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Microdose, But Make It Hops

Microdosing (v) – a technique for studying the behavior of drugs in humans through the administration of doses so low they are unlikely to produce whole-body effects, but high enough to allow the cellular response to be studied.

(v) – the practice of using sub-threshold doses of psychedelics to improve creativity, boost physical energy level, … [and] increase performance on problem-solving tasks.

You may have heard “microdosing” used in reference to one of those two scenarios, but have you ever come across it to describe hop additions?

Mountain Culture Beer Co. in Katoomba, NSW, Australia used “hop microdosing” to describe a process they used for a series of 10% abv IPAs they are producing in the early months of 2022.

While the overview might call to mind Dogfish Head’s continually-hopped IPAs, hop microdosing a la Mountain Culture involves small doses of a house-made hop blend added throughout the brewing process, with emphasis on additions during fermentation.

As Mountain Culture puts it, hop microdosing means “that when the hops have contact with the beer, they’re being activated with different pH values because of where the beer is at in the brewing process and different levels of yeast activity throughout fermentation. This theoretically strips different flavors and characteristics from the hop pellet.”

In a case of parallel evolution, Blackstack Brewing of Saint Paul, MN also developed and released a Microdosing series of IPAs over the last year or two, characterized by daily doses of dry hops during primary fermentation. Each beer followed the same schedule but utilized different blends and single varieties for each iteration.

Blackstack’s Director of Product Development Murphy Johnson identifies several advantages to this approach: dosing dry hops early and often helps with getting and keeping a large total charge of hops into the FV and in suspension; and while some volatile aromatics are scrubbed out during active fermentation, the tradeoff comes in biotransformation.

Disadvantages of microdosing? “The cellar staff doesn’t like seeing the Microdosing beers show up on the schedule” Johnson says – the repetition of the sanitizing process required for each hop dose is a commitment for the cellar crew.

From a sensory science standpoint, hop microdosing holds some fascinating promise: much is still unknown about hop flavor biotransformation, so by incorporating multiple doses of hops at multiple points throughout fermentation the stage is set for subsets of compounds to be biotransformed at different rates. This would create an opportunity for the finished beer to host a whole spectrum of hop compounds, from natural variety-specific aromatics to a kaleidoscope of compounds at different degrees of biotransformation.

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