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Sulfate Levels and Hops

For my hoppy beers I tend to use 1/3 to 2/3 the hops for bittering as I do for the flavor and aroma, and I shoot for the far end of the IBU spectrum. Would these qualify as wanting the SO levels above 150?

Let’s say I’m making a pale ale with 45 IBU’s and I’m using 1/2 oz Centennial @ 60 mins and I’m using 1 1/4 oz Centennial at both 20 and 5 mins. Would it matter to my hop flavor if the SO were say closer to 100?

It seems the one time I may really want to bitterness to come across is with an ESB.

The difference between 100 and 150 ppm sulfate is pretty small. If you want to enhance bitterness with sulfate, you can experiment with taking the sulfate up to 300-350 ppm or even higher. At these levels you will indeed taste a difference. It adds a sharp pointed bitterness, which is appropriate for IPAs, and pale ale if desired.

If you don’t want a very sharp bitterness, then maintain lower levels at 150 ppm or whatever you like to keep it smoother.

Is it something you’d necessarily want in a hop forward beer with a lower amount of bittering hops to flavor/aroma hops?

It’s not something that I would necessarily want, but I’m not a hophead. I cannot speak for your tastebuds. It’s your beer – do what YOU want!


I’m trying to understand the impact higher sulfate levels have on hop flavors. I can certainly handle highly bitter beers, but I choose to reduce the bittering levels to increase the flavor/aroma portions as I’d much rather get a burst of hop flavor. But I’m not sure if this higher (150+ ppm) sulfate levels help or hinder the hop flavors as I don’t view them as bitter. But I know that even in say a 5 min aroma addition adds to the IBU’s which contains that word “bitter”, though I wouldn’t describe it as such. However I’m not knowledgable enough to know whether or not this matters or not.

I’ll admit I’m not really an expert on pale ales and IPAs, but to my knowledge, I don’t believe sulfate helps or hurts the hop aroma or flavor, but rather just impacts the perception of bitterness. If you want FLAVORS to pop more, then I might suggest playing with chloride, including table salt (sodium chloride). Sulfate ramps up your bitterness, and chloride enhances flavors of all kinds. No salt addition will impact aroma – you can’t smell purified rocks! That’s really what salts are – pure rocks. Or more accurately, pure minerals.

I could be wrong on all this. But I think I’m close. My 1.5 cents.

In any case, if you want a lot of hop flavor, you really just need to jack up your hop additions in the last 2 minutes of the boil, or flameout, or dry hop, or all of the above. You’ll get a little bitterness. One method I like to use is hopbursting, where you dump ALL, or nearly all, your hops into the boil in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil. A bittering addition is optional. You can get a lot of IBUs from hopbursting depending on the exact timing of the hop additions, but most of all you get a royal buttload of flavor, without tons of bitterness. If you wanted maximum flavor and very low bitterness, you could try a massive hop addition at just the 1-2 minute mark left in the boil, with very little or no bittering additions or flavor additions prior to that. I’m talking like 5-10 ounces in 5 gallons, all added at the very end of the boil. Huge flavor, very low bitterness.

But I think I’m right about the chloride thing. Throw in more chloride and I’ll bet you enhance the flavor even more. No sulfate required.

Sulfate primarily effects the dryness of the beer’s finish. It is not going to effect flavor or aroma to a significant degree. As Dave mentions, 100 or 150 ppm sulfate is not that significant. It generally takes 250 to 300 ppm sulfate to notably dry the beer finish. That is generally reserved for pale ales and IPAs.

Awesome! Thanks! That’s what I was after. It would seem that you’d really only want the SO levels at 150+ if you intend on a larger bittering addition that you want to stand out such as with an ESB.

I will be trying a whirlpool for the first time soon with a black IPA, but with my IPA’s I’ve been using very small portions of hops for bittering (this one will be using 0.5 oz Columbus w/14.3% AA’s and 2 oz of Centennial and 0.5 oz Columbus for a 21/14 min and WP and 2 oz of Centennial for a 7 day dry hop giving me ~104 IBU’s) and for my pales I’ll use maybe 1/3 to 2/3 the hops for bittering that I do for flavor aroma. I have a hoppy wheat in the making using a whirlpool and dry hop too.

rodwha, I would encourage that you continue to use a bittering charge to obtain your desired level of bitterness. I’ve noticed that although you can obtain your bitterness from hop bursting or whirlpool, the shelf life is horrible. I’ve found that the bitterness, flavor, and aroma fade very quickly. YYMV.

I’ve wondered about this primarily with dry hopping as I understand that to fade the quickest.

I’ve really taken to extreme hop flavors, and so for some, those known for being hoppy or being made to be that way, I like to go for the extreme edge of the IBU level for the style (I paint outside the lines with IPA’s shooting for 100+) but for most others I tend to use a more balanced approach (1 oz ea at 70/21/7 mins).

The beers I make generally don’t last much longer than maybe 3 months after bottling with most gone in half that time. I did make an old/strong ale that I intended to age a bit in preparation for making a barley wine.

Download the BrunWater spreadsheet at

It will help you adjust your water and, more importantly, the last sheet contains a wealth of information on the effects of each of several minerals, including SO4.

The spreadsheet was built by Martin Brungard (mabrungard on this forum); it’s free, but donations are accepted and very much deserved.

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