One of my favorite parts about homebrewing aside from actually brewing and drinking the beer, is to constantly refine my brewing techniques and brewday process. Over the past several years my brewing process has evolved from extract to all grain, mash tun cooler to direct fire mash, bottling to kegging. You get the idea. My process has become increasingly complex, yet with experience my brewdays have actually become more efficient than ever, and my beers continue to be quite tasty.
The initial additions to one’s brewing process can yield exponentially positive results to the finished beer. For example the transition from extract to all grain opens up a whole new flavor pallet to the brewer, and in turn can lead to more complex layered flavor profiles. The addition of a stir plate to ensure proper yeast pitching rates and a clean and successful fermentations is another example. Over time however, you run out of significant additions to the brewing process that provide the true “bang for your buck.” This doesn’t mean the tinkering ceases, it just means that the results of the changes become much more subtle, yet they remain just as important to the finished product.
Every year I try to make at least one addition to my process, this year my most significant addition was the addition of a stainless steel hop screen. One challenge many homebrewers face is how to handle hops in the brewing process. There addition leads to extensive hop trub in the kettle that can be problematic to the post boil process. Adding hops directly to the kettle can clog your pump or add significant volume to your primary fermentation if they go through unabated. Adding hops in hopsacks is said to reduce hop utilization rates and can be quite the pain in the ass with multiple hop additions. The addition of a hop blocker or false bottom can be a solution if leaf hops are used exclusively.
After researching all my options I finally decided to bite the bullet (and cost) and create a stainless steel hop screen that would allow me to leave all hops, pellet or whole leaf, in my kettle and not my fermenters where they belong. Below you will find detailed instructions on how I built mine in addition to the specific parts numbers from McMaster Carr incase you would like to build one of your own.
McMaster-Carr part numbers:
1 Pack 97525A410 18-8 SS Blind Rivet w. 18-8 SS Manderl, Domed 1/8″ Diameter, .032″-.062″ thick
1 Pack 90183A311 Blind Rivet Flat Washer, 18-8 SS, Round for 1/8″ Body Rivet
1 Each 85385T519 Corrosion-resistant 304 SS Woven Cloth 30×30 mesh, .012 diameter 36×36 in sheet
1 Each SS 9″ x 2″ Round Cake and Pastry Ring
Cut the SS mesh sheet down to 30.25″ by 23.5″. This assumes an additional two inches on the circumference which creates a nice seam for the rivets down the side of the hop screen. I made my hop screen to stand high out of the kettle, you may consider making yours slightly smaller if you like to keep a lid on your kettle to promote faster boils or full boils in cold weather.
With the remaining mesh screen cut a 12″ to 13″ circle to create the bottom of the hop screen. I used a large dinner plate as a template in my build.
Gently bend the mesh screen into the shape of a cylinder leaving a two inch overlap. I used a set of clamps to hold my screen in place. This is also a good time to make sure the baking ring fits around the circumference of the screen. Next use a 1/8″ drill bit to make starter holes for the rivets approximately 2″ apart down the entire length of the seem. Next secure the starter holes with the SS rivets and the blind washers. I initially tried this without the washers but the rivet would not hold the screen, the washers are essential in order for the fasten to hold.
Take the circle SS mesh screen and make several small cuts along the edges (6-8 total). This will allow the screen to mold better to the outside of the cylinder as you begin to rivet it together. I wrapped the bottom of my screen around the outside of the main cylinder as best I could and again started with the 1/8″ drill bit to create the starter holes followed by a rivet and washer. I put a ton of rivets on the bottom of my screen (roughly a half inch apart, I figured why skimp when I bought a box of 100 rivets).
Place the cooking ring on top of the cylinder, I left mine about a half inch higher than the SS mesh as it was kind of sharp and had some SS threads hanging off that could cut my hands. This creates a smooth top decreasing the likely hood of cutting your arms if you have to reach into the screen for any reason during a brewday.
At the time I thought I might have been crazy to spend nearly a 100 dollars on a hop screen, but I have to say after a year of use and no aggravation it was some of the best money I have ever spent. The hop screen has succeeded my expectations as I have loaded it up with upwards of a pound of hops and it worked great. No noticeable hop particles get through the mesh screen, while it also allows the wort inside the cylinder to come to a rolling boil increasing the hop utilization rates. Overall I love the addition of the hop screen to my brewing process, and the only regret I had was not building one earlier.