Listened to an interview with you on Beersmith. Enjoyed it very much! I had a couple of questions:
* You mentioned that you have a false bottom in your kettle. Do you prefer whole hops or does your false bottom filter pellet hops as well?
* As a big fan of FWH do you have a preferred variety?
* I had read some tips that you gave in Zymurgy. You said that one of the ways you can brighten up a finished beer is to add some phosphoric acid to it. Do you have a target pH range for hoppy beers? Do you think lower pH helps with flavor and aroma? How low is too low?
Sorry for all the questions!
Glad you liked the podcasts. Brad has been very kind to invite me on his show several times, so I always like to know people are listening and getting something out of them.
My system has a two-piece (think half moon) slotted copper false bottom that sits on top of a stainless steel stand. The false bottom has a rim to it, so when put in place, it's kind of like a tray in the bottom of the kettle that is level with the ground. I think whole hops work best with the system, but I've lately been using all pellet hops to good effect. As long as I let the wort stand for 20 minutes at the end of the boil and as long as I don't runoff too quickly, I get pretty good clarity. The false bottom is basically acting like a hopback, so it is able to filter pellet hops fairly well. But having some whole hops does improve the process. If I could get all the hop varieties I liked in whole form, and they were always fresh, I'd probably use them. But I can't, and I don't want to miss out on using some hop varieties that I can only get as pellets.
I will use many different varieties of hops when I FWH. Basically, anything that I think has a good flavor. Looking over my last several batches, I've used FWH with Styrian Goldings, Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Willamette, Mosaic, Galaxy, Citra, Centennial, Motueka, Pacific Jade, and Saaz. And that is just for stuff I've made this fall. So, I guess I'll use any hop as long as I think it tastes good.
Regarding tweaking a beer with phosphoric acid, I don't normally measure it. I just do it by taste. You can overdo it, though. Adding a little bit can brighten a beer, but too much can make it actually taste acidic or sour, and it gives it a thinner mouthfeel. I did measure the pH on a few beers when I was first experimenting with it, and there is no specific rule -- it depends on the balance of the beer and the other flavors present. In general, I think you want to avoid going below around pH 4.1 unless it's a sour beer. I think it helps with the flavor more than the aroma. It's something I sometimes try if the beer tastes too dull or heavy, but that's rare.