We’ve all been there. You’re all set to brew your favorite IPA, hoppy porter, or other hoppy beer, but you can’t get your hands on the hop varieties you used last time. Or maybe you just want to change things up and examine your hop schedules to see if you make changes. What do you do? Here are some ideas.
In the case of replacing a hop variety, the easiest thing to do would be to find a hop variety that is similar and use that instead. And of course, numerous websites have lists of hop strains and their possible substitutions. The only problem with that is that every hop variety really does have different characteristics, so a one-for-one hop substitution is always going to make the beer taste different. In a beer that isn’t hop forward, and that contains lots of malt (or other) character, the difference may be small, perhaps not even noticeable. However, in a beer in which the focus is on the hops, you will always be able to tell.
It’s at least theoretically possible that you could come up with a blend of two or more hop strains that mimic another hop strain. And if you can, you’re a better brewer than I am. I actually like blends of different varieties in my hop forward beers, but I’ve never found a blend of hop varieties that I thought mimicked a single hop variety. (Then again, I haven’t tried explicitly to do this.)
So this leaves you with three options. First, you could consult a hop substitution chart, select an alternate hop variety, and just accept that the beer is going to taste different. And different doesn’t always mean worse. And if you’re new to brewing, getting to know the characteristics of different hop strains is a valuable learning experience. Secondly, you could brew something else and wait for your required hop strain to become available again. If your IPA is — in your estimation — exactly to your liking, why brew something you know you are going to be disappointed in? Or thirdly, you can rebuild your hop schedule from the ground up — make the beer with a similar degree of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma, but a totally new character.
One change you can make in any beer is to substitute the highest alpha hop variety possible for your current bittering hop. A side effect of this is, if you lower the amount of the new bittering hop so the beer ends up with same level of bitterness (in IBU), you add less plant material to your kettle. This results in less hop debris in the trub upon cooling, and less tannins extracted from the green hop material. In a very hoppy beer, this can be a positive change.
You’ll probably do the arithmetic in your brewing software, but it’s easy to do by hand. Just take the weight of hops you previously added (in whatever unit you choose) and multiply it by the alpha acid rating of that hop. Divide that number by the alpha acid rating of the substitution hop to yield the weight of the replacement hop required (in whatever unit you previously chose). For example, let’s say you added 2 oz. of an 8% alpha acid hop for your 60-minute addition. If you were substituting a 16% alpha acid hops, you would need [(2*8)/16 =] 1 oz. of the higher alpha acid hop for that addition.
Since most of the oils in hops boil off after 60 minutes, changes in bittering hops are less noticeable than changes in late hops. There are differences between high alpha hops, but if you look for a variety that is labelled as relatively neutral, the change should be minimal. In addition, in most very bitter beers, the aroma of the late hops dominate the nose and alter the drinker’s perception of hop flavor. So, you can make some fairly big changes in your early hops with relatively little detectable change to the aroma and flavor of the beer. (Not zero difference, of course, but less than if you changed one of the late hop varieties or dry hop varieties.)
Next, altering your late hops — continuous hopping vs. “bookending.”
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