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What Makes a Perfect IPA?

What makes a perfect IPA?

I was tasked with discussing this point and immediately asked for an easier topic to find a solution for, like which style of pizza is the best or which region makes the definitive BBQ. I joke, but in fact finding the “perfect” IPA has become a very similar discussion for real hop heads. Some hold up the clear, piney west coast IPAs as the holy grail while others couldn’t do without the more balanced and sometimes unfiltered—gasp—east coast IPAs that some have even described as “fuzzy”. It seems to be all too American to invent, or in this case re-invent, something and then immediately start bending the rules and making it your own (we’re looking at you Mr. Belichick, but I digress).

Even the original essence of the IPA has been turned on its head in the current craze for ever fresher consumption of IPAs. Think about it, we are now clearly instructed, in big numbers on the bottle, to drink this IPA by such and such a date lest we anger the hops gods (or gargoyles) by letting even an iota of holy hops oil escape. Better yet, we are told not to even waste the time of pouring it into a glass but to drink directly from the can by some of the headier makers of the style. Ironic, considering the style was first developed because it was thought to age like fine wine and thus only become better on the six month long sea voyage to the Indian sub-continent.

Surely there is something that we can pin down about an IPA that makes it an IPA. Does its malt backbone just barely keep up with the hoppy deliciousness that defines its flavor? Check. Is it the perfect vessel to highlight the intoxicating aromas and tongue-enveloping taste of your current favorite specimen of the hop family? Check. Does it make every other beer that you drink after it taste watery and bland with its palate-wrecking dose of lupulin? Check. Is it the beer world’s “does not play well with others” by really only pairing well with itself or other like flavors? Check. If the beer you’re drinking fits the bill, well, then you’re probably drinking an IPA.

Now you beg of me, “Please! In this world of Yelp telling me exactly what restaurants are good and Amazon telling me exactly which products are good, I need to be told what is good in the world of IPA!!!!” To that I can only say: take a sip. Do you taste the hops? Do you smell the hops? Do you like the hops? Then it’s good.

Stop worrying about what might be defined as good, and do as great brewers before you have done with this style. Brew what you define as good. Throw the rule book out the window! How do you think we ended up with something that is called a Black IPA (a beer that’s black and pale…AT THE SAME TIME!!)? Brew what you like and rejoice in your recklessness.

Prost, meine Freunde!


The Plinian Legacy Double IPA Kit

Zombie Dirt Pale Ale

Cord Koening Director of New Product Development at Northern Brewer

I’m very proud of the work Northern Brewer has done to help people make better beer at home. In 1995 I published the first edition of the Northern Brewer catalog. This catalog has since become the most famous showcase of brewing products in the industry. The Northern Brewer Homebrew Forum launched in 1997 and became a hugely popular place for homebrewers to get their brewing questions answered in near real-time. More recently, I created BrewingTV with a mission to create unique and fun videos about the culture of homebrewing. It is Northern Brewer’s mission to help you make the best possible beer.
That’s why we are so fond of saying, “We won’t rest until you brew your best.”


Hoperation Rhizome
The time has come homebrewing legends.

After a summer of sunny days, you should now be staring at an overgrowth of hop bines (yes BINE, click for definition) in the back yard and hopefully you’re elbows deep in hops that explode with aroma that will soon be captured in a harvest ale for the ages!  The first year doesn’t always yield much of a harvest, but next year will be even better.  I’m pretty stoked as well, I know!   Just keep calm, don’t worry, have a homebrew. Hoperation Rhizome is in its final stages at Northern Brewer, so if you have a minute to spare from being so awesome, we wanted to share some tips on hoptimizing harvest time!

Those first buds formed and the first reaction is to bust out the kettle and start throwing hops recklessly at a freshly made wort.  It’s been about 6 months since preorders started, be sure you wait until the cones are ready.  I prefer to focus on how dry and how aromatic the cones become.  The cones all of a sudden start to fan out and bulge under all those productive lupulin glands, and when you bend/break a cone you should see what looks like pollen.  That’s that sweet lupulin!

The edges can start to dry so when you see the cones fan out, you know harvest time is near.  The cones should also have a nice bounce when you squeeze them, and your fingers should be sticky after touching one.  Keep them well watered, to prevent browning, until the aromas just explode.  You want to take a cone, break it into a few pieces, then roll the cone back and forth between your two hands.  Cup your hands to your nose – now give them a good sniff.  Yeah, that’s nice, I know.  I like to hold off as long as I dare, if you start to see a few cones browning, don’t panic, just call your brew buddy, your neighbor, maybe a willing significant other, and get to harvesting.

