Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pellet Hops Vs Whole Leaf Hops; What's the difference?

So you go to your local homebrew supply store and they have both pellet hops and whole leaf hops and you're not sure which ones to get because you don't know the difference between the two. Well, it's really quite simple. Pellet hops are just pulverized whole leaf hops that look like rabbit food and there are some differences between them. Since pellet hops are pulverized and crushed up during processing, this also crushes up the lupilin glands in the hops. What does this mean? It means that you will be able to isomerize the alpha acids in the hops better and gain a higher extraction rate. This translates to mean that you'll get more bitterness out of your hops. However, this does not mean that you won't get the same out of whole leaf. Since whole leaf hops aren't processed then they aren't as harshly handled. So that means there are MORE lupilin glands in whole leaf hops, which also means that whole leaf hops generally have a higher alpha acid rating. Usually, pellet hops have a lower alpha acid rating than whole leaf hops. Let's say that cascade pellet hops have a 6.0% rating, if you look at whole leaf of the same variety they'll have a higher alpha acid rating of say 6.8%. Because of this I firmly believe that you get the same utilization out of either kind of hop.

Many people claim that whole leaf hops absorb more wort than pellet hops. I believed this for a while but then decided that ounce for ounce both pellet hops and whole leaf hops absorb the same amount of wort. It just looks like whole leaf absorb more wort because they aren't pulverized. One good thing about whole leaf hops is that they can easily be filtered out of the wort before transferring to a fermenter. Some people actually squeeze the absorbed wort out of the hops to get as much as they can out of them. If you do this make sure everything is sanitized!

Contact time. Pellet hops, since they are pulverized, have more surface area contact to them, which increases utilization as well. Whereas whole leaf don't have as much contact surface to them, but again, since they have more lupilin glands and higher alpha acid ratings then I believe they are equal.

One other thing, since pellet hops are condensed into a smaller form, their shelf life is usually longer because they aren't exposed as much to oxygen and heat. However, any kind of hop that isn't properly stored in an oxygen impermeable bag will degrade at a higher rate regardless of storage in the freezer.

What I believe it comes down to is personal preference. If the variety I'm looking for isn't in whole leaf then I'll buy pellets and vice versa. I personally use whole leaf because they work the best with my brewing system.

I hope this clears up some confusion as to whether or not you should use pellets or whole leaf. When it comes down to it, they are both hops, so use what you can get, especially during a hop shortage.

One more note: I firmly believe that whole leaf hops are better for dry hopping than pellet. I believe that you extract more flavor from the actual leaf with whole hops than the pulverized leaf from pellet hops.

Happy brewing, and don't forget to dry hop those pale ales and IPA's! I'll be posting recipes soon, too.


Brewing Dave said...

Good info, but I'm a confirmed leaf hop brewer. The problem is the scarcity of leaf hops.

Pellet hops dissolve and become sludge in the wort. When transfering from kettle to primary fermenter, I am passing the wort through a wire strainer. This invariably clogs when hop pellets are used. Also, the amount of sludge at the bottom of the fermenter will be easily double with pellets.

There is a simple pleasure to use leaf hops as a natural filter and sparge them after wort transfer. They never clog the strainer and its a joy compared to those blasted pellets.

Doug said...

Never used whole leaf hops but I would like to try them on my next batch. I absolutely agree about the sludge left from the pellets. It was a pain straining it and a bit messy as well. But one thing is for sure, they boil out a lot of bitterness, flavor and aroma. I think I'm going to dry hop this batch with some leaf hops. Cheers

Brewing Dave said...

I have moved into all grain brewing since the last comment, but in Minnesota where the weather gets very cold, cannot do the all grain in the winter as it really needs lots of water and the hoses, especially to clean up afterward.

I like pellets for all grain as you are doing a full wort boil and can leave more sludge in the brew kettle without problems. But when I go back to extract in the winter, I absoultelu use leaf if it is availble. It makes it so much more pleasant. Brew on!

