Hop pellets vs. whole cone hops… what’s the effect on character?

Whole HopsBuilding on my previous hopping experiment where I set out to find The Effect of pH on Hop Character, I decided to try something that I’ve been wanting to explore for some time now, the difference in character between whole cone hops and pellet hops. Honestly, I’ve only ever used pellet hops. Probably because of their ease and availability. They’ve produced excellent results in some cases and less than excellent results in others.

Two of my favourite breweries, Sierra Nevada and Victory Brewing, both swear by using only whole cone hops. I’m going to heed their experience and agree that there must be something to it. But what exactly? I’ve heard the extra processing that goes into pelletizing does have an effect on the resulting character, but again, to what extent? Generally I’m of the mind that the less processing in anything food related, the better. Let’s see if this holds true for hops.

photo 1I brewed 2 batches over the weekend of my standard Sierra Nevada Pale Ale recipe, exactly the same, except I used whole cone Cascades for the 10 minute and flameout additions in one, and pellets in the other. (pellets were used for the magnum & perle additions in both)  Some of you may say that I should have used all whole cone and all pellets to really know the difference, but this is the stock I had on hand. If it doesn’t demonstrate the differences well enough, I will try it again with all whole cone hops. Knowing that the utilization is different for pellets vs. cones, I relied upon Beersmith to calculate the variation and adjusted my additions accordingly to have matching IBU contributions in each batch.

First thing I can say right off the bat, if you’re using whole cone hops for the first time, use a bigger pot, or adjust your batch size to match the pot you have. Whole cone hops are very bulky and will absorb a lot of wort. If in your software (such as BeerSmith) you have the ability to adjust the amount of wort lost to trub, then at least double it as a starting point. (I’d suggest 1 gallon) This will account for the extra wort lost to the whole cone hops.

The second thing I can say is save yourself the frustration of getting your chiller plugged up and use some kind of filter in your brew kettle. A few ways to do this would be to use a bazooka screen, a stainless steel braid, or a blichmann hop blocker.  I didn’t think of this beforehand and had to remove my hoses, clear the lines, sanitize everything (to be safe) and try again, 3 times!. Stupid me, what a pain! haha. As a result, I had a longer stand time than I would normally have before I chilled my wort down. I’ll have to keep this in mind when tasting the final beers as it may have contributed more IBU’s to the finished beer.

I’ll let you know what differences I detect in a couple weeks when they’re ready to compare.


5 Responses to Hop pellets vs. whole cone hops… what’s the effect on character?

  1. Were you able to detect a difference?

    • Unfortunately I have had time to do a write up on it yet. As I mentioned in the first post, I had a few issues chilling my wort down quickly as my valve and hoses got clogged a few times during transfer, so the whole hops stayed in the kettle foe a good 30mins after knock off. the resulting beer was good, but I only really got a good dose of flavour and bitterness from the longer stand. So it wasn’t the best of comparisons. Having learned my lesson for using whole hops, I’ll do it again when I have a moment, this time hopefully having a better comparison. I’ve also invested in a much faster chiller, so the stand time after knock off will be very short. I’m hoping I will be able to notice a big difference in my hop aroma character from the change… I’ll keep you posted.

  2. I’m going to switch from pellets to whole hops in the future, and I am budgeting for a 20 gallon brew pot with hop blocker/hop rocket/plate chiller/pump setup.

    Blichmann states that the hop blocker is intended for pellets only, but the guy that is mentoring me on a decoction method using whole hops says that the hop blocker works just fine with whole hops and that the hop bed works as a pre-filter before the wort is filtered by the hop blocker. I am pretty sure that he does not do a whirlpool but allows the hop bed to settle before opening the valve. I am not sure what the advantage of the hop blocker is over a simple bazooka screen – maybe increased flow due to the larger holes on the top of the hop blocker?

    • Hey Stephen,
      I’ve only used whole hops a couple of times, I just find pellets easier to store and to use. I imagine a bazooka screen would work fine for whole hops, but not pellets, whereas the hop blocker I would think would work for both. I would always encourage doing a whirlpool as it will not only collect all the other things you don’t want to transfer into your fermentor, but it will also speed up the process. This will be especially important if you’re looking to get a big late hop character from your beer.

    • I would think increased flow due to the 2 stage filtering. I always assumed the hop blocker was best for whole hops because of the easier flow. Might need to try out both ways to see…

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