Barley Mowat 

Growing Hops for Homebrew

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What follows is the first article from BarleyMowat.com’s new east coast American correspondent: Blake. Blake’s articles will, much like my own, focus on whatever the hell Blake feels like talking about. Today it’s growing hops for homebrew, a topic I briefly touched upon two years ago before giving up, letting Sharon do all the hard work, and never talking about the subject again. Blake seems slightly more competent, so he should add a welcome dose of “not insane advice” to this blog.

-Chuck

~

If you’re looking to make homebrewing a little more interesting, why not consider growing your own hops? Not only will the characteristics be unique to your growing conditions, putting a more personal stamp on your beer, but you will become that much more in touch with the whole beer-making process. That’s what I decided to do, starting small, with one little hop plant in my backyard.

Three years ago I spent $4 on a Perle hop rhizome because it’s known to be a great dual purpose hop with mild bittering qualities and a clean spicy aroma. The root system of most hop varieties is well-established after three years, so I’m excited to say I got a pretty solid yield (just under 1lb) off my plant this year. Since it will take a few years to pay off, I’m thinking of planting one or two new varieties in the spring.

So how do you grow hops? Once you’ve decided what variety (or varieties) you want to grow there are just a few basic steps you need to follow:

1. Pick a location.

You’ll want a spot with maximum exposure to the sun, with room to grow both upwards and outward.

2. Assess your soil.

Hops need the right soil conditions to grow properly. In the spring, they need more nitrogen to feed the roots, and towards the middle of summer they will need more potassium to feed the flowers. I bought a cheap soil testing kit from my local hardware store and found out my soil was deficient in nitrogen. I read up on fertilizers and found a good 20/20/20 mix (like Miracle Gro) will work just fine to help out a mildly deficient soil. I also found out that my local garden shop expert loves to talk fertilizer – if you have really poor soil they’ll have a solution for you.

3. Plan your infrastructure.

I looked at how the big boys do it, and they all use a trellis system that is about 20’ high for maximum yield. If you’ll be planting more than one of the same variety, they should be spaced 3-4’ apart. Each plant also needs its own dedicated coir, or twine, to be trained upon. If you don’t have room to build a trellis, hops can be grown in pots, but the root system will thrive much better in the ground.


ed: Also, you get to confuse the hell out of your non-craft beer neighbours.

4. Plant.

If you buy a rhizome, like I did, it will come with one or more buds that are pointing up toward the sky. Plant the rhizome with the buds facing upward, and cover it with about 1” of soil. Hop roots don’t like a lot of moisture and benefit from having good drainage, so I created a mound, or “hill”, above each rhizome to allow excess rainwater to run off. Rhizomes are fairly widely available online, but in particular check out MidWest Supplies in the US and Left Fields up in the Great White North.

5. Watch them grow.

After your hop plants get to be about 3’ tall, you’ll want to train them. For the first year, take as many hop shoots that are showing pointy tips, or “leaders” as you can, and wind them clockwise around the coir. After the first year, only train two or three of the stronger, dominant shoots. Prune the rest and make something tasty. This will encourage stronger growth among those dominant shoots and will result in a better yield when harvest time rolls around.


ed: Once they start, they seem to fly up that twine. Don’t leave anything valuable near hop bines or you’ll find yourself cutting it out the next day.

6. Harvest.

I start to watch my hops in late August for signs of browning on the tips (just a little browning – hops will start to turn yellow at the end of their season, and at that point it’s too late). Some hops will be ready earlier and some later; all the hop supply stores have information about growing seasons in their hop guides. Taking some hops and squeeze testing them for a papery feel and sound will give you a good idea, too.

Knowing when your hops are ready takes a little bit of a science, but luckily there are some good harvest moisture calculators out there to help you out.

7. Brew.

Fresh hops right off the bine should be used within 24 hours of harvesting, and can be added at the 15 minute mark for flavoring, or at the end of your boil for aroma. If you want to dry your hops, you can find some awesome hops drying calculators online. I dried some of my hops using a box with a screen bottom, and a fan underneath. It should take a day or two to reach the right moisture content, and I vacuum seal various sized packages to save in the freezer. Keep in mind there is a pretty big difference in weight between fresh and dry hops.


ed: Also, this setup makes your house smell AWESOME.

I’ll try using them in various bittering, flavor, and aroma combinations, utilizing the single-malt-single-hop, or SMaSH method. Making a few different test batches is easy if you pick up a 1-gallon size brew kit and you might as well treat yourself to some other beer-related goodies while you’re at it.

8. Enjoy!

After fermentation is complete, all that’s left to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s always interesting to compare the final brews and see how changing something as simple as the timing of your hop additions can have such a huge impact on the final product.

Written by Blake

October 10th, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You

2 Responses to 'Growing Hops for Homebrew'

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  1. Great first topic! I have a question for Blake that’s been bothering me:

    What is with that unpleasant grassy chlorophyll smell that freshly-dried hops give off? Does that go away over time? When do they start smelling like hops again?

    Dave S.

    10 Oct 13 at 13:46

  2. Dave, I did some digging and one possible explanation that I was able to find relates to the farnesene oils that are found in some hops. I initially saw it mentioned in a Homebrew Talk thread (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f92/my-hops-ready-pick-still-spell-like-grass-266298/) and found another great page talking about this and other hop oils in more detail (http://beerlegends.com/farnesene-oil).

    I don’t know if I found the exact answer to this issue, but hopefully this sheds a bit of light on the topic.

    Blake

    15 Oct 13 at 12:04

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