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The History of Hop Extracts

Dive into the rich history of hop extracts to better understand the magnitude of the latest advancements in hop products.

Like the majority of brewing innovations, hop extracts were created out of necessity. As technology advanced and equipment became more sophisticated, brewers looked for more efficient ways to add flavor, aroma, and bitterness to their beers. Thus, hop extracts were born.

What’s more, this technology isn’t done evolving. While yesterday's CO2 hop extracts were more efficient and sustainable than pellets and whole hops, extracts are about to take another revolutionary leap forward. To understand the magnitude of this change, however, it’s important to look back at where hop extracts came from. 

Read on and learn the history of hop extracts so you can better understand the significance of the latest, and arguably most profound, progression in advanced hop products.

From Whole Hops to Pellets

Hops have been a staple in beer brewing for many centuries. Its ability to impart bitterness, flavor, and aroma was clearly desirable, but to some extent, using hops was simply more practical. Alpha acids in hops contain natural antibacterial properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria, while the antioxidant properties of various polyphenols deter oxidation. 

 Dry hopping was first done in casks as a preservative. This helped the casks withstand long shipping times to India (hence IPA, or India Pale Ale)

Once people began noticing that beers brewed with hops were less likely to spoil, the use of other herbs, or “gruit,” quickly became less popular. So, while whole hops tend to lend more aroma and flavor to beer since they retain more natural oils, this was a distant benefit compared to the ability to deter spoilage.

Unfortunately, relying on whole hops also comes with a considerable list of drawbacks:

  • Expensive.
  • Requires a lot of space.
  • It can require special equipment.
  • Inconsistent acid and oil content.
  • Liquid absorption results in yield loss.
  • It can cause “hop creep.”

This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea. This is why the invention of hop pellets was kind of a big deal.

From Hop Pellets to Hop Extracts

Surprisingly, hop pellets have only been around since the 1960s. Creating them involves drying whole hops and then grinding them into a powder that then undergoes a process called pelletization. Basically, the powder is compressed into a cylindrical shape that’s much easier to ship and store.

Concentrated pellets were developed in the late 1970s. They oxidize slower, not because they are pellets but because they can be packaged into a Mylar or aluminum foil bag. This was a big improvement over the burlap-wrapped bale.

In addition, they’re more shelf-stable, have a slightly higher utilization rate, and provide a more consistent aroma and flavor (which makes for simpler dosing). The increased efficiency and ease-of-use caused the majority of brewers to shift away from whole hops towards pellets like T90 and T45.

Like whole hops, however, pellets have drawbacks. Since they can dissolve into a porridge or sludge-like consistency in a liquid solution, they can block or damage equipment if not properly handled. That’s just the beginning. The pelletization process loses some of the more delicate aromatic compounds, over-boiling or over-dosing can cause unwanted grassy flavors, and they can also cause yield loss since they’ll absorb liquid.

Lupulin hop powder, a highly concentrated fine powder, offered a partial solution to the loss of aromatic compounds. With roughly twice the potency of T90 pellets, much less powder is needed to reach the desired aroma and flavor. Unfortunately, its costly nature can negate these benefits.

What Are Hop Extracts?

While hop extracts were technically available in Britain as early as 1908, commercial brewers didn’t really begin experimenting with them until the 1950s. Craft brewers didn’t begin regularly using them until the 1990s, but extracts were a serious game-changer once they caught on.

Hop extracts are high-potency resin extracts with alpha acids, beta acids, and hop oils from the hop plant. They lack the biomass of previous methods, have no yield loss from absorption, are simple to ship and store, provide simple dosing, and require a significantly smaller amount compared to whole hops and pellets. 

However, today’s hop extracts have undergone quite an evolution, and they’re not done yet (more on that later!). Solvent-based extractions originally used hexane, methanol, ethanol, methylene chloride, and other chemicals. Extracts were generally created by treating hops with a solvent followed by evaporation. 

Some solvents were more successful than others, but they could roughly contain up to 50% alpha acids and a substantial amount of beta acids in addition to the hop oils. At the time, the increased utilization, ease of storage and shipping, plus reduced loss of alpha acids from aging made these a cost-effective option.

The big issue, however, was the loss of varietal-specific aromatic and flavor properties. As a result, they were mostly used as a bittering agent since they don’t add significant hop flavor or aroma. Plus, let’s not forget that these solvents also require extremely careful handling because of their combustible nature. 

Thus, CO2 hop extracts were born in the late 1960s, and that’s how the majority of hop extracts are created today.

From CO2 Hop Extracts to Optimized Hop Extracts

Until now, carbon dioxide has been the best method for creating hop extracts for several reasons. In addition to availability, CO2 doesn’t have the same hazards compared to previously used solvents (nontoxic, nonflammable, etc.). While liquid CO2 can act as an organic solvent and is generally considered good for aromatics and flavor, supercritical CO2 is considered a better solvent for hop resins.

While the cost savings from increased yield, storage, and shipping are considerable, CO2 extracts are still expensive, non-flowable, and they’re impractical for cold-side use. They also require additional clean-up, and they’re mainly used for bittering since they don’t add a significant hop flavor or aroma. By and large, CO2 extracts are mainly useful as early kettle additions. Their value lies in their high alpha-acid content and higher utilization.

That’s where Optimized Hop Extracts have the clear advantage. These extracts are designed entirely for aroma and flavor instead of alpha acids. Using ultra-low temperature extraction technology, optimized hop extracts are able to preserve the most volatile aromatics for varietal-specific flavors and aromas.

Like CO2 hop extracts, Optimized Hop Extracts have a 100% utilization rate, no yield loss, don’t promote “hop creep,” and don’t require solid waste removal. However, the similarities end there. Optimized Hop Extracts don’t stick to the tank, don’t require carriers, and can be used at room temperature.

Oh, and they’re significantly less expensive than CO2 hop extracts.

Hop Extracts Take an Evolutionary Leap Forward with Quantum

Unlike CO2 processing, which has been optimized for the extraction of alpha at the expense of aromatics, our Quantum process has been designed from the ground up to preserve the most volatile aromatics. That means you can brew with extracts that are varietal-specific and not an averaging of other oils.

Want the notes of spice, Christmas pine, and fresh rose from Chinook? Brew with CHI Quantum Brite. Do your customers crave the tropical notes of mango and passionfruit in Strata? STT Quantum Brite will provide the juicy flavor and dank aromatics you’re looking for. This is just the beginning.

If that wasn’t enough, switching to Quantum means less waste, lower costs, increased shelf life, and no special handling. It can be added right into your existing workflow with no modifications.

Best of all? Quantum simply tastes better. Our process removes the nasty chlorophyll, lipids, and waxes often found in hops, pellets, and other extracts. Now, you can brew with the truest aroma and flavor expression of hops.

Ready to take an evolutionary leap forward with Quantum? Contact us, and let’s get started today.

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