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What is Hop Burn?

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What is Hop Burn?

What is hop burn, how does it happen, and why? Too-fresh, greenness, or high-acid are all things that I’ve heard, but they’re not 100% accurate.

 

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A couple of years ago my good friend and partner in crime design were sitting at Craft Beer Cellar Cypress discussing a web design project for a brewery in town. One Parish Ghost in the Machine and one Great Heights Fruity Pellets, please.

My friend John, or Johnnyo as he’s affectionately known, is a self-proclaimed hop head. Over the last few years he and his wife, Michelle, have taken to hazy IPAs specifically.

Remember when people (us included) thought these were gonna be another trend? Sorry. Back to the story.

Anyhow, John mentioned to me that he’d learned of the term hop burn just a few days ago. I was kinda surprised to be honest. Here’s a guy with a garage fridge full of hazy bangers, somebody I’d call a beer nerd for sure, and he’d never even heard of hop burn despite drinking hop burn literally for years.

“I wonder how many other people have never heard of this,” I thought to myself, “I gotta write about it.”

First Things First – What is Hop Burn?

Hop burn is a sensation that typically happens when drinking really fresh IPAs, especially those that are of the hazy variety. Some beer nerds might describe a beer with hop burn as being “green” or “too green.” “Hop bite” is another term for it, and I’ve even heard a few folks erroneously call it “alpha burn,” but more on that in a few.

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It’s usually experienced at the end of the sip, or soon after. While the aftertaste kicks in, there’s a burning astringency that some have described like sucking on a dry bag of black tea. I’ve never sucked on a dry bag of black tea (also, WTF? Who does that?)

It’s like the driest of dryness, tingling in the back of your throat. Some more-sensitive folks may even gag or feel like they’re choking a little bit.

If you’ve never felt this, then you probably don’t drink hazy IPAs. If you hate hazy IPAs, but you like other IPA styles, hop burn just might be why you’re not fond of these heavily-hopped beers.

Hit up your home brewer friend or local homebrew shop for some hop pellets, and suck on one of those little green bad boys. That gross, dry, chalky, burning feeling in the back of your throat… That’s hop burn.

 

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Cool. We’ve Answered the Question What is Hop Burn, but How Does it Happen?

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “too much of a good thing,” then you might understand the condition of craft beer in America.

More.

More.

In the words of the late, great, Kobe Bryant… How much more? “More.”

Hazy IPAs aren’t just made with more hops, they’re also hopped at different times than other, more traditional, IPAs. This is referred to as the hop schedule.

The hop schedule of the average IPA might look a little like, bittering hops in the beginning of the boil, a little more bittering hops at the end of the boil, and a handful of flavor/aroma hops towards the end once the boil is done and it’s cooling down. This isn’t a home brewing article, so there’s no sense laboring over recipes, but this is important. When hops are added early when the boil is really hot, they impart more bitterness. When they’re added late or once it’s cooled, they impart more flavor and aroma.

Hazy IPAs are just built different. Many of these types of recipes call for little to no bittering hops at all, and instead of being added in little charges throughout the boil, they’re all added in one big charge at the end once the boil is over. This results in those intense flavor/aroma hops shining. Want more? Add more hops. Want even more? Dry hop. Dry hopping is adding hop to the beer during or after fermentation when the beer is completely cool. There’s definitely a point of diminishing returns, and every brewer will tell you a different amount, but a common rule of thumb is more hops = more flavor and aroma.

Since this style is so flavorful and so aromatic, a ton of hops are often used. That can result in an imbalance of polyphenols which cause the astringent burn in your throat!

“It’s generally believed this [hop burn] is a result of overloading on polyphenols found in the vegetative matter of hops,” says Chad Kennedy, hop specialist at Brewers Supply Group (BSG), a national supplier based in Shakopee, Minn.

While there have yet to be studies published in relation to hop burn specifically, previous research has tied hop polyphenols to astringency. Because this vegetative matter does not contain alpha acids or essential oils, there’s a rule of thumb brewers can reference when assessing the risk of hop burn from a specific hop varietal: The higher the alpha-acid content of the hop variety, the lower the polyphenol levels of that variety. “Likewise, the lower the alpha-acid content, the higher the polyphenol content,” says Janish.

The longer the hops stay in the beer, the more polyphenols can be extracted. This gives a more astringent and rough sip. More hops. More time with hops in the beer. More burn. More. More. You see the trend yet?

 

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So, to recap… What is hop burn?

Hop burn is a scratchy feeling in the back of your throat that’s caused by too many hops in the batch, or more specifically, too many polyphenols. Some people actually mark it as a sign of freshness or high-quality, but those things are subjective in this case.

There’s a lot more to the subject of hops, IPAs, the differences between different IPAs, etc. Hopefully we’ll get to all of those topics one day, but for now, these are the basics on hop burn.

Beers to you, Houston.

 

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Anthony Gorrity
tony.d@beerchronicle.com

Anthony's a Houston native, a Creative Strategist at https://ledgeloungers.com/, an adjunct instructor of Visual Communication at Lone Star College, and a UH Coog that loves good beer almost as much as he does his city. Anthony lives to help others and that's found a home helping some of the coolest breweries on earth with creative and marketing projects that can be seen on our Portfolio page. Fueled by hoppy lagers, sessionable IPAs, and gangster rap, he's ticked his way through H-Town, rocking the most unusual Nikes he can find. When he's not writing for us, he's with his family or very patiently rooting for the Rockets.

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