2012 BetterBeerBlog Hop Harvest

If you don’t already know, hops are the cone-shaped flowers of the hop plant. These flowers are more than just ornamental, they are responsible for giving the craft beers we love their distinctive bitterness, flavors, and aromas. We grow 4 different varietals in our backyard, unfortunately for us, only one of the four reached the maturity necessary to grow hops.

What is fortunate for us is that this particular plant, a 4 year old Cascade, has been productive since we first put it into the ground. This year, our Cascade plant yielded 34 wet ounces, a shortcoming of 3 ounces when compared to last year. Still, not a bad haul for a plant that needed very little tending throughout the growing cycle.

Harvesting Hops

Hops growing on our pergola.

Hops growing on our pergola.

I should’ve taken more photos of the actual harvesting process, but in reality, there’s not really much to it. I cut down the bines, dragged them over to where my family was stationed, where they then pulled off the cones by hand. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

How Did I Know They Were Ready?

Hop cone sizes were all over the board this year.

Hop cone sizes were all over the board this year.

I usually wait until I start to see a little browing on the cones before I decide to harvest them. Not too much though, just a little. That said, I think I harvested these hops a few days later than I should have. Despite my tardiness, the cones still smelled wonderful when  I pulled them apart to take a gander at the lupulin within.

How Do I Dry Them?

One of 2 trays of hops getting ready to dry.

One of 2 trays of hops getting ready to dry.

I keep things as simple as possible. After weighing the hops, I spread the entirety of the harvest across several screens that I then left in my garage to dry over the course of several days. When drying, you want to make sure the hops are spread over the screens evenly. You don’t want to pile too many hops on top of each other as you want to make sure they all dry evenly and uniformly. You’ll know they’re finished when they hops feel papery to the touch.

Storage

Close up of my bagged hops.

Close up of my bagged hops.

I weigh out my hops 2 ounces at a time and place them into freezer bags for storage in my freezer. I’m not sure how long they’ll keep but I still have some hops from last year’s harvest ready to go. Just checked them today (at the time I wrote this) and they still seem fine.

Last Call

As I homebrewer, I find satisfaction in growing my own hops. As you can see, a single hop plant will yield enough hops for several batches of homebrew. Multiply this amount by several varietals and it quickly adds up. Depending on how you’ve formulated your recipes,  and how frequently you homebrew, you may be able to grow enough hops to satisfy all your brewing needs.

Another advantage to growing your own hops is the ability to homebrew wet hopped beers when you’re harvesting. Wet hop beers are beers brewed utilizing hops that have not been dried out. Craft beers made this way typically have a fresh, yet more subdued hop flavor and aroma. It’s an interesting way to spice up your brewing schedule.

The only bad thing about growing your own hops is not being able to grow some of the more in demand varietals, such as Amarillo, Simcoe, and Citra These are proprietary varietals and not available to the public. If they were, I’d be all over them.

Mabuhay!

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