India Pale Ales, known to those with an affliction towards brevity as IPAs, are easily the most popular and, at the same time, most polarizing beer style going today. Many, including myself, love a bitter, hop-forward pint included in every drinking session. Others, quite distinctly, do not. If I had a dime for every time I spoke to someone at a beer festival I was working that said “give me anything but an IPA. I hate IPAs,” I’d have a metric shitload of dimes. Nine times out of 10, I make those people try an IPA accompanied by the line “it’s not that you hate IPAs…it’s just that you haven’t found one you can love yet.”
That’s a story for another day.
The IPA game has shifted immensely in recent years with many brewers mastering the New England style – hazy, soft, juicy, aromatic. Other variations of the IPA include the Milkshake IPA and Smoothie IPA – a hazy, juicy New England Style variant that contains fruit, lactose, or other adjuncts that lead the beer to take on an entirely different complexion. It can be argued these IPA varieties aren’t really IPAs outside of the fact they’re hopped to the hilt like an IPA.
That’s a conversation for another day.
As figurative pen hits figurative paper for this knowledge drop, the IPA and its many forms rule the roost. And just about every IPA you encounter these days obtained its flavor and aroma courtesy of dry hopping. Dry hopping takes place when brewers add additional hops to a beer during the fermentation process.
All beer is brewed with hops in the initial boiling stages prior to fermentation. Depending on the style and how much hop bitterness a brewer is looking to achieve will determine when those hops are added to the boil (in the beginning for more hop characteristics shining through, at the end for less).
But dry hopping is the addition of even more hops during the process, typically towards the end of fermentation, whether primary or secondary, before the beer is kegged, bottled, canned, or transferred to serving tanks for taproom consumption. Because the additional hops are not boiled, the bitterness of the hop oils does not factor in and the natural characteristics of each hop variety give the beer an added layer of flavor and aroma (floral, fruity, etc.)
The term ‘dry’ hopping is not literal. The hops, whether they be in whole cone or pellet form, do get wet when added to the beer during the process. But the name has stood the test of time and, well, if it ain’t broke…
Brewers use a plethora of hop varieties in the dry hopping process, including but not limited to Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Chinook, and Columbus. The amount of hops utilized during the dry hopping process determines how much those characteristics will dominate the overall aroma and taste of the finished product. Some breweries will dry hop with one, two, even three hop varieties – hence the terms Double Dry Hopped (DDH) and Triple Dry Hopped (TDH). In the case of some hop-forward breweries producing incredibly juicy IPAs, they may dry hop at a rate of six pounds of hop per barrel in each batch they brew.