Can old hops make good IPA? IPA recipe & brewday - Brain Sparging on Brewing


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July 13, 2020

Can old hops make good IPA? IPA recipe & brewday

If you've read this homebrewing blog for any length of time you know IPAs and other hoppy beers are notoriously absent. In the heyday of homebrew blogs in the first half of the 2010s you had to look hard to find a recipe post that wasn't an IPA on most blogs. Not here--I was quietly plugging away with weird ingredients and sour beer. You can correctly conclude I am not the biggest IPA fan out there and while they are fun to brew I don't really want to sit on an undrank keg of IPA for months (or longer). This IPA recipe is little more than an experiment in brewing rather than a recipe I've put much thought into perfecting. Let's talk about the experiment and then get into the recipe.

How this IPA experiment began

Several months ago an on again/off again homebrewer offered me a pile of mylar bagged hop pellets of various amounts and hop varieties for experimentation. These bags of pellets were unopened and maybe a year or even two old but most troubling they had sat on a table in his non-temperature controlled garage for an unknown length of time. Brewing lore suggests hops stored at room temperature, even in vacuum sealed mylar, must be weak in alpha acids and flavor. He accepted this view and felt the hops would be better served donated to me for experimentation than making a lousy IPA. 

Of the pound and a half of hops I divided them between hoppy beer-worthy varieties and the lower alpha hops that are more geared towards the beers more common to this homebrewing blog. I decided to donate the lower alpha hops to my supply of aging hops for sour beer and cut the bags open. At first whiff they smelled--fine. Maybe a little less vibrant than at harvest but I've tasted many beers with flatter hop aroma. The other mylar bags of hops went into my chest freezer to stall any further degradation those more oily varieties might suffer. I decided to try making a west coast style IPA with the remaining hops to see just how bad temperature by itself might reduce the quality of the beer.  

I am approaching this experiment as though somebody handed me a pile of new hops and asked me to design a recipe so that the flaws of warm temperature aging will be apparent. I don't want to design a recipe to mask the potential flaws because that would answer no questions at all. If I wanted to try to make the best beer despite the rough journey these hops endured then I would design a recipe that is more malt forward and brew a smaller batch to load up the volume of hops. Instead I am going to brew a west coast IPA and leave the hops exposed.

Certainly the best design for this experiment would be to get brand spanking new packages of the same hops and split wort across two batches with one all old hops and one IPA all new hops; but if homebrewing lore is right the poor quality of these hops should be unmistakable all on their own. The test here is not whether poorly treated hops make as good of an IPA as fresh hops but whether they make a decent beer at all.

Designing the IPA homebrew recipe

This recipe is something of a mish mash of ingredients. In the event it is a lousy beer I didn't want to commit too much to it so I cobbled together a recipe out of the hops I was given for this experiment and some of the grain I had on hand. Trying to make the best of what I had I opted to put together a 2014-ish west coast IPA. If you remember back to those days before hazy IPA steamrolled all other IPA styles you will remember that west coast IPAs were going increasingly towards a drier, pils-based recipe. I have plenty of pils malt on hand so I opted to put together a pils-based recipe with a little specialty malt to add some maltiness and complexity to the grain bill.

Looking at the hops to work with I have:

  • Amarillo 1.30 oz (7% AAU)
  • CTZ 1 oz (17.5 AAU)
  • Sorachi Ace 2.10 oz (11.9% AAU)
  • Citra 1.15 oz (13.2% AAU)
  • Millenium 1.05 oz (15.9% AAU)
  • Admiral 1 oz (10.5% AAU)

Outside of the Amarillo and Citra hops these are not a typical IPA hop bill. I'm fairly sure these are leftover hops from two or three different recipes. The combination of Amarillo, CTZ and Citra kinda make sense as late additions for an IPA. Millenium hops can add some resin-y flavors akin to Columbus which could also work. The Admiral hops are citrus-y like some other European hops so maybe that works too. Sorachi Ace is a polarizing hop and I'm not sure I want a lot of dill in this recipe. So the Sorachi Ace are going to help out in the bittering department. Not sure this is going to be an incredible IPA but hey, maybe I am breaking new ground here. 

Otherwise this is going to be a very straightforward west coast IPA recipe. US05 is going to carry out the work with fermentation and sulfate-heavy water profile will punch up the hops. 

Well let's see what this looks like.

