Hops are climbing vines, which are dried and added to beer when it is brewing. They have a naturally bitter taste that helps counter the sweetness of the other beer ingredients. Depending upon the amount and type of hops you use while brewing, you’ll get more or less of aroma, taste and bitterness in the end product.
If you smell hops, you’ll find them deeply aromatic, and when they are not cooked in the brewing process, they tend not to impart as much bitterness, since they don’t release the oils present that create that sharper flavor. To this end, even when brewers use hops while cooking beer, they may also make dry hopped beer.
Dry hopped beer is essentially beer to which dried hops are added to containers like gallon or liter tanks, after the beer has finished cooking. It takes a little more finesse to make dry hopped beer at home if you’re pouring the beer directly into bottles. You would only add a very tiny amount of dry hops to each bottle.
Adding dry hops to create dry hopped beer adds more flavor and aroma to beer, but it doesn’t add bitterness. Since the hops are not cooked, they don’t release as much of their essential oils. This creates wonderful fragrance and an added light to strong hops flavor.
Some people complain that dry hopped beer tends to taste a little bit oilier than does beer without added hops in the end process. It’s a good idea to look for hops that are milder and have a lower oil content. There are many varieties to choose from, including Cascade (not to be confused with the detergent), Crystal, Willamette, and East Kent Golding. If you are not using kegs, it’s easier to add a few dry hop pellets, instead of trying to stuff hops into the long necks of beer bottles. Some add just a few pellets to the beer mix right before bottling so the mixture disperses slightly and causes less sediment in the bottles.
You’ll find dry hopped beer often sold in a variety of ales. Ales, especially pale ones, generally are less bitter but have a distinct hop flavor and aroma. There are quite a few commercial brands to try. Some of the best known of the dry hopped beers include Sam Adams Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, and Anchor Liberty.
Some home brewers are concerned that dry hopped beer may not be safe to drink because the hops are not cooked. Most brewers dismiss this notion. They argue that both the alcohol content and the yeast present in the beer would diminish any bacterial growth on the hops. Home brewers should be careful to follow clean practices, and especially sterilize any receptacles they plan to store any type of home prepared beer in, to minimize potential bacterial contamination.