Whole-Leaf Hops vs Pelletized Hops a contentious debate

by Deborah Mitchell

Whole-cone hops or pellets this causes more heated debate among brewers than anything else.

I suggest that it is difficult to dispute that pellets are better where it counts – flavour, storage-capacity and easy-of-use.

This is not intended as anti-leaf propaganda and it should be noted that leaf hops do give off clearer floral notes – so if that is you are looking for in your beer, then whole-leaf hops are definitely advised. In any other sense, pellets are definitely a better choice even when it comes to the actual taste of the beer. They impart character quicker than leaf hops do, they provide more flavour, and most importantly, they are more consistent in flavour.

There is something romantic about using actual hops in your brewing and there is definitely something to be said for that. However there is nothing romantic about having to clean out the mess of spent hops from brewing and fermenting vessels including clogged valves – or ending up with a poorly hopped end-product because of the varying hop alpha and difficulty in estimating the hop utilization correctly.

Pelletised hops are essentially hops crushed into pellet form. This takes place within two or three days from harvest – while the hops are still very fresh. In the process, the leaves and stalks of the hop are removed, leaving only the cones in the pellets. Because pellets no longer look natural but instead industrial, some brewers have the notion that they are inferior to using actual hops, but this is simply not true.

Better Flavour

Firstly hop pellets give of more flavour than whole-cone hops. According to studies, hop pellets give roughly 10% more bitterness, flavour and aroma compared to whole-cone. In crushing hops for making hop pellets, the lupilin glands inside the hops are crushed, which means you get a better extraction rate of alpha acid – leading to more bitterness when the alpha acid is isomerised in the boil.

In many blind tests, pellet hops have come out on top in terms of flavour and scientists have found similar results by analysing the chemical compounds in the flavour profiles. Various tasting studies report similar results – that the flavour intensity was favourably affected by the use of hop pellets when comparing to whole-cone hops and it has also been shown that pellets increase the flavour stability brew-to-brew.

These are some of cited reasons that pellets are preferred to whole-cone by professionals, who want consistency in their product.

Having said all this, many people claim that whole-cone gives off a better flavour when it comes to dry hopping. However the results from blind tests are inconclusive. On top of which, whole cone hops introduce more oxygen to the beer and soak up more of the wort and they are also impractical in the brewing process for reasons given below.

Easier Storage

Having tried to deal with the big, contentious issue – which type tastes better – we can move on to talking about what everyone agrees on: pellets are way more practical, not least because how easy they are to store.

Pelletised hops take up less space, pellets have less surface area, so they oxidize more slowly which means they stay fresh longer and have a better flavour for longer. Pellets have a lower rate of alpha loss than whole-leaf hops, with only 10-20% loss over 12 months at 20oC and almost no loss at all in a frozen state. They last up to 3 years in a normal refrigerator. Whole leaf hops, on the other hand, last approximately 6 months and in the best-case scenario up to 1 year by which time they will not give anything close to their original flavour. Smelly socks and parmesan cheese have both been used to describe the smell of old hops.

Very, very fresh whole-leaf hops may be equally as good as (some would claim superior to) pellets, but the high alpha loss rate removes any advantage and only brewing with fresh, seasonal whole-leaf hops would restrict brewing to three months a year!

Easier Brewing

The use of whole-leaf hops produces more mess to clean up and can clog up the nozzles and valves of your brewing vessel. Dry hopping in the fermenter produces another difficult cleaning job. Pelletised hops are generally hosed out with very little effort.

It is advisable to use a muslin bag when dry hopping with whole-leaf and to weigh down the buoyant leaves ensuring that they are wetted and that the flavour gets into the liquid. This means you typically need to use more 10-15% more hops (because of the muslin bag retaining some flavour) increasing the cost of dry hopping with whole leaf hops.

Pellets, on the other hand, avoid many of these problems. They are small and easy to handle, and for home brewers, they eliminate most of the issues you will have with whole-leaf hops in the dry-hopping process. They also soak up less wort than whole-leaf hops, leaving you with more beer! The one problem with pellets is that they give of more trub if used loose in for example a dry hopping situation.

