Magic Dust: Will a New Oil-Rich Powder Change Hoppy Beers?

Behind the Bines by | Mar 2017 | Issue #122

Lupulin powder. Just two words, but to beer drinkers, they hint of magic.

LupuLN2 offers hops in a different form than brewers have used before. Those who have tried the powder praise it for its aroma and greater efficiency. But the name itself—conjuring up images of a brewer dancing past fermentation tanks, sprinkling dust and spicing beer with the exotic flavors currently in vogue—is also part of the attraction.

“It definitely feels like something special when you are using it,” says Ryan Horlacher, production manager at Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing—the brewery whose Bodhizafa IPA beat out 311 beers to win the gold medal for American-Style India Pale Ale at last year’s Great American Beer Festival.

Fewer brewers have heard of it than have not, but that’s about to change. In early March, YCH Hops, a grower-owned hop supplier based in Yakima, Wash., began promoting Cryo Hops, a line with two different products that result from the same process. It will introduce one of them, LupuLN2, to a wider audience in April at the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington DC. Currently Cryo Hops are only available to commercial breweries, but the goal is to also offer them to homebrewers in the future.

A team at YCH began working to create an essential oils-rich concentrate suitable for dry hopping in 2014. “We identified what we wanted, then backtracked to find the equipment and process we needed to accomplish this,” says Blaze Ruud, YCH’s northwest sales manager, who worked in production at the time.

The proprietary process shares much with the way the cannabis industry extracts Kief (or Keef), the dried resin glands found on plant leaves that contain a higher concentration of psychoactive cannabinoids. “But we have an enhanced process that preserves quality and makes sustainable processing possible,” Ruud says. As the Cryo (short for cryogenic) trademark implies, this is achieved at very cold temperatures in a nitrogen atmosphere, limiting oxidation of sensitive resins and oils. Basically, leaf hops are chilled and milled, and the lupulin within the lupulin gland is separated from the green matter.

Lupulin contains alpha acids, compounds that are converted into bitter iso-alpha acids during the brewing process, and essential oils, which include hundreds of compounds that create distinctive odors through additive or synergistic effects. Most of those end up in LupuLN2. The powder also contains twice the percentage of alpha acids as the original hops or the pellets they might otherwise be converted into, and about twice the percentage of oils. So far Cascade, Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, Ekuanot, Columbus, Loral, and HBC 682 (a high-alpha experimental hop) are available in powder form.

A few breweries—notably Sierra Nevada Brewing, Victory Brewing, and Deschutes Brewery—still use “whole” hop cones, but most brew with pellets. Both contain green matter from the cone that YCH has made into a separate product, Debittered Leaf, which the company hopes brewers will find suitable for use in brewing sour beers.

Joe Mohrfeld at Pinthouse Pizza in Austin, Texas, was one of the first brewers to test drive the powder, then talked to YCH’s Hop & Brew School about how to use it last September. “Most brewers are using it for dry hopping and it requires more attention to detail,” Ruud says. “But we are educating brewers better than we did at first.”

Pinthouse is one of several breweries that has already switched some of their hop contracts from pellets to powder. “The quality of the end product is significantly better. The thing that blew me away is it reminded me of standing in the baling room [on a hop farm], the freshness of it,” Mohrfeld says. “It is more intense, for sure. And the quality of that intensity is more nuanced.”

He adds about 5 pounds of hops per barrel to his flagship IPA. Because using the powder means less beer is absorbed by the green matter during dry hopping, the additional beer he gets from each batch more than offsets the expense, which costs about twice as much per pound. And while many factors affect yield improvement, Ruud says 4 percent has been about average.

LupuLN2 is so new that there hasn’t been time to address many questions, such as those about the impact of reducing amounts of polyphenols and glycosides (which are in the green matter) or about the stability of aroma brewers describe as more vibrant.

Few breweries have examined the powder as thoroughly as Georgetown. Unlike others that have used it only for aroma purposes, Georgetown brewed side-by-side batches using Citra powder for bittering as well. YCH helped Horlacher find pellets and cones from the same hop lot, allowing for a direct comparison. In a blind taste test, only four of 11 tasters could tell the difference between the two batches. In addition, the improvement in yield did not offset the higher cost. “I know some brewers who love the stuff,” says Horlacher, who personally preferred the batch with powder. “You just gotta try it and see how you like it.”

Sam Richardson, co-founder at Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he expects the brewery will experiment with using powder for bitterness as well as aroma because it’s half the weight and reduces the brewery’s carbon footprint. So far, they’ve been delighted with the aromatics in dry-hopped batches. Richardson saves cans from every run to sample as the beer ages. “We haven’t seen any severe drop off,” he says.

Block 15 in Corvallis, Ore., began using powder not long after owner Nick Arzner picked up samples while in Yakima to make hop selections last year. “I’ve always been ready to experiment with the new things. We’ve been using CO2 extract for years,” he says. “I’ve been enjoying the character as well as the increased yield.”

Arzner says Block 15 sells “our IPAs so damn fast” he can’t compare the aroma stability of powder versus pellets. But he understands what gets the attention of customers. One month before YCH began using the name LupuLN2, Block 15 released Juice Joint, “the first canned offering out of our innovative series of IPAs brewed with C02 Hop Extract and Lupulin Powder.”

That sounds like a guy who knows how to talk to lupulin lovers.