Pro Tip: I know it’s hot, but do yourself a favor and wear long sleeves, a hat, and preferably gloves.  Microscopic barbs designed for climbing any possible surface will itch like the dickens after prolonged contact with your skin.  The bines want all the hops for themselves so they will try and bite when you pick them all at once.

You’ve got two options for harvesting that work well: pick the hops off the bine or pick the bine off the trellis and pick the cones later. The best way is to pick the hops right off the bine.  Not all the cones may come to maturity at the same time and we might as well just grab the best cones, at the right time, and let the others come to maturity later on. Then you could dry hop the hopbursted IPA you made on harvest day with the next harvest.  Nothing satisfies like grabbing a choice hop cone right off the bine and sinking a sweet fade-away into the kettle to beat the buzzer.

Picking the hops off the bine also gives you the benefit of leaving the actual bine behind.  Just pull it down off the trellis and if the bine doesn’t break, the nutrients not used will be reabsorbed into the roots.

Hop farms will cut the bines and remove them off their supports and hang the whole bine to dry.  You just hang them from a line in a dry place protected from the elements for about 24-48 hours.  Put a fan on, or even better a dehumidifier, and they dry pretty quickly this way.  Not likely the best option for most homebrewers, who have a handful of plants and harvest a couple pounds at most, so most will probably opt for laying the cones out to dry.

You’ll want to spread the cones out on a screen over a fan.  Its pretty easy to get extra window screening and some 2x4s and screw it all together to make a square drying box.  Place the rack on top of a box fan that is on its side and the cones dry up as fast as we can manage for cheap.  A great alternative is a food dehydrator, you can get a decent one for about $50-90 that will handle the volumes we’re looking at and this is the quickest and driest your hops will get without damaging their flavor and aroma.  An oven on it’s lowest heat setting would work too but the difference between dry enough and baked is a fine line and we want all those aromas in our beer, not in the pizza you bake later.  On second thought, that sounds good too.

Once dry, we’ll want to use them all right away.  Just kidding, we can store some and brew later, if you can contain your excitement.  The best option is a vacuum sealer and you can get them for about $40 and $10 for the bags.  This will keep oxygen out and that is the number one enemy.  Each different variety degrades at its own pace, but get all the air out of the plastic bags and store them in the freezer.  Light and heat and oxygen will try to ruin future batches, but they should keep for at least 6 months to a year.  But fresher is better so you better get busy.

When using fresh hops, we recommend trying 4 ounces for every ounce of dry you would normally use.  Once dried all the way, they can be used normally, but without a couple test batches we won’t have a reliable idea of the bittering power of our homegrown hops.  This varies more than you might expect, so I save them for late boil additions, dry hops, randalizing, first wort hopping, throw them right in the mash and more.  It’s not the bitterness we want out of these epicly awesome hops, its the fresh flavors and aromas!

If you find yourself with too many hops all at once, relax, there’s so many things you can do with them.  Try your hand at cider and add some as a dry hop.  Pack some cones into a mason jar filled with 40-50% ABV vodka.  You’ve just made a tincture, where the alcohol acts as a solvent extracting the oils and resins from the hops and is perfect for cooking, or put a dab on your pillow to help you sleep, add a drop in place of bitters in a cocktail recipe, or use it in any number of other crafts or hobbies you may have.  Hopped beard oils?  That’s on our list this year.

If you have a question, or just want to talk “Hop Shop”, give us a call.  Our brewmasters are online 7 days a week to answer any questions or concerns you might have.  You can reach us at or if you just need to hear another Brewer’s voice, give us a call at 800-681-2739.

Welcome to the world of all-grain brewing! In this video, we’ll give you a crash course of everything you need to know to get started all-grain brewing. We’ll talk about the equipment you need and how you use it to make beer. In this video we’ll be using a gravity-fed setup with Fermenter’s Favorites All-Grain Coolers. We’ll walk you through simple assembly to ensure an easy, leak-free brew day.

The all-grain brewing method we’ll show you in this video is called a single-step infusion mash. This means we’re going to hold the mash at one temperature the entire time to convert the starches into sugars. There are more advanced mashing schedules out there where you hold the mash at different temperatures for different amounts of time; we recommend you learn those after mastering the single-step infusion mash.

Step 1: Heat your strike water. This is the water that will bring your mash to the correct temperature.

