There are right and wrong ways to store your hops to keep them as fresh as possible for future brewing and dry hopping. In this blog entry, we are going to cover some best practices for preserving the quality and potency of your hops when storing them for an extended period.
First off, it is important to be aware that hops are constantly degrading, and at best, all we can hope to do is slow the process down. As time passes, the resins, acids, and oils in the hops break down and the potential for aroma and bittering is drastically diminished. The two greatest causes of hop degradation are temperature and exposure to oxygen.
The colder you can store your hops, the better, as it will slow the rate of oxidization. Ideally, you want to store your hops in a freezer with a temperature of less than 30F. If possible, strive for a temperature closer to 20F, and do your best to make sure that the hops are vacuum sealed and free of any moisture when frozen. Oxygen is the true nemesis of hop freshness. Do your best to keep your hops properly sealed in a bag that is resistant to oxygen permeability and flushed with nitrogen. If you do not have access to a vacuum sealer, use a Ziploc bag, and remove as much oxygen out of the bag as possible.
If you have stored your hops for longer then 12-24 months, you will probably want to consider replacing them with some fresher hops. It is difficult to know how fresh the hops were when the supplier received and packaged them, so at that point they may already be 3 years old, and their bittering potential will be very difficult to predict. If the hops are brownish in color, and the aroma is faint or unusual, they should be discarded.
Secondary fermentation is the process of transferring your beer to a secondary fermentation vessel to allow the beer to complete its fermentation cycle and condition in a clean environment. The primary reason for a secondary fermentation is to improve the taste of a beer. Towards the end of the primary fermentation, much of the yeast, beer solids, and hop solids will fall out of the beer and form sediment on the bottom of the fermenter. If left in contact with the beer too long, the dead yeast and solids can impart off or undesirable flavors upon the beer. For this reason, many brewers choose to rack the beer off of the sediment into a secondary fermenter to allow the beer to finish out fermentation, clarify, and condition.
The need for secondary fermentation is somewhat dependent on the style and characteristics of the beer that you are creating. For instance, if I am brewing an American wheat hefeweizen, I probably will not go through the trouble of a secondary fermentation because it is a relatively low alcohol beer with a low flocculating strain of yeast. This means it will ferment quickly, so the beer is only in contact with the sediment for a short period of time, and much of the yeast will remain in suspension with this style of beer, so a yeasty taste and cloudy appearance is appropriate.
If I was brewing an IPA with a high starting gravity, and I wanted to highlight the hoppy flavor of the beer, I would certainly conduct a secondary fermentation to remove as much yeast and yeast flavor from the finished beer to help both with taste and clarity. Depending on the beer style, gravity, fermentation temperatures, yeast strain, and yeast health, a secondary fermentation can typically last anywhere from two weeks to several months. When conducting a secondary fermentation on certain beers, such as sours, the secondary fermentation can in some cases last over a year.
An imperial chocolate stout being racked into a secondary fermentation carboy,