Old hops IPA recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallons
Est. ABV: 6.6%
Est. IBU 65
Est. OG: 1.062
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. SRM: 11
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pilsner malt80284.20%
Honey malt012257.90%
Simpsons medium crystal012607.90%
Water Profileppm
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt1g.9g
Canning Salt.4g.4g
Baking Soda.3g
Calcium Chloride
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single Infusion Batch Sparge
Mash volume: 11.88qt
Sparge volume: 2.56 gal
Infuse 11.88qt at 167F15260
Sparge 2.56 gal180
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Sorachi Ace [11.9%]1.2oz6065
Sorachi Ace [11.9%]0.9ozWhirl0
Admiral [10.5%]1.3ozWhirl0
CTZ [17.5%]1ozWhirl0
Millenium [15.9%]1.05ozWhirl0
Citra [13,2%]1.15ozWhirl0
Amarillo [7%]1.3ozWhirl0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: US05
Pitch at 64F1665
Cold crash 132
Keg to 2.2 vol

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5.24.20

Preboil volume:4.8 gal
First runnings: 1.090
Preboil gravity: 1.058
Mash efficiency: 79%
Postboil gravity: 1.063
Postboil volume:4.1 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 73%

The hops mostly smelled exactly as you would expect. The pellets were all seemingly in good shape. The Amarillo hops are whole leaf and smelled a little flat.

After unloading the hops at whirlpool and letting them steep for an hour the wort developed resiny, herbal, lemon hop character. So far I am optimistic it will turn out an okay IPA given the unusual mix of hops and their poor journey from bine to kettle.

Cooled wort, aerated and pitched US05. Temperature holding at 66F with visible signs of fermentation by the end of the following day.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Looks IPA. Copper-orange hue with reasonable but not perfect clarity. Head is a nice off white that doesn't froth up too much but lingers almost to the end of the glass.

Aroma: Lemon rind, dill, orange, thyme, sage, pineapple, dried grass, angel food cake, spruce. Aroma is good overall but not great, does not pour out of the glass like a typical IPA.

Taste: Lemon, dill, orange, wildflower, thyme, pineapple, wheat bread, peach. Actually a decent mix of flavors although the lemon and dill from the sorachi ace dominate the flavor. Bitterness is underwhelming for an IPA and it is a touch too sweet for an IPA which gives it more of an extra pale ale character than a west coast IPA. As the beer warms it develops more of a savory herbal salad sort of taste which is less enjoyable than the initial first few tastes but the tail end of the lingering finish has a dank and tropical punch flavor similar to simcoe and galaxy.

Mouthfeel: Moderate body with prickly bitterness followed by a long lingering tannin dryness. This would be great on an IPA with more punch but lingers too long and too roughly for the degree of hops.

Overall: Really not a bad beer if presented as a pale ale masquerading as a light IPA like Dale's Pale Ale. The flavors actually melded together into a drinkable beer that would be nicer with less of the lingering finish. It misses the mark for an IPA lacking that dry hop character and the combination of flavors isn't exactly IPA or pale ale territory. The herb salad emergence halfway through the glass is not my favorite and reminds me of those herb laden beers of 2015. I wouldn't brew it again but I don't feel drinking it is a chore. 

If there was an IPA accidentally built for gin barrel aging, it might be this one. I mixed a little with a citrusy gin and pretty good. 

Experiment Results

So obviously the question unanswered by the tasting notes above is whether the hops tasted old, flat, or just gross. Surprisingly not. For the amount of hops and lack of dry hopping the beer is well hopped even if in a weird way. If this beer was explained to somebody as an extra pale ale with a really weird mix of hops I truly do not think they would mention anything about the flatness of the hops. I would definitely expect to be told it's kind of a weird beer. This beer definitely exceeds the expectations I would have for hop brightness and flavor against common brewing lore that would suggest these hops would be cheese and cardboard.

Obviously, there are a lot of limitations to takeaways from this singular experiment. I don't have a side-by-side comparison of the same beer with fresh hops so I don't know what I am missing. Hop varieties are all over the map with storage values and many of the more popular and punchy hop varieties have significantly weaker storage survival than these varieties. That these hops survived well enough may not translate well to other varieties. There are likely a dozen other ways we could deservedly criticize this single point of datum. 

The limited takeaway here should be that hops don't fall off a cliff as quickly as some homebrewers think. It's common to see around homebrewing forums and social media groups people saying hops stored in these same mylar vacuum bags in freezers have been ravaged by Father Time after six months or a year. Fish out those year old hops and brew some beer. 

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