This may lead to some clogging issues similarly to whole-leaf hops, but these can be solved by using a muslin bag when brewing and/or by using a strainer on your siphon when siphoning the beer. Also, you should make sure to use a finer strainer when brewing with pellets so that less hop matter transfers to the bottle.

In short: Choose pellets (most of the time)

The bottom line is that pellets are not only easier to store and to use; they are more consistent when it comes to their flavour and they actually give off more flavour – seemingly contrary to popular belief among some brewers. While there definitely is something to be said for the romantic factor of using whole leaf hops “the way it has always been”, and they do give off better floral notes for example, pelletised hops in our opinion win in the long run on usability, storability, cost effectiveness and most importantly the end result.

I may be harbouring a certain bias because when I started brewing full time professionally on the 13th of August 1979 at a brewery with a German designed brewhouse it was specially designed for pelletised hops. It was several years before I became familiar with the problems associated with whole hop usage.

Written by our friend George Thompson Brewing Consultant

Organic Malt Now available at Geterbrewed

by Deborah Mitchell

Organic Malt

The importance of agricultural sustainability and the environment is becoming more and more apparent in the world today. Crisp Organic Malt is produced from barley that is certified as grown using environmentally friendly farming methods. These farms are certified by the Soil Association in the United Kingdom and globally recognised.

We have added the whole range of Organic Malts from Crisp Maltings

Available in Ale and Extra Pale and Crystal - Whole or Crushed fresh prior to dispatch

To ensure Crisp Organic Barley maintains its Organic state throughout malting, their malting plant in Great Ryburgh also endures strict inspections and standards to make sure there is clear segregation between products throughout the process.

How to read Malt Analysis

by Deborah Mitchell

How To Read Malt Analysis

Typical British Pale Ale Malt Analysis


Typical Value


4-6.5 °EBC

Moisture Content (MC)

Hot Water Extract (HWE)

303-315 L°/kg

Cold Water Extract (CWE)


Total Nitrogen (TN)


Soluble Nitrogen Ratio (SNR)


Diastatic Power (DP)

124-212 °WK

Screenings <2.2 mm




Colour: In most of the world, colour is measured according to a visual method developed by the European Brewing Convention (expressed as EBC units).

In the US, malt colour is expressed in terms of the Standard Research Method (SRM) set by the ASBC or in °Lovibond, an older method of visual measurement upon which SRM is based.

The formula °EBC = (°L X 2.65) gives a reasonably accurate conversion to °Lovibond values.

Moisture content: The closer a malt is to 1.5% MC, the less it risks mould growth and the less flavour and aroma it will lose over time

Hot water extract (HWE): Indicates how many litres of wort at S.G. 1.001 a kilogram of a malt will give at 65 °C, and reports it as hot water extract, or L°/kg.

HWE for two-row lager or pale ale malt should not be less than 300 at 0.2mm grind or 295 at 0.7mm grind.

Grind difference (% FG/CG): The fine grind/coarse grind (FG/CG) difference indicates the modification of the malt.

A "steely" malt, one suitable only for a mash cycle that includes a protein rest, will have an FG/CG difference of 1.8-2.2%, while a mealy and well-modified malt suited to infusion mashing will have an FG/CG difference of 0.5-1.0%.

Cold water extract (CWE): British maltsters rarely give FG/CG values; instead, they usually quote CWE. The CWE is the amount of extract that is soluble in cold water 20 °C, and this value has a loose relationship to the FG/CG difference as an indicator of malt modification. A CWE of 19-23% indicates the malt is acceptable for infusion mashing; lower values indicate the need for low-temperature mash rests.

Protein or Nitrogen (%): Because proteins are made of nitrogen-based compounds such as amino acids, maltsters use protein and nitrogen values interchangeably; each 1% of nitrogen equals 6.25% of protein.

European lager and British ale malts are usually below 1.6% TN. One of the major reasons brewers prefer these malts for all-malt beers is because their protein levels are adequate for head-formation, body, and healthy fermentation, yet low enough to present less chill haze potential than high-protein North American malts. When adjuncts are used, malts of more than 1.6% TN are required to achieve acceptable head, body, and yeast nutrition.

Soluble nitrogen (% TSN): The amount of nitrogen in soluble form, expressed as a percentage of malt weight. The TSN parameters are used to calculate the soluble nitrogen ratio.

