Using a Hop Back for Homebrewed Beer

by Brad Smith on November 25, 2009 · 15 comments

hopbackThe “hop back” is used by many micro and commercial brewers to add hoppy flavor and aroma to any beer. Homebrewers can also take advantage of this technique with simple equipment to add additional aroma to home brewed beer.

Using a Hop Back

A hop back is a device that is inserted in line as the beer is transferred and cooled from the hot boiler into the fermenter. The main purpose of a hop back is to transfer delicate hop oils and aromas that would otherwise be boiled off in the boiler. The technique is used for many ales and related styles where a hoppy aroma is desirable.

Whole or plug hops are used in a hop back, as the goal of the device is to maximize surface contact between the hot wort and the hops. Typically 1-2 oz of hops are used for a 5 gallon home batch. The hop back is inserted at the hot end, closest to the boiler to maximize the transfer of hop oils. Little actual alpha bitterness is added by a hop back, as the wort is not boiling, but a lot of fragile hop oils and aromas can be added. Since aroma, and not bitterness, are the goal it is best to use low alpha aroma hop varieties in your hop back.

Commercial brewers often make dual use of the hops from their hop back. After the hops have been used in a hop-back, many of the fragile oils have been taken out but the high alpha bittering hop oils remain. Therefore brewers can take the hops used in the hop back and boil them to extract bitterness in a subsequent batch. While this is difficult for homebrewers to do unless they brew multiple batches in a day, some homebrewers have been able to reuse hops in this way when creating parti-gyle brews (more than one batch of beer from a single mash).

You can purchase small hopback device from many home brewing supply stores. These typically consist of a small watertight container that can be easily opened and sanitized before use. Hops are added to the container and it is sealed for use. An inlet tube and outlet tube flow the hot wort through the hop back, and then into either a counterflow chiller or other cooling device before the wort is transported to the fermenter.

Making your own Hop Back

You can also build a hop-back at home from most any watertight heat resistant container. One of the more innovative home designs I’ve seen consists of nothing more than a ball canning jar with holes drilled into the top where tubes and fittings have been added to produce a watertight seal. An article on Bodensatz brewing (image shown above) has one of these devices that uses a copper or stainless steel put scrubber to help form a filter on the outgoing end of the hop back to prevent hops from plugging up the outlet hose. If you create such a device it is important to use lead-free solder when soldering the pieces together, and check the system to make sure it is watertight before use.

Using a hop back is a great way to add an extra burst of hop flavor and aroma to your favorite ale. For more hop techniques, see our hop technique round-up. Thanks for joining us again on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Please subscribe or drop us a comment below if you enjoyed this week’s article.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

signal7 November 28, 2009 at 6:13 am

Broken Link. The link to the article on bodensatz’s site leads to some german sale page for your software. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say it was a mistake rather than an attempt at advertisement ;-).

What is the correct url for that article?

Brad Smith November 28, 2009 at 6:40 am

Sorry about that – I was editing the web site and blog articles at the same time and apparently broke the link in the process. I’ve corrected it now so you can get to the hop back article on Bodensatz.

BeerGuy December 2, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Thanks for the tips I will use them soon. I plan on making my own beer in the near future.

JayRoamin July 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hey Brad, This is awesome! The one problem I have is that I use a submersion chiller and therefore only have an opportunity to use such a device AFTER my wort gets chilled. Is there any point to using this between the boil kettle with the chilled wort and the fermentor? If not, is it worth risking aeration if I just transfer from one boil kettle to another via the hop back?

I’m itching to get the value of using a hop back but I’m not sure if my equipment is making the effort equivalent to kicking water up hill…or would that be kicking wort up hill?

Brad Smith July 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Hi,
I would try to avoid “hot side aeration”. Its OK to aerate the unfermented wort after it has been cooled and before pitching the yeast, but aerating it while near boiling is not good.

Brad

Larry January 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

If you are using a submersion chiller, why not add the hops at flame out and let them stew for 15-30 mins? Would this compare to a Hopback?

자유게시판 - 제1회 꽃피는학교 평화음악회 '리코더로 꽃피는 아이들' January 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post!
It is the little changes which will make the greatest changes.
Thanks for sharing!

timtim April 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I agree with Larry, “…using a submersion chiller, why not add the hops at flame out and let them stew for 15-30 mins?” Seems equitable to me.

SteveM November 25, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Another consideration when dry hopping is when when to add hops during fermentation. The carbon dioxide generated during fermentation will take some of the hop aroma out of the fermentation vessel. I’m have been waiting to dry hop for 7 days after the start of fermentation to prevent the loss of volatiles. I have been doing a short boil for about 5 minutes to sterilize the hops and hops container. The companion article,http://beersmith.com/blog/2013/01/21/late-hop-additions-and-hop-oils-in-beer-brewing/ notes a low vaporization temperature for several oils which means I need to consider a 140F pasturization instead.

Martin Roberts December 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

SteveM,
“I have been doing a short boil for about 5 minutes to sterilize the hops and hops container”

No need to boil, or in your words, “sterilize”, hops when dry hopping. Besides the antibacterial properties of hops, you are placing them in an environment that is hostile to ‘bugs” – alcohol, pH, CO2, etc.
By all means “sanitize” the hop bag (container)

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