Can You Conquer Hop Creep?

Hop creep can be “a pain in the butt,” said Vinnie Cilurzo, co-founder of Russian River. And it happens to the best brewers still, he added, during a talk on the issue at the 2023 California Craft Brewers Summit. Cilurzo shared his thoughts with a deep dive into the causes and possible ways to lessen the effect along with Sierra Nevada’s Tom Nielsen recently.

“There’s legal concerns, we’ve got safety concerns as bottles or cans can explode. That sort of thing, he said. “The more we dry hop — specifically at a warmer temperature — you’re going to end up with more hop creep, because not only are you adding more of that enzymatic activity, but also there’s a little bit of sugar in the hops.”

Cilurzo and Nielsen shared many slides and deeper dives into parts of the hop. An interesting thing to think about is the amount of hop seeds left in a pelletized hop that you may use for dry hopping.

Using whole cones, Cilurzo said he worked on a project a few years back where they removed hop seeds manually for a dry hop experiment, using the brewery’s famous Pliny the Elder post fermentation with a variety of dry hop variables with seedless cones, dry hopped with whole seeds, unmodified, and a dry-hopped version with crushed seeds to mimic what a pelletized hop would be like.

“I should note that industry standard is about 1% seed or less, but there’s plenty of lots out there that have more than 1% seeds,” he said. 

They used some Oregon-grown Amarillos that had 4.5-5% hop seeds in it and then Washington-grown Simcoe, where there were .5% or less hop seeds in one-liter bottles set at 68 degrees.

“The interesting thing with Simcoe was that there were such few seeds we didn’t even have enough to do the whole seed so we decided to do the crush,” he said. “Our guess was that the crushed seeds would trigger more of a fermentation than the whole seeds. 

“But long story short, we saw fermentation in almost everything — and interestingly even with the unmodified cone, we saw hop creep fermentation. Through conversations with Tom over the years, we dry hop all our beers with pellets but most of [Sierra Nevada’s] beers are dry hopped with whole cone for pedo using the torpedo, and they see a lot less hop creep.

“I already have this thought in my head that anything that’s going to be unmodified whole cone dry hop is going to have less hop creep, but we saw pretty good hop creep on the Simcoe.”

The Amarillos with whole seeds, he pointed out, had almost no hop creep. 

“Once we crushed them, we definitely saw the secondary fermentation happening amongst all the other formats as well,” Cilurzo said.

Despite Simcoe having 10 times fewer seeds than Amarillo, the Simcoe only had a 2.7 lower attenuation rate than the crushed seeds, he said.

“That kind of says the seeds definitely do cause some secondary fermentation,” Cilurzo said.

That led him to tell the brewers in attendance when you’re doing hop selection, you all should be looking for seeds in your brewers’ cuts. 

“When you’re doing hops selection … you should always ask for the whole cone sample,” Cilurzo said. “When Natalie and I do hop selection we go through the hops and we’re looking for seeds. It can be the best-smelling lot on the table. But if there are a lot of seeds in the brewers’ cut, you shouldn’t select that if you’re thinking about hop creep.

“That’s one of the things we look for when we do hop selection. It’s super, super important.” 

When you’re using pelletized hops, he said, as most are using for dry hopping, that hop has been run through a hammer mill. It’s being pulverized.

“That is definitely one of the reasons that your hop creep is worse and that surface area kind of plays a part in it.”

There’s more to it than just the seeds, he cautioned. 

“It’s just one part of the puzzle,” he said. 

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