop to crop and have a limited shelf life. Hop extracts provide a solution to these problems for brewers looking for more control over their brews.
Hop extracts provide consistent and clean bittering to beer. The concentrated hop product packs a serious punch of clean bitterness. Other products, like pre-isomerized hop extract, give brewers even more options to dial in their beer.
Want to know more about the beer you’re drinking? Or are you a homebrewer looking to help add some consistency to your batches? Keep reading to find out all about hop extract!
What Is Hop Extract?
Hop extract is a concentrated hop resin that contains alpha acids, beta acids, and essential oils. It’s used throughout the brewing process in place of traditional whole-leaf or pellet hops.
Hop companies use their proprietary technologies to produce hop extract. It’s done using a high-pressure CO2 extraction process. This is why most companies call it CO2 Hop Extract. The extraction process produces a sticky resin containing all the good parts of the hop plant that are interesting to brewers. All of the hop’s inert plant matter is removed, making it a much more concentrated hop product than the whole leaf and pellet hops.
Commercial breweries have been using hop extract for decades. Since these extracts contain up to 65% alpha acid, many brewers favor using it for bittering their beer. You can replace pounds of hops with hop extract, which leads to less wort lost to absorption. On top of that, extracts eliminate the undesirable chlorophyll flavors that can occur when using whole leaf or even pellet hops.
Hop extract has sometimes been considered a lesser product. But brewers don’t have to feel like they’re cheating. CO2 Hop Extract is a pure hop product with no artificial additives.
More and more craft breweries are starting to embrace hop extract. Many of the world’s top IPA brewers – like Russian River, Tree House, The Alchemist, and Cloudwater – have heralded the use of extracts. They claim extract provides better consistency, extended storage, and a cleaner bittering. These top breweries are helping to make hop extract more widespread and accepted in the brewing world.
What are the different kinds of hop extract?
Hop extracts are available in a couple of different formats, each with a specific use. Let’s go over the main types:
The most common type of hop extract, usually sold as “CO2 Hop Extract”, is primarily used for bittering. It’s made from high alpha acid hops, like Columbus or CTZ, with a mix of other hops for an aroma component.
Varietal-specific hop extracts, such as Mosaic or Cascade extract, can also be purchased. These extracts can be used to impart flavor and aroma later in the boil. Extract is potent, so don’t expect an exact substitute for aroma hops. It’s a worthy experiment!
Pre-Isomerized Hop Extracts
CO2 hop extract must be boiled to isomerize the alpha acids to add bitterness to beer. But recent developments in extract products have led to a pre-isomerized solution. That means you don’t have to boil the extract to achieve bitterness in beer. Post-boil bittering gives brewers a great solution to fix under-bittered or sweet batches.
What are the benefits of using hop extract?
Hop extract gives brewers a few critical advantages compared to traditional hop formats:
- Consistent and clean bittering without any vegetal flavor
- Long shelf life: No alpha acid degradation for 8+ years!
- Less hop matter in the boil kettle = less beer lost to absorption.
- Bittering adjustments post-boil using a pre-isomerized extract.
Brewers can reliably use hop extract batch after batch and not have to worry about changes in their hop inventory due to aging. Hop extract is a consistent and easy way to add the exact amount of bittering units (BUs) required for a beer.
How to use hop extract?
Since hop extract is extremely concentrated, you don’t need to use very much to achieve high levels of bittering. To give you an idea of how potent this stuff is, 1ml of hop extract provides about 10 IBUs in 5 gallons of 1.050 wort when boiled for 60 minutes.
Adding the extract to the brew is simple. For commercial breweries, they can add it by the 100ml or 150ml can. For homebrewers, usually extract is put into a pre-measured syringe, called a “Hop Shot,” in volumes between 3ml to 10ml.
When should I use hop extract?
Hop extracts can be used at any time during the brewing process. Here are some ideas for how to use hop extracts, but feel free to experiment with your results!
The majority of brewers use hop extracts at the start of the boil for bittering. Since CO2 extract has such a high concentration of alpha acids, a little goes a long way. Instead of pellets or whole leaf hops, using extract cuts down on wort lost to absorption. This is especially useful in very bitter beers like West Coast IPAs.
Hop extract can also be used later in the boil to provide some aroma components. There won’t be much for distinct varietal-specific hop flavor, but many brewers do use extract to give their beers a generic “hoppy” aroma boost.
Using hop extract instead of dry hops is beginning to be explored by some brewers. As the demand increases, we should start seeing new products that are more suited to replace dry hops to give beer a boost of hoppy aroma and flavor.
One ingenious use for pre-isomerized hop extract is when making beers soured with lactobacillus. Since most Lacto strains are sensitive to hops, brewers can slow down or completely stop Lacto by adding some BUs to their beer. Once the desired level of acidity is reached, you could add pre-isomerized extract to halt any further souring and add bitterness to the brew.
Sometimes, beers need a bit of tweaking before packaging. One way is to use pre-isomerized hop extract to add some bitterness to an unbalanced beer. This is a great way to keep beers consistent batch after batch.
Hop extract calculators
There are a few online calculators to help out if you want to try converting a recipe from a standard bittering hop addition to hop extract. Hop extract producers Hopsteiner and Yakima Chief Hops each have their versions.
If you don’t feel like messing around with a calculator, here’s a helpful printable chart to help with your calculations.
Where to buy hop extract
Hop extracts are readily available for commercial brewers through their wholesale hop distributors. For homebrewers, your options are a lot more limited.
The demand is just not there – yet – for most brick-and-mortar homebrew shops to carry hop extract. But you never know! Check with your local homebrew store to see if they have any or are willing to stock some.
Hop extracts can be purchased online at Yakima Valley Hops, Northern Brewer, Adventures in Homebrewing, and many other online retailers.
Hop extracts provide a consistent, predictable, and efficient way to bitter beer. The concentrated hop resin packs a serious lupulin punch that can help brewers dial in the quality of their beers, batch after batch. We hope we convinced you that hop extracts are a high-quality and useful product.
If you’re a brewer, try replacing the hops in your next batch with some hop extract. If you do, be sure to let us know how it went!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does hop extract last?
One of the benefits of hop extract is its extended shelf life. Unopened, hop extract lasts about eight years from the packaging date. During that time, almost no degradation of alpha acids occurs, so you can be sure you’ll get consistent results.
What styles of beer can I make with hop extract?
Anything you want! Replace the bittering hops of any beer with extract to achieve the desired level of IBUs. Hop extract works great in bitter beers, like IPA, because a small amount of extract replaces a considerable amount of pellets or leaf hops.
But even with less bitter styles, using extract has its advantages. Subtle beer styles – like pilsner – can benefit from hop extract. Due to the decreased addition of hop matter, there will be less chance for green, chlorophyll-like flavors.