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This one's for the beer geeks: Behind-the-scenes with Sofa King Hoppy

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 5:43pm

Let's take a quick trip back to the late '90s.

While heating water one day to prepare for a brew at our Rehoboth Beach brewpub, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione caught a cooking segment on the TV above the bar. The chef was describing his method of adding small pinches of fresh cracked pepper to his soup in equal increments the entire time the soup boiled, rather than in one large handful in the middle of the process. The chef said this method would bring more complexity and evenness to the spice of the dishes than if he added the whole volume of pepper all at once.

It was an a-ha moment for Sam. Hops, the spice of beer, are usually added in two large doses – once early in the boil for taste, and once toward the end for aroma. Why not try small, incremental additions of hops pellets during the entire time a beer boiled? He hoped it would allow him to add a lot of hops but in a gentle way that would bring more complexity and pungent hop character.

Sam ran to a thrift store and found an old vibrating football game that he rigged up above the lid on his boil kettle. He slanted the bucket of hops above the football game, and that trickled a slow but constant stream of hops into the beer for the entire 90 minutes of its boil. It worked! The concept of continual-hopping – as well as 90 Minute IPA – was born!

That off-centered approach has stuck, but the technology has evolved. These days, we hop with a precision-controlled pneumatic canon affectionately known as "Sofa King Hoppy." Say it fast (but maybe not out loud) and you'll get the idea.

We asked brewer Shane to give us the nitty-gritty on how Sofa King works it magic:

"Sofa King uses compressed air to blow pellet hops into the boil kettle. We load a pre-weighed amount of hops into a large cone (think: steep funnel) that is above an automated butterfly valve. The butterfly valve opens for a few seconds, then closes. Some of the hops have now 'loaded' a pipe that runs to the boil kettle. Once the valve closes, compressed air is released for 5 seconds in the line behind the hops and blows them into the top of the boil kettle. The cycle of opening the valve and blowing air happens every 60 seconds."

And there you have it. Continual-hopping, compliments of Sofa King Hoppy, allows us to brew beers with great hop complexity but without crushing bitterness. Wanna see for yourself? Check out our AHopEclipseNow! celebrations going down now nationwide!