A few weeks back, my neighbor and fellow brewer convinced me to try using a hopback. He had never used one before, but is quite into researching brewer techniques. It seemed a win-win to him. With a hopback, you get to extract some neat hop aroma and flavor by steeping hops in hot wort inside a closed system (no air allowed). It also acts as an inline filter to help remove spent hop particles, protein break, and any other stuff you may have floating in your kettle come the end of the boil.
I remember looking at the HopRocket, and while it’s a very nice piece of equipment, it’s expensive. My neighbor was convinced we could make one out of a mason jar (the glass is tempered to withstand extreme fluctuations in temperature), and keep it on the cheap. I poked around online and saw a few DIY links for making one from small stainless steel containers, and also came across a DIY for using a mason jar for $20. Great, someone else proved it works! It was time to get to work.
First of all, I was not able to make this thing for $20. If you don’t have a wide-mouthed, 32oz mason jar around, you have to buy them by the case, which run about $15 at your local hardware store. Also, I really like the idea of having a dip tube, and I didn’t have any copper tubing lying around. I guess I could have cut a piece off of my immersion chiller, but I didn’t want to risk ruining that. I got a roll (10ft was the smallest at Home Depot) for $20. So, I am already in it of $35, but with some very useful leftovers.
Here are the parts I used:
- 32oz Wide mouth Mason Jar w/ lid and band ($15 for case of 12)
- 5″ length of 3/8″ diameter soft copper tubing ($22 for coil of 10′)
- 3/8″ × 1/2″ in Brass Compression x MPT Adapter with Insert ($5)
- 1/2″ female NPT to 3/8″ brass hose barb ($3.50)
- 1/2″ male NPT to 3/8″ brass hose barb ($3.50)
- 1/2″ brass compression nut ($3.75 for a 3 pack)
- 3 stainless steel hose clamps for 1/2 outer diameter tubing ($5 for a 10 pack)
- stainless steel braided lint trap ($4 for a 2 pack)
- 2 large rubber washers (i cut the holes to be the right size) ($1.50 for both)
- 2 large stainless steel washers ($1 for both)
- roll of teflon tape ($1.25)
So total, I am in it for about $70. Definitely cheaper than the hop rocket. It might not be as fancy, but gets the job done, and leaves me with extra parts to use for other things. I like making things, so it’s a good investment.
Drill the holes in the lid
I started by placing the washers on the lid to mark where to drill the holes. Then, just drilled them out and used a file to expand them as needed and to removed some of the sharp edges. Ideally, the holes are just about the same size as the threads so you have to screw the threads through the holes in the lid.
Wrap the threads
Next, I wrapped teflon tape around the threads of male hose barb, and both sides of the compression fitting.
Prep the washers
Then I cut out the center hole of the rubber washers to fit snuggly around the hose barb’s threaded end and the 3/8″ thread of the compression fitting.
Hand fit the threads through the lid
After the threads and washers were ready, I just put the washers around the threads and worked the threads through the lids.
Tighten up the wort in side
This is the side without the compression fitting. Grab a couple wrenches and tighten this thing down as much as you can.
Cut the copper tubing
I recommend using a tubing cutter (something like this) for this. You could saw it as well, but you’ll want to avoid just cutting it with scissors, as you will just crimp the end of the tubing closed.
Connect the copper tubing with the compression fitting
Your compression fitting should come with instructions, but the gist of it is to fit the collar around the edge of the tubing, place the spout inside the tubing, slide the nut on from the other end of the tube, and screw it down into the male end of the compression fitting as tight as you can get it.
Attach the lint trap
This will act as a filter to keep you copper dip tube from getting clogged. I first slide the trap up the tubing and clamped it on with a hose clamp.
Then I wound the rest of the trap around the bottom of the tube to make several layers of mesh. Then I put another hose clamp around the fat part. My hose clamps were too small to fit, so I connected two of the together.
Put it together
Nice, it’s done! Just screw the lid onto the far and voila, you have a hopback!
Before Using it
Before you use it, you should boil the dip tube with the hose clamps in it. I just filled up a small soup pot and rested the lid over the edge. The reason to boil this out for a good 20min or so is because there is some oil on the threading of the hose clamps and in the housing. You can boil it out, and not worry about it getting into your beer.