If you drop by the Brooklyn taproom of Other Half Brewing, you’ll find a maelstrom of beer geeks. In a converted warehouse space the size of an alcove studio, beneath the looming Gowanus Expressway, weekend warriors and ale aficionados huddle beneath a mounted antelope head, sip fragrant IPAs and nod along with classic hip hop. The draft selections are almost universally hoppy, but you might notice an acronym attached to many of the options on their chalkboard: DDH.
Devotees of Other Half’s catalog know what DDH stands for. Those three letters signify a guaranty of freshness, of coniferous flavor and of substantial body. In fact, the letters DDH may represent the next great innovation in pale ales. They stand for Double Dry Hopped, denoting a process that is supercharging hop flavor in some of the world’s most sought after craft beers.
Before delving further, it’s worth discussing what dry hopping does to an ale.
Brewers add hops early in the boil primarily to impart bitterness. They add them near the end for flavor. When a brewer wants to showcase foresty, tropical, candied hop notes, they toss more into the fermentation tank days after the brew. This process is called dry hopping, and it has existed as long as modern brewing has. Now, beer makers are experimenting with still-later hop introductions. As more hops are added later, the flavors become more vibrant. That’s where the double comes in.
Double dry-hopping exists at the intersection of several movements in craft beer, and the massive popularity of these beers reflects a public desire for the biggest, dankest IPA possible.
Hop flavors are fragile. While dominant fresh from the keg, they begin fading after only a few weeks. Ten years ago, when drinkers relied on distributors to deliver IPAs from several states away — often in undated packaging — they often found themselves drinking stale, faded representations of hop-forward recipes.
Today, the increased popularity of craft beer means that most people live a short distance from a local brewery. Any brewery as popular as Other Half likely turns its kegs over through natural attrition every week. On-site can releases often sell out in a single morning. The upshot is that a brewer can produce green IPAs and be confident that their customers will drink them before they fade. So, the perceived improvement in IPA quality over the last decade is partly attributable to the fact that drinkers are drinking them fresher than ever before.
Since opening doors in 2013, Other Half founders Andrew Burman, Matt Monahan and Sam Richardson dedicated themselves to educating drinkers about individual hop profiles. Their single hop beers were miniature seminars in flavor: light-bodied, easy on the palette, each entry a solo performance for a particular strain. Their stable beers were already massive fruit and flora grenades, and double dry-hopping amplified the combustion. So the crisp, mai-tai-esque All Citra Everything becomes even dewier, even more nectary from a second dry hop infusion just before canning.
The emergence of the double dry-hopped IPA was also presaged by another, higher profile development: the New England-style IPA (NEIPA).
For a little historic reference, the American IPA, until recently, conformed to a standard set by early craft beer pioneers. These prototype ales — produced by such names as Stone, Dogfish Head and Russian River — were bracingly bitter and gemstone clear. This profile of the IPA became so ubiquitous that even a revered ale like the Alchemist’s Heady Topper (progenitor, of sorts, for the great northeast beer boom of the last decade) was regularly criticized for its muddy, turbid appearance.
In the last five years, a raft of brewers, often situated along the DC-to-Boston corridor, have churned out IPAs that look, taste and feel different from the last generation. They’ve back-loaded their hop additions, minimizing bitterness and maximizing harvest-freshness. These ales are unfiltered and often embellished with oats, wheat or lactose. These NEIPAs resemble orange juice by sight, consistency and taste.
As Jean Broillet IV of Tired Hands Brewing in Ardsmore, Pennsylvania — itself an occasional brewer of DDH ales — stated in a recent Paste article: “I always felt that we worked so hard to add so much to our beer, specifically the IPAs, that we then stripped out via the filtration process.”
Other Half’s beers have grown hazier and heftier with successive batches, owing mostly to a transition away from a West Coast-favored yeast strain to a culture preferred by English and northeastern brewers. Hop Showers, my favorite of their beers, was frosty and translucent in 2014; today it has that fresh-squeezed character of an NEIPA. But it’s same dance of grapefruit pith and pine needle. On April Fools Day this year, Other Half released DDH Hop Showers. That beer was like a sledgehammer dropped on a pile of oranges and kiwis. It would never be possible if they were trying to conform to the old notion of what an IPA looks like.
While the New England IPA provided a stylistic foundation for double dry-hopping, a mechanical element that didn’t exist two years ago made it possible: dry lupulin powder.