Bob said...

The difference you saw in AA numbers for leaf vs pellet is probably an indication that they came from different growers. When you look at this year's crop from you see that their pelletized Amarillo are 10.7AA and the whole leaf Amarillo are also 10.7. Same grower, same hops = same AA.

Think about your assertion that "there are MORE lupilin glands in whole leaf hops." For the pellet hops, where would they go? Are they falling out of the machine?

Homebrew Junkie said...


Absolutely they are falling out of the machine and coating all of the pieces of machinery that chop them up. If you pick up a dry hop and just shake it, lupilin glands fall out all over the place. They are very delicate and that's why pellet hops lose the a.a. percentage during packaging.

Brewing Dave said...

I think the arguement is interesting but largely moot, as leaf hop variety's other than Cascade and Cluster are in chronic shortage and never around when you need them.

bhanson196 said...

I do like using pellet hops when dry hopping since they ultimately dissolve. It is a sure fire way to know when your brew is completely fermented out because the layer of hops has settled to the bottom of the carboy. I do agree with the sludge comments but if you are careful when racking it should not be a problem.

Matt F said...

I’ve used pelletized hops quite a bit in the past and I’ve had good luck keeping most (if not all) of the hop sludge out of my beer by putting the pellets in a grain sock and boiling them in the sock. I haven’t noticed any difference in bitterness, aroma, etc. between using the grain sock verses “free boiling” the pellets.

Matt F

Brewing Dave said...

The Blichman Hopblocker is a must for leaf hop brewing in a Blichman brew kettle. I tried my first batch in a new kettle without it and immediately had leaf hops block the egress. You could do pellets with this brewkettle but do not try leaf unless you have the Hopblocker. My best beer ever was an award winning Pilsner where I used 6 oz of Saaz leafs. Beyond soaking up extra wort, which with an all-grain system you can compensate for by a larger boil volume, there were no problemms and I did not have to rack off the cold trub as there was none. Call me a confirmed old leaf man and likely to remain one!

Brewer Mike said...

I myself prefer to use whole leaf hops over pellets. Number one reason being, like Brewer Dave said, they don't clog the wire strainer during the transfer from kettle to fermenter. I have used pellets quite often in the past and used whole leaf when i can find them (which ins't very often). Also like Brewer Dave said, it creates a lot more sludge in the bottom of the fermenter.

I brewed my first batch of all grain last night and it went very well, but again the pellet hops were a nightmare! Everything went very smooth up until the transfer. I would suggest to any homebrewer to use whole leaf hops if you can find them.

George Thompson said...

The utilisation of whole hops should be about 30% while hop pellets should be about 60% (one hour boil). If you are getting a very different result then you are doing something unusual.
Well produced hop pellets that have not been heat damaged during pelletization and have been properly stored after pelletizing will have better aroma and flavour and remain fresher for longer.
Cleaning out the wort kettle / whirlpool after brewing with pellets is so much easier compared with whole hops and the wort kettle / hop back - that for that reason alone pellets win…

aleandmetaltv said...

I dont think there is any reason to have a strainer on your boil kettle when using pellet hops. After flame out, just stir the wort into a whirlpool with a large spoon, let it settle for a minute or two, then start your transfer by pulling from the sidewall of the kettle. (I use a 90* elbow to get a little lower in the kettle). All the trub will cone and settle in the center of yor kettle. Towards the end of the transfer, I tip my kettle to get every last trub free drop. Once I see debris in my lines, I stop the transfer.

I just brewed my first (home grown) whole cone beer this week. I do have to say, I wish I had a strainer on my kettle when I saw a hop heading down my line and into my pump, then making its way into my Therminator (plate heat exchanger). I just threw a small metal cooking strainer over my draw point in the kettle and it was all good after that.

What about the "vegetal?" flavors people speak of from using whole cones? Is that just not true?