Ask Mr. Wizard

The Not-So-Great Hop Fade


Scot — Chicago, Illinois asks,

I typically purchase hops a pound (0.45 kg) at a time and usually a year old to get a bargain. Therefore, the bulk of my hops are about 2 years old. When I open the hops I break them down into 1-oz. (28-G) bags that I then vacuum seal.

I like making New England IPAs with the usual suspects: Citra®, Simcoe®, Mosaic®, etc. I have noticed that over my past handful of batches that the initial huge aroma blast I get when kegging the beer has usually subsided by the time it finishes carbonating (~1 week to carbonate). No matter which hops, no matter which combination of hops, they all fade to a “berry” aroma (tropical no longer exists) before becoming what I describe as a muted, lackluster mess. I don’t drink them as they aren’t what I am expecting. The beer itself doesn’t seem to have flaws.

I have been scratching my head and can only think it is due to the age of the hops. On brew day the hops smell wonderful prior to putting in the beer. When kegging, they typically smell great. But a week after being in the keg . . . done! I have successfully made many New England IPAs in the past and I have been brewing for 10+ years, so I think my overall process is good. I have been cold crashing by placing the carboy in the freezer for 24–48 hours prior to kegging.


Question and answer columns can be really frustrating for the writer when a question seems totally answerable until details within the question get in the way of the answer. Pesky details! This question contains a few of those gems. There are a few ways around this problem. One sneaky way is to carefully edit the question so that certain details don’t interfere with the answer the columnist wants to write, but I am not a big fan of this technique. Another option is to avoid questions that cannot be answered! After all, what is the use of replying to a question with a failing answer? And perhaps the most common stylistic choice is to use a very thin slice of the question as a launching point into something more interesting to the author than the actual question. Zinnng, off on a wild tangent!

And here I sit, looking at a question that has shut down all of the obvious answers. Scot, I see that you and your friend Rich are the two dudes behind the website called, uh, Two Beer Dudes, and that you have been brewing for 10+ years, have successfully brewed many New England IPAs in the past, and seem to have your brewing game on. It seems to me that you may not actually have a brewing problem! This brings me to the wild tangent option of the Q&A columnist, but in your case I am going to turn the mirror perpendicular to the question and review some of the things that may help others brewing this style and just hope that I stumble onto something that may also help you!

So let’s get this party started. Repackaging hops into smaller sizes is a good idea when buying hops in larger quantities because oxygen in the package does cause storage problems. The polymers used to make food-packaging materials may or may not have gas barrier properties that slow or essentially prevent the movement of oxygen molecules across the liner. Just because a vacuum packaged bag of hops feels rigid does not mean the packaging film is impervious to oxygen diffusion. Probably not a likely cause, but perhaps you changed the packaging materials and your hops are being oxidized during storage. I know, the hops smell wonderful, so this cannot be the problem.

Another possibility is that your hops are not as great as you think they are. Properly packaged and stored hop pellets can maintain high brewing value for a several years. The fact that you are buying year-old, or perhaps older, hops is not a big red flag. And you firmly shut down that avenue by describing the hop aroma as “wonderful” on brew day and as “typically great” when kegging. I am assuming that brews from atypical kegging days, you know the ones when your hops smelled like yesterday’s running socks, are not the same brews that you are not loving.

Call me Mr. Obvious here, but you are brewing really hoppy beers and don’t like the way hops are expressed. Humor yourself and brew the same beer with the same hop varieties from another source than your hop locker. Just because these hops smell great doesn’t mean that your finished beer will meet your expectations.

It’s impossible for me to make any assessment about the quality of your hops from the comforts of my home office, but hop quality is a likely candidate to your displeasure. Brewers hear and speak about how terroir affects hop aroma and how hops are expressed in beer, but most hops that brewers buy only have 3–4 pieces of information on the label: Variety, harvest alpha, crop year, and total oil. Commercial brewers can obtain more information than this, but usually only after requesting the information.

My point is: Don’t assume that all “Crop year 2016 variety X” hops are the same because they probably are not the same. Different farms, even within a single valley, can yield different hops simply due to terroir. Add agricultural practice, harvest date, kilning method, pellet processing method, and packaging technology to the mix and it is easy to see why “Crop year 2016 variety X” is an extremely vague way of viewing what is in the bag. And this is all before the hops ever get close to your re-packaging operation. How were these hops stored between the time of packaging in the fall of 2016 and when you purchased them? And how were the hops handled during shipping? Did the hops leave the warehouse on July 3, a Wednesday this year, and deliver to your home on Monday, July 8? That shipping scenario means that your hops were probably baking in a shipping warehouse or in the trailer of a truck for a total of 5–6 days. Not saying that this is the problem, but brewers should always suspect hops when the brewing problem is hop aroma.

Moving onto some other ideas; have you changed yeast strains or sources? Since much of the “juicy” notes attributed to this style are intertwined with biotransformation, it could be that you have done something related to fermentation. Make sure you are using a yeast strain that is reported to biotransform hop terpenes and that you are adding your hops during, or shortly after, peak fermentation.

My last thought about your dilemma has nothing to do with brewing and has to do with the mirror I mentioned earlier. Perhaps the problem is that your expectations of the beers you have been brewing have become separated from what you are actually brewing. I have been in this spot before where I have had some abstract target in my head that I should be nailing but for some reason my darts are not even landing on the board. Tweak this, tweak that, and add a pinch more of the theme ingredient. It all comes up short. In times like these, the best thing to try is a total reset. Look forward, not behind, and start from scratch. If that doesn’t work, find a commercially-brewed beer that lives up to the flavor in your head and learn everything you can about that beer. Your problem really may be misalignment of expectations . . . or it may not. If your goal was to stump the chump with your question, you succeeded!

Response by Ashton Lewis.