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Hop addition question

Since brew day #1 for me I have always achieved a full boil with my wort before adding my bittering hops as this is what I was taught or what I have read. I have noticed that when making this addition that you need to be paying attention because it has a tendency to rise up and may cause a boil over. I was brewing yesterday and started thinking and had to ask myself if you really need to wait until you have a boil before making your first hop addition? I gave it a thought for a few minutes and then went ahead and added them…
After reading the yeast pitch rate thread i figured I would ask and see what you guys think on this subject.

No you don’t have to wait, however, most folks do wait for the hot-break, that way the proteins have coagulated and dropped back into solution, therefore they don’t bring your hops up and back down with them, getting bits of hops stuck on the side of the pot or even a boil over, losing some of your hops.

It’s a good question and I like the idea of questioning things that have been tattooed on our brains. I don’t really know the answer but I will say that I occasionally see that the wort is almost to boiling and I add my hops. This usually causes a slight delay in the full-on boil but within a few minutes I’m there and lowering the flame, watching the kettle for a boilover. As I continue to see things about hops, I’m concluding that the reaction between hops and wort seem to be impacted heavily by the temp of the wort. We have FWHing where the hops make contact with wort that’s in the 160s or 170s, there is the addition of hops when the wort is at a full boil, there is the whirlpool addition where you lower the temp of the wort to 175° and then add finishing hops and then there is dry hopping where the beer is room temp or cooler than that. I have also hit the flameout point, added hops to the kettle and then put the lid on for 15 minutes to let the hops steep and that also brings out a distinctly different hop character. All of that suggests that the temp of the wort plays a part in how the hops react and what they’re going to do for your beer. If you added hops at 200° instead of 212°, there could be a difference but I think it would be subtle at most.

There is no need to wait for the boil to add the first addition. Do a search here or Google “first wort hopping”. You will see it as FWH also. I mostly use pellet hops in a mesh bag and have them hanging by a string in the kettle while the wort runs off. Some say FWH will increase the bitterness and produce a more complex taste but honestly I don’t find much difference.

I usually see that FWHing lends a smooth bitterness and comes across more like a 20-minute addition. I can’t say this for sure but I don’t think that adding hops to the first runnings is the same as adding them to the wort when it’s coming to a boil. I occasionally do beers with a FWH addition and a 60-minute addition and I assume my FWH hops are bringing the same IBUs to the beer as a 20-minute. That idea has always been fuzzy to me because I never understood why hops that are in the wort the entire time could come across as a 20 unless it has something to do with the strength of the hops being lowered by swimming in 160-170° wort first.

Although I FWH a majority of the beers I make, I wait until after the hot break forms to start adding bittering hops. With FWH, they’ve already done 99% of what they’re supposed to do by the time you get to a boil. I delay the bittering addition so they break doesn’t coat them, theoretically reducing the utilization. Admittedly, I’ve never seen any statistics about how much difference it makes, but it’s a small matter and only increases my boil time by a couple minutes.

There are chemical changes, supposed related to pH, that happen as the FWH steep that change how they react when boiled and what they give off. But in the end, since it’s about taste, it’s subjective and can’t really be measured. Here are the analysis results form my FWH vs. 60 min. experiment, provided by S.S. Steiner. You can see the differences in levels of various compounds…

Here are the HPLC (High Pressure Liquid Chromatogrpahy) results of the brews: The alpha-acids are not bitter though they contribute to bitterness units value. The humulinones are oxidized alpha-acids and are slightly bitter.
• Beer Iso-alpha-acids Alpha-acids Humulinones
• A (FWH) 24.8 3.5 1.9
• B (60) 21.8 4.7 1.8

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