Step 2: Pour strike water into your mash tun, add the grist and stir well to prevent the grain from clumping together into dough balls, and to ensure an even temperature throughout the mash.

Step 3: Hold your mash temperature for one hour. The standard temperature for mashing is between 148° and 158°F. Do not exceed a mash temperature of 168°F!

Step 4: Inside the cooler, the hot water is activating enzymes in the grain that are converting the stored starches in the grain into fermentable brewing sugars. While this is happening, collect and heat the water for the sparge.

Step 5: Once the sparge water is at 175°F, transfer it to the Hot Liquor Tank

Step 6: After the saccharification rest (60-minute mash), mash out by raising the temperature of the mash to 170°F by adding near-boiling water (not the water from your Hot Liquor Tank) and stirring well.

Step 7: After a mash-out of 10 minutes, recirculate by slowly draining runoff from the mash tun and gently pouring it back into the top of the mash tun until it is clear.

Step 8: Sparge! Gently spray the grain in the mash tun with water from the hot liquor tank. Drain wort from the mash tun into the boil kettle at the same rate you are draining water from the hot liquor tank.

Step 9: Stop sparging once you’ve collected an adequate amount of wort. Now you can boil your wort, much like you do with extract brewing. The only difference is a full-volume boil.

As you become a more experienced all-grain brewer you’ll find techniques and tools that work better for your brew day. Whatever your method, the most important thing to remember is to never stop brewing!

Northern Brewer's Chris Farley's Feature - Malted Grain

Craft and Specialty Malt

As homebrewers, most of us have a deep understanding of the level of skill and care that goes into making a well-crafted beer. But not everyone realizes that this attention to detail and love of craft extends to the so called “raw materials” that are used to produce beer. And ultimately, no ingredient is more painstakingly crafted than the malt that we use to make our beer.

As with beer, where you have macro-beer, you also have mega-malt. This malt is grown in vast fields, harvested and shipped hundreds of miles to gigantic industrial facilities by railcar. At the malthouse, it is steeped in water, sprouted, and kilned, then analyzed and blended (where the poor quality stuff is diluted into the better quality stuff). This malt is used, not just by macro-brewers, but by the food and pharmaceutical industry.

But there is also craft malt, which represents a tiny fraction of the malt produced in the world. It is produced in a handful of much smaller malt houses, run by family-owned businesses with names like Briess, Rahr and Weyermann. They often produce dozens of different, specialty products, and they carefully cater to the needs of craft brewers and distillers. The process is more hands-on, more laborious and more exacting.

I recently had the privilege to visit one of these craft malt companies, Weyermann Malting Company. Sabine Weyermann is now in a 4th generation owner of the plant, which is set in the picturesque Bavarian city of Bamburg. The Weyermann family has over 100 years of experience making brewer’s malt.

Farleys Feature Weyermann Malt Factory

As I expected, they control every aspect of the malting process, from providing the right seeds to the farmers (so they know they are getting right varieity of barley in return), to gently turning the malt as it sprouts, to keeping their drum roasters spotless, to carefully controlling the shipping conditions when they ship malt overseas. Their attention to detail at every step of the process results in a perfectly consistent product, which they achieve without the luxury of blending.

Weyermann actually operates a very special facility in the Czech Republic where their famous floor malted Bohemian Pilsner malt is made. Floor malting is an amazing, extremely laborious process. It is essentially the same way malt was made 100 years ago, where the germinating malt is turned by hand. By people with rakes. There is simply no way to replicate this process with large scale automation, and the resulting product speaks for itself.

If you really care about the craft of brewing, whether you brew for fun or for your profession, you owe it to yourself to brew with craft malt!

Weyermann Pale Ale Malt

Weyermann Carafa I Malt
Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner Malt

AZACCA® HOPS are now featured in an exclusive, limited edition beer kit from Northern Brewer!



About Azacca®

Origin: Washington, USA. The hop formerly known as #483 from the American Dwarf Hop Association, Azacca®  is named for the Haitian god of agriculture.

Usage: Excellent aromatic qualities make Azacca® a go-to hop for late and dry hop additions in a variety of styles, although its high myrcene fraction has already made it a favorite of IPA brewers. Shows well as a single hop in a simple grist.

Aroma & Flavor Characteristics: Intense and tropical. Sustained impressions of citrus and very ripe mango, with notes of orchard fruit (pears, apples) and pine needles throughout.

Botanical Classification:
Family: Cannabaceae
Genus: Humulus
Species: Lupulus

Maturity: Mid to late-season.

Yield: 2,200 – 2,400 lbs/acre

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