What Is Dry Hopping in the Beer Brewing Arena?

Green hops for beer. Man holding green hop cones.

Getting started as a home brewer takes more than a financial investment. It also takes a commitment to learn processes and vocabulary. Sometimes, vocabulary is the more important of the two. You need to understand the words your fellow brew masters use if you hope to understand the explanations of their processes. Take dry hopping, for example. Do you know what it is?

Dry hopping is a fairly common way to add hops to beer. CedarStone Industry says it is often the preferred method of adding hops when a brewery is utilizing a unitank brewing strategy. However, dry hopping is not mandatory in unitank brewing. There are those breweries that prefer wet hopping regardless of tank set up.

  • How Dry Hopping Works

Adding hops to beer does three things. First, it keeps beer tasting fresh for a longer amount of time. The hops act as a preservative of sorts. Second, hops encourage foaming, thereby preserving the head on a stein of beer. Finally, hops add flavor. This last factor often determines whether a brewery decides to dry or wet hop.

Dry hopping involves adding dry hops during late-stage fermenting. Some brew masters wait until they get to conditioning before adding dry hops. On the other hand, wet hoppers introduce hops much earlier in the process. The key to their recipe is using hops immediately after harvesting. They do not want hops that have been sitting around for a few days.

  • How Hops Effect Flavor

Hops have a distinct flavor all their own. How they affect the flavor of a beer depends on when they are added. Wet hopping makes a beer more bitter for the simple fact that freshly harvested hops haven’t had time to age yet. Dry hopping does not produce so much bitterness. Instead, you get a beer that has a more hoppy flavor. In other words, you taste the general flavor of the hops rather than the bitterness freshly harvested hops introduce.

A brew master can promote a hoppy flavor even more by double or triple dry hopping a brew. The more hops you add to the beer, the more robust its flavor. However, brew masters need to be careful here. They don’t necessarily want the flavor of the hops to be the dominating flavor. They need to balance hops with other flavors.

  • Dry Hopping with a Unitank Setup

Choosing to dry hop means adding hops to the top of the tank during late-stage brewing. Although this could be done with a standard setup, a unitank setup is more conducive to dry hopping because you are doing everything in a single, tightly controlled tank environment. If your unitank is conical in shape, there aren’t any worries about hop debris or residue. All the nasty stuff settles to the bottom of the tank where it can be drained prior to finishing.

One of the main benefits of dry hopping with a unitank setup is limiting oxidation. As you may already know, oxidation can flatten a beer’s flavor. It can also make the beer taste stale. Dry hopping reduces unitank oxidation by feeding the oxygen produced by fermenting hops to local yeast. Oxygen levels in a sealed, pressurized tank are easier to control. And because yeast is consuming the oxygen, the brew doesn’t have to be aerated.

Dry hopping is just one way to introduce hops to beer. Dry hops are added near the end of fermentation or during the conditioning process. By contrast, wet hopping introduces freshly harvested hops during early fermentation. Both options affect the overall flavor of the finished product in different ways.