By Dan Haag
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” could well have been coined with Oregon brewers in mind. How else can one explain decades of behind-the-scenes research and development that have carried the state’s brewmasters to the front of the line?
Case in point, the team at Pelican Brewing Company recently unveiled the “Hopinator,” an innovative system designed to create a more efficient, safer method for dry-hopping beer.
Made in collaboration with designers at Metalcraft Fabrication in Portland, the Hopinator streamlines how the agitator introduces hops to the fermenter. They also redesigned the method to move hops in and out of Pelican’s brews more efficiently and effectively.
Up and running at Pelican’s brewing facility in Tillamook, the Hopinator — also dubbed R2-D2 by the team — bears a slight resemblance to a certain “Star Wars” favorite.
Much like that beloved droid, the Hopinator helps things run more smoothly. Brewmaster Darron Welch has been impressed with the results.
“It overcomes a lot of the utilization problems with traditional dry hopping,” he says.
The new process introduces much less oxygen; the hop pellets go directly into the clean vessel, then the brewer seals the vessel and purges with carbon dioxide.
As a result, there is extremely low oxygen pickup compared to the traditional dry-hopping process, increasing flavor stability and quality.
Because the hops are incorporated into the liquid with an agitator and emulsified in the beer, then shot back into the main fermenter, the brewers are able to extract much more flavor and aroma from the hops than the traditional method of dry hopping. Welch says the benefit is that Pelican is now able to use around 30 percent fewer hops with better results.
Fans of Pelican’s brews will notice the difference.
“What this means for the beer drinker is enhanced taste and aromatics,” Welch says. “It introduces much less oxygen along with the dry hops in an anaerobic environment.” He adds that for beers where the dry hop charge stays exactly the same, there is a better, “punchier” dry hop aroma.
Beyond the science and increased efficiency, the Hopinator addresses many of the safety concerns associated with dry-hopping.
“There’s no more hauling 50 pound buckets of hops up high ladders,” Welch says. Hop infusions are done easily at ground level with the mixing element and agitation built in.
Installing the Hopinator wasn’t as simple as going to a supply store and hooking up a couple hoses. Welch admits that this project had been on his wish list for many years and that development took quite some time.
“It was two trade shows ago at the Craft Brewer’s Conference where we were looking at some of the options that were on the market at that time,” he says, adding that Pelican was close to purchasing a more traditional “hop gun,” a piece of equipment designed in Germany. While there’s much to like about the hop gun, Welch wasn’t convinced it was the right fit for Pelican.
“American craft brewers use a lot more dry hops than any German brewer would rightly consider,” Welch says. “We started looking at ways to design a system that eliminated some of the challenges of that particular equipment.”
Those challenges included constant plugging and the infusion of hops taking a much longer time than desired.
After a series of back-and-forth conversations with Metalcraft about adapting the hop gun for Pelican’s needs, it became clear that a completely new design was in order.
“Metalcraft worked with us to achieve the design we wanted,” Welch says.
Another plus is mobility, as the Hopinator can be moved from vessel to vessel, depending on which batch is receiving dry-hopping. Welch says this eliminates the need for hoses strewn about the floor and streamlines the workload.
While Pelican will not be marketing or selling the Hopinator, Metalcraft will be offering the design to other customers. The Pelican team is thrilled with their creation and have reached the point where they can’t imagine dry-hopping any other way.
“It’s turned out to be a great benefit in terms of time, efficiency, cleanliness and safety,” Welch says.
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