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Whole Hops: Comparing the Pros & Cons

Views: 43     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-11-18      Origin: Site

Whole Hops

Whole hops are exactly that, the entire hop cone, or inflorescence of a female plant. These are picked, air dried, and then pressed into bales. The bales are then stored in warehouses at around 26°F (this will vary depending on the climate) until needed by a brewer or hop distributor, such as your homebrew supply shop. When a homebrew shop orders hops the bale is broken down into smaller quantities, vacuum sealed, and sent to the shop, where it may be broken down into salable sizes and vacuum sealed again.


They are the most natural, unprocessed form of the ingredient. They can form a filter bed when straining the boiled wort, this removes some of your hot break and other material formed during the mash and boil.

Some brewers also think whole hops are less harsh then pellets, and though there is no empirical evidence to back this up, there could be something to it. At any rate some very large brewing companies like whole hops enough to use them exclusively. Whether it’s their natural state or some perceived “better” tones they get in the finished beer, I can’t say, but companies have found some reason to invest heavily in the whole hop… and little can be disputed about their beer quality.

Another clear advantage is dry hopping. Because whole hops are minimally processed more of the volatile aromatic compounds, which is what the brewer is after, remain intact. They also will not sink and gum up your siphoning efforts when it comes time to bottle.



On paper the disadvantages of whole hops would seem to outweigh their advantages. Whole hops float and are larger than pellets, which presents a smaller surface area to the surrounding liquid. This can be mitigated to some extent by using weighted hop bags, but the surface area is still going to be much smaller than using pellets. This smaller surface area, and the fact that their lupulin glands remain whole, means it takes longer to extract and use (isomerization) the alpha acids, and keeps hop utilization pretty darn low, coming in at only around 10 percent.

Their natural loose state means that they are more susceptible to oxygen exposure which creates a breakdown in quality that can happen more quickly than in other forms. But as long as you keep whole hops stored correctly, use the freshest hops possible, and reseal unused portions in vacuum-sealed bags; this problem can be mostly avoided.

Another factor to consider is wort loss. Whole hops act like sponges, soaking up and leaving some of your wort unrecoverable. Yes, you can press the hops and draw out some of the precious liquid, but then you run into the possibility of some harsh unwanted characters escaping with the liquid and making it into your beer.

Inconsistent quality and specifications could also be a disadvantage, depending on your outlook. Granted you should be trying for the best quality hops every time you buy, but as for being exactly the same… well, really that’s more a worry of a brewery trying to replicate the exact same beer over and over again, and not something worried about as much, in my experience, by homebrewers. Even if you are trying to make exactly the same batch of IPA you made last year, it is likely the variation, if any, will be so small as to be scarcely noticeable. And, hey a little variation never killed a good homebrew.

It’s All Relative

What form of hop you decide to use for any given recipe or task and any partialities you build, will be greatly based on your brew setup and personal preference. Each can be used to make fantastic beer. Some brewing equipment, such as hop bags and a hopback, make handling whole hops a little easier.

Overall it would seem advantage favors the pellet, with its better utilization and easier storage and handling. But I would not discount the whole hop completely. It does seem it could find its niche imparting the aromatic character. If nothing else, it would be easy to use them in conjunction. The pellets doing the bulk of the bittering work, with whole hops held in reserve for the more delicate dry hopping operations. Whatever form of hop you choose remember to search out the freshest, store them in your freezer, and vacuum reseal if possible.


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