Posts Tagged ‘hops’

Grow Your Own

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

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 While these categories are outdated and tell you minimal information they help get a basic idea of what you may be looking for.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.

Can You Use Unknown Hops?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

from theweeklybrew

hopsIt’s been awhile since I’ve done a homebrewing post. This isn’t because I haven’t been brewing, It’s because my area of study has been primarily in brewing history lately, rather then the process. Just today though I realized that with the hop harvest recently that I could’ve been posting on that process.  So I figured I’d post today on an issue that I recently had.

In September I received an email from someone telling me they had some unknown hops they thought were fuggles and were wondering if I wanted to pick some. Considering the price of hops I was happy to go pick free hops. The problem was when I showed up I discovered they neither looked, nor smelled like fuggles. In fact I didn’t recognize the smell from any of the hops I’d used before. Usually in a case like this you identify the hops by leaf characteristics and the cones size shape and smell. Naturaly I brought up some hop databases and started comparing. Comparing leaves and cones proved difficult with this variety though. The next step in hop identification when comparison fails is genetic identification or a gas chromatography. These methods are expensive though and impractical.

After some more digging I found out the owner of the plants had purchased them discount at a nursery to use as cover on a fence. This meant there was a good chance these were a decorative variety. If you ask most brewers, or do some googling you’ll find most people don’t think that it is a good idea to use wild or decorative hops. Many people feel that these hops can’t be used for brewing. The reality is that although their not bread specifically for brewing these hops can be used for making beer.

The most difficult issue to overcome when brewing with mystery hops is alpha acids. Not knowing the bittering properties of hops makes it difficult to properly use them for bittering. The easiest way is to use trial and error. With these I started with 1.75oz. I figured it was safer to risk it being a high alpha hop and aging the bitterness out rather then having a sickly sweet brew from too little. Taste and aroma are much easier to gauge using a tea made from the hops. I just tried the brown ale I brewed with them turned out great.

Bad Hop News

Thursday, June 4th, 2009
Picture borrowed from KalamaBrew

Picture borrowed from KalamaBrew

Apparently I’m not the last person to jump on this bandwagon, but I’m certainly not the first. Charlie Papazian reported on it on the 28th of may, and Yesterday Jeff Alworth posted on it.

Apparently on the 26th of May hail storms swept Germany destroying and damaging a sizable amount of Germany’s crops. None of the total figures are in, nor has the total impact been determined. In fact some growers are apparently not expecting a hop shortage in 2009. Even so supplies will be stressed and some homebrewers are starting to worry. Personaly I plan to adapt, brewing with hops that aren’t grown in Germany. The problem is though that if the price of one kind of hops go up then the others may follow.

If you want more info on what’s goin on in the Father Land then check out Charlies article here, or Jeff’s blog here.