Lupulin is the operative component of hops. It contains acids that impart bitterness and the essential oils that create particular tastes and aromas. In 2016, the Yakima, Washington company YCH Hops began processing hop cones to isolate lupulin glands. A March 2017 article in Beer Advocate describes a process similar to the one used to separate keef from cannabis. YCH’s powdered lupulin product is called Cryo Hops, and this year craft beer has embraced it for its efficiency and adaptability.
In that Beer Advocate piece, multiple beer-makers attest that Cryo Hops produce fresher, more nuanced flavors than either hop cones or compressed hop pellets. Moreover, the powder absorbs less liquid for more efficient batches. Lupulin powder has proved ideal when adding a final dry-hop infusion right before kegging or canning. I recall hearing someone aptly liken the bonus dose of this powder to the sugar on a sour gummi.
Brooklyn-based gypsy brewers Joe and Lauren Grimm of Grimm Artisanal Ales used Cryo Hops when they began releasing DDH iterations of their sought-after IPAs this year. Grimm pale ales are the only New York beers that can match Other Half for pure hype. Message boards swirl with excitement when cans drop at local stores—fans have been known to sprint to beer shops on lunch hours to secure a four-pack. Their DDH Tesseract flew off shelves across the five boroughs in a matter of hours, with good reason. An additional infusion of Mosaic Cryo-Hops takes the base beer’s unadorned profile – light on the palette, funky on the nose, tropical on the tongue – and amps it up. The aroma of DDH Tesseract is less resinous and far closer to honeydew and grapefruit. The taste is comparably citric and dry, but far more intense.
In New York, the response to both Other Half and Grimm’s double dry-hopped ales has been universally positive. The former’s Carroll Gardens taproom is expanding to cover half a city block. Their DDH beers have all but ensured that their crowds will never abate. The Grimms are opening a brick-and-mortar taproom in Williamsburg later this year, and the expectation is that there will be lines around the block from day one.
Moreover, Other Half and Grimm are not double dry-hopping in a vacuum. Trillum Brewing, Boston wunderkinds and sometime Other Half collaborators, began double dry-hopping last year: these days they release cans of DDH ales every couple weeks. In New Jersey, Kane Brewing regularly puts out DDH variants of its beloved Head High IPA. Aslin Brewing in Virginia is releasing DDH beers, as is Toppling Goliath in Iowa, just to name a few.
Still, my antennae go up when lines start to form for a newly hyped beer, whether it be double dry-hopped IPA or a Double Barrel Hunahpu. We craft beer drinkers are an excitable lot. The FOMO runs thick in our blood. So, it’s with a healthy dose of skepticism that I consider why, exactly, the DDH phenomenon has ballooned so quickly and expansively.
Drawing out the barrel-aged stout comparison: there’s little question that a big, chocolaty stout can be improved with a few months in a brandy, rum or whiskey barrel. For example, I like Prairie Artisan Ales’ Bomb!, but I go nuts for Prairie’s rum barrel-aged variant Pirate Bomb! The smoky simmer of the barrel transforms Bomb!’s silky confection, improving an already fine stout. Yet, Bomb! sits on Whole Foods shelves for weeks, while Pirate Bomb! sells out in the blink of an eye. I would hazard to say that the variant-mania plays a part in this dichotomy.
By the same token, I wonder if DDH is becoming an equivalent crowd-stirrer for IPAs. I certainly feel my interest piqued when I notice those letters affixed to an ale. Is this some marketing gambit? Am I acquiescing to manipulation at the hands of my favorite brewers? Taking it a step further, consumers have to wonder if brewers are encouraging this frenzy. Are craft beer variants just a potable version of the new iPhone? It’s a dicey inquiry, because every company wants to be popular, but they don’t necessarily want to be mobbed or to see customers shut out.
Personally, I am inclined to say that—despite all the hype surrounding them—this first generation of DDH beers is more virtuous than not. Beyond simply amplifying hop flavor, double dry-hopping sharpens it. Consider Other Half’s 4.7% session IPA Forever Ever. A mix of five hop varieties, this is the kind of balanced, resiny beer New Yorkers would have killed for five years ago. But in a city rich with IPAs, it’s been largely overlooked. The double dry-hopped version, though, is a revelation. Still easy-drinking, DDH Forever Ever now pops with juicy Citra and rustic Mosaic.
I believe we are reaching the point where the IPA is an expression of pure hop essence, with the pale malt and the yeast only serving to support that goal. This represents a step in the evolution of pale ales. Double dry-hopped beers taste new and alive with possibility. At a certain point, the hopping may become excessive, but I don’t think we’re there yet.