Grow Your Own

from theweeklybrew

I’ve received some questions both in the comments, and during the course of homebrewing discussions lately about growing hops. All this seems to stem from the fact I picked, dried, and used homegrown hops this year. First off let me say I have no experience in growing hops. While I do garden, and use my own homegrown herbs, vegetables, and fruits for brewing, the herb Humulus lupulus (hops) has never been seen in my garden. So most of what I’m tossing out is theory that I’ve gained through research, and not first hand experience.

Picking A Variety

Picture borrowed from KalamaBrew

Picture borrowed from KalamaBrew

When growing hops the first thing to consider is variety. I can’t count the times I’ve come across a forum where some guy used a variety of hops once, liked it, planted 3 vines, and is now trying to sell 90% of his crop because he has more then he can use and doesn’t brew with that cultivar often. Considerations that need to be made are space available, what you brew most often, availability of certain hops, and how often you brew. Soil conditions and climate play a big part in hop growing as well, and while soil conditions can be improved climate can’t.

If someone is new to homebrewing the first thing they need to realize is that not all hops are created equal. Different hops have not only different flavors, but also different amounts of alpha acids. Alpha acids are generally used to determine the bittering properties of a hop. All hops however can be used for bittering, it’s just a simple matter of volume. The lower the alpha acids the more hops are needed. If you only plan on planting one or two varieties of hops then this needs to come under consideration. Hops for brewing tend to be grouped in three basic categories. While these categories are outdated and tell you minimal information they help get a basic idea of what you may be looking for.

Bittering Hops – High bittering properties

Aroma Hops – Low bittering properties but highly desirable aroma properties

Dual Purpose – Moderate bittering properties and some desirable aroma properties

For people growing few vines a dual purpose hop may be best since it will provide aroma, flavor, and bitterness. For people who want to maintain a good variety of hops used, but also plan on growing few vines then growing bittering hops and purchasing aroma might be a way to go. Also, if you happen to enjoy brewing with a particularly difficult to obtain variety then you may want to consider growing that particular variety. More important then the hops alpha acids though is the beer your brewing. If your brewing European style lagers, then Noble varieties would be better suited then a hop such as Cascade or Amarillo.

Another consideration is growability. Just like with all plants certain cultivars of hops behave differently. Northdown (a dual purpose hop from the 70’s)  for example is resistant to downy mildew, but a variety like Cluster is extremely susceptible to it. Hops that are less disease resistant require more care then more resistant varieties. Also hops are a climbing vine and need somewhere to go. While they can be trained on a lattice and therefore don’t have to have lot’s of room to grow upwards. However, vine harvesting is easier with the system used commercially, and that method requires lot of height for the wire and string method. If height is going to be an issue when growing, then you may want to look into dwarf varieties that only grow 10-12 ft.

Sometime this week I’ll try to get a post on hop profiles up.

Tags: , ,

4 Responses to “Grow Your Own”

  1. KCHopHead says:

    Hey I’ve already used that blog post title 🙂

    All I’m hearing is blah blah blah, I’m sad because I haven’t grown my own. Okay not really, but seriously, you live in a great area, you should try to grow some. Here I am in KCMO, and as I look outside in mid-October it’s low 40’s and only going to get colder tonight.

    I’ll stop being an ass and just say that, yes, that picture you have is where my avatar’s head came from 🙂

    You guys going to be able to get some Abyss? I’ve got all kinds of stuff here to trade.

  2. Jared says:

    I do want to start growing my own, just haven’t been able to decide what type yet. That’s part of the reason I’ve done all this stupid research 🙂 At least this series will be a good way to make use of it.

    I’m not sure about the availability of Abyss. I’ve been watching Dechchutes blog and I haven’t seen anything about them starting it. The trick will be grabbing a bottle of it. That beer is coveted.

  3. KCHopHead says:

    I think you should grow at least two kinds next spring. A high alpha acid and an aroma. If I could do it all over again I’d grow a Warrior or Zeus and then a Cascade. I’ve got a Cascade, Centennial and Northern Brewer which all are doing quite well for a first year growth but not like my co-brewers who have used miricale grow and other steroids to get tons of cones their first year.

  4. Jack R. says:

    Great post and Comments from KC, MO.

    I look forward to more in this vein.

    I found reference to two nurseries in the Salem-Keizer selling hops starters, you know that “r word’. I suspect you can mail order as well.

    regards, jbx

Leave a Reply