One day you are thinking of brewing a delicious beer, then when you look in the fridge at your hop collection, you notice a bag that has been in there way too long. Maybe you opened it, and used some but never got around to using the rest. It happens to the best of us.
You may be asking the question: Are these hop pellets bad, if so how can I know?
Hops are antimicrobial so they can’t spoil. But, hops are susceptible to oxidation and heat exposure. These two vulnerabilities fade hop oil intensity over time. Vacuum seal and freeze hops to extend shelf life. Hops can remain useful for years properly stored, but never truly go bad.
While hops don’t ever get so bad you can’t use them, barring gross situations of decomposition and mold. They will lose the ability to make a world class IPA. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful for other purposes.
How To Tell if Hops are Bad
When it comes to hops, the pellets typically last far longer than fresh whole leaf hops. Hop pellets can last for a very long time if they are properly sealed and kept at cold temperatures.
You can store hop pellets in the freezer while vacuum sealed, they will retain their hop oils for a very long time and can probably be used just as you normally would us them fresh.
If you have improperly stored the hops then their life expectancy is cut down significantly. Don’t use the hops for aroma and flavor in beers other than sours if they exhibit these traits:
- They smell cheesy.
- They turn brown.
- They have a musty scent.
These traits are great for sour beers and its actually want you want to achieve if you are purposely aging your hops.
What you don’t want is moldy hops, those are hops that should be thrown away immediately. Its also the reason why you can’t use fresh cone hops after they have been aged, unless they have been dried out.
Because of the larger surface area fresh cone hops will be more susceptible to oxygen and heat degradation. Its also why aged hops used in lambics are generally whole leaf since they can age quicker.
Alpha and Beta Acids
Alpha acids are what we notice most in beer. These acids contribute to the bitterness when boiled and are the source of the strong aroma. Aged hops lose alpha acids but retain anti-microbial properties.
Beta acids on the other hand play a secondary role but not much is known about them. They take much longer and are harder to break down and are thought of as being much more bitter. When aging hops alpha acids dissipate while beta acids often remain.
Improperly Stored Hops Shelf Life
Now that we know what to look for in bad hops how long can you expect improperly stored hops to last?
Improperly stored hops will degrade much quicker. If they are dried pellet hops they could potentially still last from 6-12 month’s, although the alpha acid content may still be questionable.
Remember to look for the traits above when deciding whether or not to use them and pay special attention to how much heat and oxygen exposure they have gotten.
Even improperly stored hops are still OK for use, unless they were not kept dry. Mildewed hops are not viable and should be considered spoiled. But as long as they are kept dry you are in good shape.
You may wan’t to double the recipe when using these types of hops since you might not get the hop kick you were looking for, because of the alpha acid degradation.
Keeping Hops Fresh Longer
Obviously you will want to use fresh hops more often than not so it is important to keep them fresh longer. Not to mention buying larger bags of hops will be cheaper than buying a few ounces.
Often, I will buy a 2 oz bag of hops only to realize my recipe only calls for 1 oz of it. This leaves me in an annoying position and a need to store the excess hops.
The best way to keep the hops fresh will be to store them in the coldest place possible, but you will also want to keep oxygen out as well. For this you will need a vacuum sealer.
If you already have a vacuum sealer at home that you can use, great! But if you don’t already, make sure you pick up this Foodsaver from Amazon. Not only is it great for vacuum sealing all foods but its the best way to store your unused hops.
You can also opt for a more budget vacuum sealer, but since you can get more use out of it than just storing hops, why not spend a bit more money for something quality.
With properly sealed hops, you can store them for years with no worries about freshness and keep all that aroma goodness.
Buy in Bulk
Its probably a good idea to buy hops direct or even in bulk to get the best deal. Since hops are often one of the more expensive ingredients. Usually the best place to buy hops in bulk is either your local homebrew shop or an online one like Adventures in Homebrewing.
Tip: I found these rare aluminum can hops that are sold in 6oz increments. They are also better for the environment, since they have a tendency to be more recyclable than plastic containers.
You can even buy in bulk and vacuum seal your hops in 1 oz increments for easy access on brew day.
Uses For Old Hops
Purposely aging hops takes some effort. For lambics brewers often store their hops in a paper bag for 2-3 years. So you won’t have to stress out too much about using your properly stored hops.
Nonetheless, maybe you have been brewing for a very long time and you’ve had hops in the freezer for a decade. Your hops might not be very great. But fret not there is still a use for them.
- Use them to make a sour.
- Use them to make a session IPA.
While the hops will lose their bitterness and aroma, they are still useful for their anti-microbial property. Heck, they might even still have some bitterness left in them. So instead of wasting them use them in conjunction with fresh hops to get the aroma and IBU’s you want.
How Long Can Hops Last Seeled in a Freezer
If you didn’t already know hops are usually only harvested once a year. That is in mid-August and September. So if you are buying hops at any other time of the year say maybe June-or July your hops purchased from a supplier are already nearly a year old.
So you don’t have to worry to much about how long they can last unless buying in extreme bulk. Usually those hops are stored in very cold temperatures and vacuum sealed. The suppliers also keep track of the acid content in the hops to make sure they continue to be of high quality.
If you are storing hops in your own freezer, you can expect it to last a very long time, upwards of 5 years have been recorded. Although without special equipment to test the alpha acid levels there is no way of knowing how fresh it really is.
But even at 5 years you should be able to use them without any ill effects other than a dull IPA.
Hop Types and Viability
It stands to question whether all hops are equal when it comes to storage. The answer to this rely lies on the alpha acid content. The more alpha acids present in a specific style of hops the more hop degradation will come into question.
Citra Simco and Summit hops have some of the highest alpha acid content so when it comes to these hops the fresher the better. When dealing with hops that have lower alpha acids you need not worry as much about the length of time they are in storage.
If you are interested in calculating the loss over time of your alpha acids then you can refer to beer and wine journal and do some math. But that is beyond the scope of this article.
Thanks for reading and make sure to check back for more articles on homebrewing frugally.