Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Home Hop Press Experiment

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head…

--John Lennon

Got whimsical and did something stupid. Didn’t start out being stupid, but got there quick enough.

Keep thinking about tea bags and coffee beans and how the use of those consumer staples might cross over to brewing beer. Tea drinkers know the pleasure of squeezing out the last burst of flavor (love that burst of ink).

Miserly coffee drinkers like me hate automatic espresso machines because they don’t allow the user to hit that puck one final time to strain out that last bit of resinous flavor. I don’t like tossing oily pucks into the garbage.

In my quest to extract hop flavor, I conducted an experiment in my kitchen. I filled a 14 oz French coffee press with a small handful of US Fuggle whole cones. Slowly poured in about 6 ounces of Fat Tire – real slowly since on contact the beer exploded into a thick, resolute column of foam.

The goal was to press the screen down flat against the cones on the bottom. The problem was the plunger on my coffee press didn’t reach the base, leaving about a 1-1.5 inch gap. Had plenty of beer contact with the hops but couldn’t get that one last muscular push.

The lightly squeezed hop-infused Fat Tire didn't live up to it's name – it went from fat to flat. It’s like the cones sucked out the alcohol, CO2, malt and flavor, leaving a thin, attenuated and insipid brew that gave off the aroma of wet grass.

On the other hand, I took comfort in knowing my hoppinated beverage was loaded with fresh anti-microbials, anti-fungals and anti-stomach bugs. Plus a heavy dose of xanthohumol and quercetin. Plus with all those cannibaccea-related sedatives I did wind up sleeping like a baby buddha.

Back to the drawing board. Note to self: not so sure that dropping whole cones into a pint will add much (beyond the aforementioned pharmaceutical stuff) . Fun, and romantic, and certainly a boon to consumer hop education, but not sure it adds anything zesty in the way of flavor. Might even screw up the original flavor.

Second note to self: hop oils are generally hydrophobic. The myrcene in Fuggles is 46%. Im seriously doubting the lupulin glans will easily give up their precious oils during a 60 second dunking. I suspect most beer lovers want to put that foamy brew to their lips within about 10 seconds of the pour.

I have heard tales of brewers, inspired by the coffee press model, attempting to renovate their fermentation tanks during dry hopping to achieve a similar process. I’ve asked around and so far, nobody’s owned up to it. The idea would be to lower a screen into the tank and press the hops (whole cone or fat pellets) and squeeze out the oil. Of course this may also squeeze out tannins and acids and other undrinkable compounds.

It would have to be engineered just right – a removable top, a tight plunger that could easily lower, and a base that would still allow for the fresh squeezed hoppy beer to flow through the bottom.

If anyone has any ideas, let me know. To work, we’ll need time, money and crack engineers. Hop Karma doesn’t come instantly.

Roger Worthington

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