Soluble Nitrogen Ratio (% SNR): This ratio (SN/TN [soluble nitrogen/total nitrogen], or Kolbach Index) is calculated by dividing the soluble nitrogen value by the percent total nitrogen.

The SNR is an important indicator of malt modification. The higher the number, the more highly modified the malt. Malts destined for infusion mashing should have an SNR of 36-42%, or up to 45% for light-bodied beer. At a percentage much over 45% SNR, the beer will be thin in body and mouthfeel. For traditional lager malts, 30-33% indicates under modification, and 37-40% indicates over modification.

Brewers can take account of increases in SNR by adding low-temperature rests. Conversely, a decrease in SNR can be allowed for by shortening the duration of low-temperature rests.

Starch conversion: Diastatic power (DP) expresses the strength of starch-reducing enzymes in the malt and is measured in oWindisch–Kolbach ( oWK) in Europe or °Lintner in the US. The diastatic power, considered together with mealiness/steeliness, indicates how well a malt will respond to mashing. For conversion oWK = (3.5 x oLintner) - 16

Screenings: this figure should be as low as possible indicating that the maltster has cleaned the malt adequately and you are not paying for excessive unproductive dust.

Friability is the measure of a malt's readiness to crumble when subjected to crushing. Any malt should be at least 80% friable; for infusion mashing, malt should be at least 85% friable, in my experience 90%’ would be preferable. This measurement puts a figure on chewing the malt – it is always worth checking the quoted figure against a chew of five or six corns and storing the feel of the chew away in your memory!

George Thompson our friend has kindly written this article he has been a brewer and subsequent brewing consultant for his whole career, he always tells me UK malts are the superior malts for brewing.

Designing Beer Recipes

by Deborah Mitchell

Beer Recipes Design

Starting point

Start by choosing a beer style. The beer style no longer defines the beer in the way it may have done in my early days as a brewer, there is plenty of room for imagination, rather the beer style creates the baseline to build from.

Internet sources (many are American so not always totally reliable from our perspective) will give you a guide to lots of beer styles. They will give suggestions on the range of colour and bitterness as well as strength, OG and PG etc. Another way to start is when you come across a beer that you really like - see if you can reproduce your version. Either by taste and see if you can guess the various ingredients and their proportions or by finding out a little more about the beer. Many publications claim to list the recipes of commercial beers. These are sometimes surprisingly accurate, especially if they have been provided by the brewer. They can also be a little misleading – I have seen published recipes for beers that I was once responsible for which bore no relation to the actual recipe. There are also beer recipe designing books – I have never read any so cannot comment.

The Ingredients

Beer is brewed with water, malt and hops with, occasionally, spices and of course fermented with yeast. All of these ingredients contribute to the final beer taste. It is worth doing a bit of research to determine what ingredients are typically used your target beer style, and in what proportions. At this stage it is easier to work in percentages for the malt grist for example 90% pale ale malt, 7% crystal malt and 3% roast barley etc.. As a rule, traditionally about 90% of the malt is normally the main or base malt there for flavour colour and fermentable sugars with the other 10% of malts there for flavour and colour. You will find a lot of new wave American influenced recipes with lower base malt % and consequently higher coloured malt % but trust me for the most part this is a passing fashion. By all means experiment but too much flavour is not always a good thing.

Having determined the ingredients and proportions that are appropriate to the beer style you are a long way towards producing a recipe which will taste the way it should.

Getting the numbers right

You have selected your list of ingredients and have the proportions roughly correct. It is now time to use a spreadsheet or program such as Brewers Friend or BeerSmith, and see how the numbers look. I still prefer to use an excel spreadsheet that I have been using for the last 20 years. Before that as a young brewer I used a pencil, paper and a calculator and spend many hours adjusting recipes until my Production Director was happy that he had asked me to try every single permutation he could think of. I take issue with some of the results you are given by the above mentioned online calculators but eventually you will have to brew the beer and see what it looks and tastes like and then make any alterations you think are needed. The calculators often try to take account of the equipment you will be using and offer all sorts of different ways of mashing and wort running this may help if you are using a system which affects the extract efficiency etc. I tend to keep to isothermal mashing, continuous sparging and balanced with wort running. However I have the luxury of a miniature scaled down traditional ale brewery which allows me to brew much like a commercial ale brewer.

