To Dry Hop, or not to Dry Hop, that is the Question

Posted 25 April 2019

Hops are wonderous things, a flower that can be added to a boil of malt and provide a whole new character to a brew.  As early as the 9th century, following hopped ales making their way across the channel from Germany, using different varieties of hops within ale has been quite the British obsession. The initial sweet malt boil prior to hops being added is almost too sugary to bear. But once the hops, be they the quintessentially English Goldings or the recently popular American Citra have been added, the bitterness exuded from the hops’ oils turns a sickly-sweet drink into a delightfully moreish, much-loved ale.

The sheer variety of different hops available, means that they are more than just bittering agents that we use to counteract the sweet wort. Each hop also provides different aroma and flavour profiles which can be extracted and used to create exceptionally unique beers – and this mostly depends on how and when they are added to the brew.

In Britain, up until about 10 years ago hops would always be added to the kettle in three stages during the boiling process. Our most popular ale, Gold is hopped in this traditional way; it’s what gives it its distinctive bitter, yet mild session ale quality. It’s easy and pleasing to drink without becoming offensive to the pallet after one or two pints.

But in the last decade and with a plethora of vibrantly flavoured hops at our disposal, a trend from America began to influence the British brewing industry. (Yes, we’re talking about dry hopping.) Dry hopping has led to an explosion of new ales as craft breweries picked up the process and tapped into it. And the reason for this is simple. Dry hopping requires an additional batch of hops to be added after the primary fermentation process, which allows all of the aromas and flavours held by each hop to be captured in the ale, as opposed to being partly boiled away as traditional methods would have it, leaving mostly bitterness behind.

The beauty of this method means that we get to be a little more experimental, a little more daring with our flavours especially with our limited edition or seasonal ales. If you’ve tried it, you’ll be able to taste the powerfully rich Citra hops which fill a bottle of Ramsbury Storm. At 6% it’s punchy, but exquisitely balanced by the Citra which intertwines a delicate fruity aroma followed by a deeply sweet, hearty bitterness. (Though it’s an American style Pale Ale by definition, the combination of local hops traditionally added to the brew and the Citra hops, give it a modern, British character so often sought after when it comes to a craftier beer.)

If then, dry hopping provides a more intense and profound nose and taste like Storm, why would traditional methods still be used? Surely, you’d want as aromatic and flavourful an ale as possible? Well, honestly no – you wouldn’t. Because there are many different environments and occasions in which we drink beer, and not all dry hopped ales cater to these demands, or indeed preferences such as those who favour traditional types of ales. Where Storm will be enjoyed for a couple of pints or bottles worth, traditionally hopped ales such as our Gold or Flint Knapper are ideal to accompany a meal or to be served at a party, because they offer a subtle, smooth drinking quality.

It’s a harmonious balance for us as a brewery. By having two different hopping methods we can create an ale for near any palette thanks to the different characteristics of certain hops. Whether it’s a special brew with citrussy and sharp qualities thanks to the addition of Lemon Drop hops for those who wish to try something new, or a wonderfully English Ramsbury Gold ale rich in body and smooth in taste for the real-ale lovers, our range of beer is more than just the standard pint of bitter.

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