First Wort Hops

A while back I did an entry on hops and hop bursting.  I talked about alpha and beta acids, their solubility, and explained how hop bursting can be used to get more aroma and flavor from your hops into your beer, without compromising the bitterness of the brew.  With summer approaching I find myself brewing a lot of beers with distinct and bright hop profiles, while attempting to give the beers a very palatable bitterness.  While hop bursting obviously helps a lot in accomplishing this goal, another technique that has become more and more popular over the last couple of years is FWH, or First Wort Hops.

A lot of people who have seen the abbreviation FWH have asked me what it stands for and how it works.  This abbreviation is popping up all over the place, in brewing programs such as beer smith, in clone recipes at your LHBS, and of course on blogs like this one.  To put it simply FWH is the practice of adding hops to your wort while collecting runnings from the MLT prior to ever boiling anything.  The question is why is this tactic beneficial and how does it differ from the regular bittering addition at the start of the boil?

Now I must start out by saying that I am a huge supporter of Brad Smith and “beersmith“, he is a valuable resource and the software is a fantastic resource for brewers new and old.  Due to the lack of popularity over the years not much was really written about FWH, and that which was written consisted mainly of assumptions and very little hard evidence.  Keeping in mind some of the things Smith wrote about in his own blog late last year, I have made a conscious effort to brew more often using FWH.  I must say the information he provided and the effects on the beer he suggested, held true during my own brewing, and I was very happy with the results.

First, let me answer the first question that most people ask me about FWH.  Do they replace early or late hop additions in the boil?  The answer to that question is a little bit of both, and neither at all.  That may seem like a ridiculous answer, but I truly believe FWH have an effect on beer all their own, and while they are different from any sort of boil addition, they do share certain characteristics of both early and late hop additions.

Let’s start with the effect FWH has on a beers IBU’s.  Many people have suggested, and continue to argue that FWH doesn’t effect or has less of an effect on a beers IBU’s.  I couldn’t agree less with this statement.  As Smith and many others suggest, try brewing a beer solely with FWH and then convince yourself that the beer has little to no bitterness.  While the bitterness profile may be very different (more on that in a bit) the hops absolutely provide bitterness to the beer.  While I have never had the opportunity to send a beer using FWH to a lab to have the IBU’s officially tested, Smith claims that FWH effect on a beer’s IBU’s falls in line with the early boil hop addition’s IBU’s plus 10%.  While these calculations can be done for you using most brewing software, I always like to take a look at how this actually plays out, therefore let’s take a look at the effect a one ounce Cascade hop first wort addition would have on a beer’s IBU level.

Since I am using the tinseth scale, my first step is to calculate the utilization for a 60 minute addition.  Again I am treating my FWH addition like 60 minute addition at this point in time.
So to calculate utilization we return to the formula:

U = (1.65 * .000125^(O.G. – 1))*((1-2.72^(-.04 * Boiling Time))/4.14

since this is the 60 minute addition we would insert “60” for the boiling time:

(1.65 * .000125^(1.060-1)) * ((1-2.72^(-.04*60)) / 4.14 = 21.14% for whole hops (add 10% for pellets 23.25%)
For this example let us assume the cascade hops we are using are pelletized, therefore our utilization is 23.25%.

Next we use our utilization number to calculate IBU’s for our specific one ounce addition.  Again the formula to calculate IBU’s based on the tinseth scale is:

IBU’s = Utilization * (# ounces of hops *(Alpha%/100) * 7490/gallons of wort)

For this demonstration our cascade hops are sitting at 8.9% alpha acids and we have 5 gallons of wort.  Therefore our IBU formula would look like:

IBU = 23.25 * (1 * (8.9/100) * 7490 / 5  This calculation would suggest that a 60 minute, one ounce hop addition of cascade hops would provide 31 IBU’s to the beer.  Now, if we turn this into a FWH addition we would simply add 10% to the IBU total, thus: 31*.1= 3.1 therefore based on Smith’s suggestion an ounce FWH addition would provide the beer with 34.1 IBU’s based on this particular hop.

Now we have a clearer understanding of the effect, at least from a bittering perspective, that using FWH has on a beer.  While it does not have the exact same effect as early boil additions the level of IBU’s is still somewhat similar.  Where FWH distances themselves from other more well-known bittering principles is in the bittering flavor and harshness (or lack there of) that FWH supply.  As brewers we are constantly striving to create a “smoother” more balanced beer.  Also, while it is true that there are countless numbers of “hop heads” out there who can’t have enough IBU’s in their beer; there is something to be said for a hop bitterness, that is present and unique, but smooth and far from overwhelming.  While a person’s palate and personal preference my disagree with this opinion, I believe that hop extraction from FWH versus early boil additions provides those wanted IBU’s while creating a bitterness that is smoother and more palatable.  Again, I reiterate that this is an opinion and that it may not be the preferred method for you or for EVERY beer you make.  However, this is an opinion that is shared by many brewers and I encourage you to give it a shot and try using FWH either in place of or in conjunction with your regular hop schedules.

While there has been arguments about what percentage of your hop additions should be FWH and exactly what they provide to beer, I believe this is simply from a lack of use and experimentation.  I have heard of people doing ONLY FWH in their beer, believing that they get plenty of bitterness, flavor and aroma from the FWH for more maltier beer styles.  While I have never tried this myself, it is an interesting idea and simply proves the point that FWH are a hop addition all their own, with unique properties and a whole new set of ways to take advantage of the wide variety of hops available to today’s brewer.

To bring my appreciation for the FWH addition to a close I decided to take one of my 11:11 Brewing Recipes, Wide-Eyed Coffee Porter, and adjust my hop schedule to use FWH in place of my bittering additions.  I figured this would be the perfect beer to experiment with due to the delicate balance of bitter flavors in this beer between the hops, dark malts, and coffee.  The recipe generally calls for an addition of .75 ounces of Cascade hops at 75 minutes.  Since we know that FWH are supposed to provide about 10% more IBU’s but maintain a smoother more palatable bitterness, I decided to allow for the bump in IBU’s and still use the same amount of cascade in my FWH addition.

FWH in the boil kettle, while I begin to add my first runnings.


Wide-Eyed during the mash

The rest of the brew went very smoothly, and I look forward to being able to compare the version with the more standard hop schedule, and this new batch featuring FWH.  As soon as the beer is ready to drink I will be finishing up my entry that focuses on the results of several different beers I have discussed recently, including Wide-Eyed Coffee porter and the trio of beers I discussed during the Adult Playtime Entry.  (The Gose, Candied Bacon, and African Devil Chili Porter)

Anyways, I leave you all with a couple other photos from the Wide-Eyed brewing session, and once again encourage everyone to play around with FWH and see how you can use them to improve your beers.  Until next time, happy brewing!

The boil

Wide-Eyed in primary and ready to ferment

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