Whole Hops, Hop Plugs and Pellets

I thought of this post to help newer brewers understand the types of hops they can buy. During the current hop shortage; storability is the most important thing to keep in mind when you finally find a precious ounce of your favorite hop. I hope this is mildly informative and entertaining.

Hop Pellets:

Pellets are ground up whole hops, that are then pressed into a pellet form. The pressing creates a hop product with significantly less surface area than whole leaf hops. Therefore they have superior storage properties to other hops. The fact that they are ground up, means that once the pellets dissolve in the wort, the hop utilization goes up significantly because of the increased surface area of all the little bits. As a result you can’t just sub 1:1 pellet from whole leaf. Utilization can be improved from 10-25% with pellets over whole hops. So using more whole hops is required than pellets to get the same results.

Hop Plugs:

Hop plugs are whole hops that have been pressed (no grinding) into discs that are about a 1/2-3/4 inch thick and have a diameter slightly larger than a quarter. When they are plopped into the wort they slowly expand and will look like whole leaf hops in the kettle. The advantage to plugs is that the storage is improved (not as good as pellets) and there is less manipulation of the hop flower (again, no grinding). Plus, their hockey puck design is ideal for pick up games on the frozen lake down the street. I’m just kidding about that last point, but I thought I would try to sneak one by you.

Whole Leaf Hops:

Whole leaf hops are just virgin picked hops dried and put in a bag, hopefully vacuum sealed. This is where plugs and pellets start from. Whole leaf are great when they are freshest, but will have the shortest shelf-life. When using whole leaf hops its important to plan the brew carefully so that an open bag of while leaf is used rather quickly. Once exposed to air whole leaf hops degrade faster than the other two forms.

Personally, I am a pellet fan. The main reason for this is storage benefits. In the past I would buy hop pellets by the pound. They come in a airtight bag that is nearly impervious to gas exchange. Once opened I press and seal the bag the best I can, often with a binder clip or two. Then I put the bag in a large ziploc bag, pressed and sealed to remove more air. I store these double bagged hops in the freezer. I have found that I can use a bag of hops and still have fresh hop character within 6-9 as long as I am careful each time. I have used hops that are over a year old with this storage methods and detected little change in quality. Being sure to rotate the stock of hops and plan out the brew session to use older hops first keeps me from letting the hop pellets get too old.

Comments

  1. Jay Frankenfield says:

    What kind of press is used to make the plugs. I need to make some plugs so I can free up some storage space.

  2. I’m growing hops and would like to know how to make them into pellets?

  3. Hi,
    Not sure you can make plugs or pellets at home. I couldn’t find any information on how to make plugs but here’s a link to a site that shows off the equipment needed to make hop pellets:

    http://www.yakimachief.com/hopproducts/ychoppellets.html

    I think it’s best left for the pros.

  4. I’m not sure if this will work, but I have also been considering making my own hop plugs. My idea is to get a short length of pvc pipe about the diameter of a hop plug and then hopefully find a wooden dowel of slightly smaller diameter. Put a pvc pipe cap on one end, drop in a measure of hops, and pound them into a plug. Not sure when in the drying process to do this, though. Possibly just before they are completely dry so that there is still some stickiness that can hold the plug together.

  5. In our Yahoo Group, Grow-Hops (link below), some of our members have done that successfully. I use a hand sledge to pound the ram down and re-load once to get a full 1/2 ounce plug into a fairly small amount of space. I then wrap it in plastic wrap immediately. Below is one of my posts from our group on the subject. I wrote it, so I can share it without violating any privacy issues of our members. To read more of the thread, you will need to join the group.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops/

    Donald

    ——————————————————-
    part of old post below:
    ——————————–

    . . . I think I could get a
    pound of my 1/2 plugs into the equivalent of a gallon size ziplock
    (maybe 2 of these, not sure), though I use vacuum sealer bags instead.

    You don’t need your Excalibur to dry them, and if it doesn’t have a
    way to keep the heat close to a little over 100 deg. F, you may not
    even want to use it. Higher heat degrades the hops.

    I use a screen door with a new screen on sawhorses in the garage and
    spread them out so that they are one hop deep. You can go two or three
    deep, and if you are in a hurry you can arrange to have a fan blow on
    them from below (4 bricks or concrete blocks and a box fan under
    them). I just wait a week and then make plugs, then harvest some more
    from another variety and spread them out for the next plugging session.

    The plugger I made is based on one made by another member here (I
    think it was Dave Witt). It uses a PVC drain pipe with a cap and a
    wooden down that just fits inside the pipe. I fill the tube using the
    top of a plastic milk jug to help funnel the hops into it (with some
    help from a push stick), then press them down with the dowel. Continue
    filling until I get 1/2 oz. of pre-measured hops into the pipe, then
    use a small sledge hammer to smash them into the PVC pipe cap. Remove
    the cap (easier to do if you sand the outside of the pipe first) and
    dig out the plug with something (I use a dental pick with an angled
    end) and keep the plug pressed together with your fingers. Put the
    plug into poly wrap and wrap it tight. After you are done, take all of
    your plugs, vacuum seal them in vacuum bags, pressing the plugs down
    with a board, your hands, etc., to conserve even more space, while the
    sealer pulls the air out

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