An issue with brewing so small is that any amount of wort loss can lead to a huge cut in your final product. Trub loss — meaning the scummy wort at the bottom of your kettle that you don’t put into the fermentor — is comprised of protein solids dropped out by cold crashing and any finings, and hop material. Hops can soak up quite a bit of moisture. A disposable muslin or reusable nylon bag can be used to hold the hops like a tea bag. However, if you have multiple hop additions, you either need multiple bags, or a method to retrieve the bag and add more hops without scalding your hands and contaminating the wort.
Another option is a hop spider. This is a wire mesh cylinder that hangs out on the side of your kettle, allowing hop resins, oils, and flavors to steep into the wort while keeping the leaves contained. Any option that contains the hops will lead to some reduction in hop utilization, which can be made up for with small increases in the amount of hops used.
Hop spiders run around $40. Forty bucks for a tube of mesh. If this seems expensive to you, I agree. Fortunately, there are some cheaper DIY options.
After some research online I go to Home Depot and for about $9 I purchase:
- a 4″-3″ reducing PVC connector
- three 5″ carriage bolts, and corresponding washers and nuts
- a hose clamp that will fit around the 3″ end of the reducer
- a pair of one gallon paint strainer bags
The smart first step would be to drill three evenly spaced holes into the larger section of the reducer. I don’t have an appropriately sized drill bit, so I use a Dremel grinding bit for the same effect. Then the carriage bolts, nuts, and washers go in, so that they protrude out of the reducer.
The paint straining bag then goes over the small end, and gets clamped on.
For larger kettles, the small end goes down and the bag hangs off of it. For smaller kettles like the 8-12 quart ones I use for one gallon batches, the bag goes through the reducer and hangs out the larger end. This allows one device to work for large or small kettles, keeping the plastic out of the wort, and allowing the bag to submerge into the boil without hitting the bottom.
Then the hops can just be dumped into the spider. I like to occasionally dunk the bag up and down, like you would with tea.
The bags are quick to clean and reusable. When they eventually wear out, they’re only about $3 for a two pack.
It’s an easy and affordable solution for excess hop material in the kettle.