Hops! These delicious little green cones of flavor have been the dominant bittering agent in virtually all beer for the last 600 years or so. First described botanically by Roman statesman Pliny the Elder, he named the plant Humulus lupulus, taking the species name from the Latin word for wolf. This was a nod to Pliny’s observation that, in the wild, hop bines tended to snake through existing foliage, moving among them like a wolf among sheep. The magic in hops that all brewers seek to extract is found at the core of the female hop flowers in the lupulin glands. These glands contain all the bittering, flavoring and aromatic oils and acids that have delighted beer drinkers for centuries.
Despite romantic notions of fields of bright green hop bines delicately trained up trellises patiently awaiting harvest so that they may find their way into your beer, the reality is more complicated and not quite as glamorous. The truth is that those green little hop cones are fragile. They don’t travel well and their shelf life is pretty short. Thus, the overwhelming majority of breweries make beer with hop pellets, little brownish kernels that are created from harvested whole cone hops. Hop pellets so dominate modern brewing that the handful of breweries who use whole cone hops, such as Victory and Sierra Nevada, advertise their use of cones since they believe the cones yield a superior beer. While the jury is still out on whether whole cone hops are better, there’s no debate that hop pellets are far from perfect. Sure, they’re fairly affordable and easy to work with, but the heat needed to create the pellets destroys a lot of the volatile oils that define a hop’s character. Additionally, hopping with pellets (or cones, for that matter) decreases beer yield by absorbing beer like sponges. The other drawback to pellets and cones alike is that they may impart undesirable leafy and vegetal notes from the greenery of the plant. Remember, it’s the oils at the center of the cone that brewers are looking for.
This is where lupulin powder comes in. There’s a new proprietary process that promises to deliver the best of all worlds with no foreseeable downsides. The powder is created from whole cone hops without any heat, thus preserving the delicate hop oils. Lupulin powder producers also claim that this new process of turning hops into a usable powder also eliminates any vegetal notes, leaving behind more pure hop flavors. Additionally, lupulin powder (also called dust) increases beer yield by as much as 5% since it has no sponge like properties that would soak up precious beer. Lupulin powder is an extremely new trend but the handful of professional brewers who have worked with it are in love. They corroborate all the manufacturer’s claims. We may very well be on the precipice of a major leap forward in beer production, with brewers now able to churn out higher volumes of beer with more precise, pure aromas and flavors with cleaner, brighter bitterness. We’ll have to wait patiently to see commercial examples readily available but keep your ear to the ground when it comes to Lupulin powder. It’s poised to revolutionize the beer world. Cheers!