With the numbers from your calculator now confirming the OG, PG, abv, colour and bitterness that you should expect from the recipe it is time to make any adjustments so that you get closer to what you had intended.

Original Gravity or OG is an indication of the amount of fermentable and unfermentable sugar you will extract. The original gravity along with the PG determines how much potential alcohol the recipe will produce.

Present Gravity or PG (sometimes referred to as the Final Gravity or FG) This figure determines the sweetness or dryness of the beer as well as the alcohol. A higher PG will give you a sweeter beer with less alcohol and vice versa. Lagers and IPAs tend to have a lower PG and full-bodied ales and stouts tend to have a higher PG. You can control this to some extent by adjusting the mash temperature to alter the fermentability. The choice of yeast will also have a big influence The yeast attenuation refers to the percentage of sugars consumed by the yeast, and some styles require high attenuating yeast to achieve a clean flavour, while others require a low attenuating yeasts for a more complex flavour.

Bitterness (IBU in the USA, EBU everywhere else but as far as we are concerned the same) Bitterness from hops balances the malty flavour from the malts and the fruity etc. flavours from the yeast. The alpha acid content of your hops and how your equipment interacts with the hops will allow you to calculate the bitterness. I use a simple bitterness calculation that I have been using for almost 40 years it never agrees with the fancy calculators on the internet but it works for me.

Colour (SRM Lovibond in the USA, EBC everywhere else) – You can calculate the colour of your beer from the grist used. Estimating the colour is important because we drink with our eyes as well as smell and taste.

Bitterness Ratio (IBU/GU) – The bitterness ratio gives you a very rough measurement of the bitterness to malt balance for the recipe.

Carbonation (Vols or g/l) (1 vol = 1.96 g/l) The carbonation of your beer should match the style. Carbonation is commonly measured in volumes, where one volume would essentially be a litre of carbon dioxide gas dissolved into a litre of beer. Fermented beer at room temperature and open to the atmosphere contains about 1.0 volumes of CO2. Traditional English ales are often served with only the benefit of natural carbonation developed in the cask at 1.5 vols while many German beers are highly carbonated (up to 3.0 vols). If you research the style, you can often determine the traditional carbonation level for the beer.

Brewing Techniques

After you have the proper ingredients and have balanced the recipe by the numbers, the final step is to look at the techniques needed to brew this style of beer. Different styles definitely require application of a variety of brewing techniques. Some of the techniques to consider include:

  • Hop Techniques ­– A variety of hop techniques are available. Examples include first wort hopping, dry hopping, late hop additions, bittering hops, and use of a hopback. Different beer styles require different methods to achieve the appropriate balance.
  • Mash Techniques – For all grain and partial mash brewers, adjusting your mash temperature is critical to achieving the appropriate body for your beer. Lower mash temperature during the main conversion step will result in a lower body beer and higher mash temperatures result in more body. In addition, advanced brewers may want to consider advanced techniques like decoction mashing or programme mashing if appropriate to the style.
  • Fermenting, Lagering and Aging – The temperature for fermenting your beer should be appropriate for the yeast and beer you are using. Yeast manufacturers as well as most brewing software publish appropriate temperature ranges for fermentation of each yeast. Aging and lagering should also match your target style.

Beer design is partly art, and partly science, which for me makes it the interesting and enjoyable hobby it is.

If you do your homework, select quality ingredients, run the numbers and follow good brewing techniques you can make fantastic beer at home using your own recipes.

Written by our friend George Thompson ( Master Brewer & Brewing Consultant )

Water Treatment for Home Brewers & Craft Brewers

by Deborah Mitchell

The application of water treatment

Water treatment is all too often not given the attention it deserves by craft and home brewers. Some even justify their lack of understanding by condemning the use of “chemicals”.

If you want to brew beer that is not thin, watery, and lacking in character read on.

The application of water treatment for brewing is actually simple.

Around 95% of beer is water. As a young brewer I was taught that I should taste the water for every brew. The quality of the water you use to brew with will have a direct influence on the quality of the beer. Water treatment seeks to both correct undesirable water content and add in missing desirable content. Think of water treatment as if you were preparing a surface for painting – through preparation will yield the best results.

