Ask Mr. Wizard

Minimizing Hop Sludge



Aside from muslin bags, how can one avoid so much hop sludge when brewing a hugely hopped beer?


Copious volumes of hop sludge are a real problem for brewers who are in pursuit of hugely hopped beers because this sludge represents wort loss and batch size contraction. The net result is the inefficient use of ingredients and the reduction of your batch size. In commercial terminology, your material and labor costs are both increased and the opportunity costs associated with your equipment is reduced. Bad, bad, bad! Here are some ways that commercial brewers deal with this very real dilemma.

Solution #1: If you are using pelletized hops you are probably using a whirlpool to separate hops and trub from your wort. When brewing hop bombs you typically have a lot more hop solids to remove. A solution that is very effective is the implementation of a whirlpool vessel with a broader aspect ratio. “Normal” whirlpools have height to diameter ratios around 0.4:1 and very broad whirlpools have height to diameter ratios of about 0.25:1. There is a limit to the practicality of building really broad whirlpools because they become so large in diameter that they are not practical. They also cease to function when taken to the extreme.

Solution #2: Use whole hops instead of hop pellets and separate the hops from the wort with a hop strainer. Some brewers even add sparge water at this stage of wort production to minimize the wort loss associated with high hopping rates.

Solution #3: Use hop extracts for bittering instead of cone or whole hops. Since the name of the game is hop material reduction, this method is something to consider if you are coupling high bitterness with high aroma. Alpha acid extract can be added to the kettle, or if you want to venture out of the brewhouse you can add iso-alpha acid extract to your beer.

Solution #4: If you are using hop pellets and do not have a whirlpool, let alone a super broad whirlpool, consider collecting the sludge and transferring it to a conical vessel, such as an Imhoff cone (Google search this and you will find plenty of sources). You can allow the solids to settle and then syphon off the good stuff. If I did this I may consider re-boiling for a short period to make sure that I have not contaminated the wort.

Solution #5: This solution is totally impractical for use at home, but is something used by commercial brewers and is interesting to think about. The solution is to use a decanting centrifuge to separate hop and trub solids from wort and to reduce losses normally encountered in the whirlpool to almost nothing. In my beer geek brain, this is an awesome solution to a very real, and potentially very expensive, problem.