In medieval times, monks would taste the local water and from that decided whether it was suitable for brewing and indeed which style of beer it might best produce. After almost 40 years of professional brewing, I can taste water and determine at least some of its chemistry but that is no substitute for a water analysis from your water supply company. The standard water analysis will tell you some things and may alert you to a potential problem, but if you ask as well as the standard analysis they should be able to supply you with a list of the ions in their water that are important and you need to know about for brewing, more on this later.

The first treatment you need to consider for your brewing water is the removal of chlorine and chloramine. These are added by water companies as disinfectants. If these are not removed, they will react and cause off flavours most typically a chlorophenolic taste, which is not pleasant. Remember to treat all water involved in brewing not just the mash liquor.

Removal is simple either add the required level of crushed Campden tablets (1 tablet per 50L of water) the active sulphur dioxide diminishes rapidly as it reacts with chlorine and chloramine or alternatively pre filter your water with an active carbon filter.

Next let us look at mash pH – this is most influenced by alkalinity caused by carbonate and bicarbonate and if these ions are in sufficient concentration, you will need to remove them. This is most conveniently done by reacting with an acid. The amount of acid required is directly proportional to the alkalinity of the water the water companies will often express this as the concentration of carbonate (C03) or bicarbonate (HCO3). The aim here is to achieve a mash pH of 5.2 to 5.4. I prefer to use phosphoric acid if acid is needed to treat alkalinity where it is necessary this is because it does not significantly affect the taste or the sulphate chloride balance however other more easily obtained products are available such as, AMS which will also add sulphates and chlorides as it is a combination of hydrochloric and sulphuric acid. I would make any acid addition to the brewing liquor (mash and sparge liquor) not to the mash.

Since alkalinity in water can vary, it is important to check the mash pH as a routine.

I would recommend that you use an online water calculator to calculate all of your additions.

As discussed above if your water has high alkalinity and you want to brew a pale ale then you will need to add acid to reduce your pH. However, if you have low alkalinity you may need to add sodium carbonate to increase your pH when brewing a dark beer. This is because dark malts reduce the mash pH.

With your mash pH under control, you can look at the other important ions in your water. The ions which are relevant for brewing are Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Chloride (Cl), Sulphate (SO4) and Sodium (Na).

Calcium – The ideal range is 100 – 200 ppm. Low levels of calcium will cause fermentation and clarification problems. Calcium is most easily added to the mash as Calcium Chloride and Calcium Sulphate (gypsum). The choice being whether you also want to add sulphate or chlorides or both see below.

Magnesium – Not above 10 ppm. Magnesium effects the alkalinity of the water although nothing like as much as calcium. Magnesium provides nutrition for the yeast and so aids healthy fermentation. Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) is usually added to increase magnesium and sulphate levels. Personally, I do not like the taste of magnesium and would avoid adding it but would accept natural magnesium below 10ppm.

Chloride and Sulphate – These two ions work together and will determine the flavour and character of your beer. The addition ratio will highlight the malt or the hop flavours in the beer. More sulphate will bring out the hops and bitterness and will create a hard dryness. More chloride will bring out the malt flavours and create a soft sweetness. A possible ratio for a hoppy beer would be 200 ppm sulphate : 100 ppm chloride. If you want more malt flavour then 150 ppm sulphate: 150ppm chloride would work better. As with all brewing taste the result and make alterations if you are not happy. As already inferred, the easiest way to add chloride and sulphate is as calcium chloride and calcium sulphate (gypsum).

Sodium – up to 100 ppm sodium increases the mouthfeel and fullness but too much will cause an unpleasant salty flavour. Common salt (sodium chloride) can be used to add sodium but note this will also add chloride. Avoid brewing with water that has been softened as the softening process adds a lot of salt. Personally I would avoid adding sodium to my brewing water.

In summary.

Obtain a water analysis from your water supply company including the important brewing ions as follows: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Sulphate, Chloride, Hydrogen (pH), Bicarbonate (HCO3)

Then use an online water calculator to help determine what treatments are relevant to your recipe.

Finally taste the result and adjust if not quite right.

Written by our friend George Thompson (Master Brewer & Brewing Consultant)