“There’s no such thing as too many hops!” We all know some hop-head who lives by these words. But, truth be told, as much as we love those super-hoppy, over-the-top delicious double IPAs, there’s always the risk of going too far. If you’ve ever crossed that line, you know what I’m talking about.
If you’re like me, you get tingles when you think about hop harvest season. Like a helicopter parent, you’ve coddled your backyard hop bines since they were babies, tending to them religiously and watching proudly as they’ve grown over the summer to be 16, 18, perhaps more than 20 feet tall! And now you’re staring at their beautiful cones, just waiting to be lovingly bombed into that IPA recipe you’ve been itching to brew. The time is now! you think to yourself.
As summer draws near, it brings with it two unshakable constants of warm weather: beer and grilling. This is not surprising as they are some of the oldest traditions in human history, however, I think our ancestors would be jealous of the diverse options for both categories we enjoy today! So, how do you know which beer to pair with that sweet baby back rib?
Northern Brewer sells hops in the form of a rhizome. Rhizomes are used versus seeds to guarantee you are only growing a female plant. Male hops do not form flavorful cones and will ruin your crop by producing seeds on your female plants rendering them unusable.
Hops come in an industry stable form, nicely pelletized, vacuum sealed on nitrogen and include the alpha and beta acid levels right on the package. There are over 70 varieties of hops in a climate controlled freezer at Northern Brewer just waiting to be purchased.
The time has come, homebrewing legends.
After a summer of sunny days, you should now be staring at an overgrowth of hop bines (yes BINE, click for definition) in the back yard and hopefully you’re elbows deep in hops that explode with aroma that will soon be captured in a harvest ale for the ages! The first year doesn’t always yield much of a harvest, but next year will be even better. I’m pretty stoked as well, I know! Just keep calm, don’t worry, have a homebrew. Hoperation Rhizome is in its final stages at Northern Brewer, so if you have a minute to spare from being so awesome, we wanted to share some tips on hoptimizing harvest time!
Those first buds formed and the first reaction is to bust out the kettle and start throwing hops recklessly at a freshly made wort. It’s been about 6 months since preorders started, be sure you wait until the cones are ready. I prefer to focus on how dry and how aromatic the cones become. The cones all of a sudden start to fan out and bulge under all those productive lupulin glands, and when you bend/break a cone you should see what looks like pollen. That’s that sweet lupulin!
The edges can start to dry so when you see the cones fan out, you know harvest time is near. The cones should also have a nice bounce when you squeeze them, and your fingers should be sticky after touching one. Keep them well watered, to prevent browning, until the aromas just explode. You want to take a cone, break it into a few pieces, then roll the cone back and forth between your two hands. Cup your hands to your nose – now give them a good sniff. Yeah, that’s nice, I know. I like to hold off as long as I dare, if you start to see a few cones browning, don’t panic, just call your brew buddy, your neighbor, maybe a willing significant other, and get to harvesting.
Pro Tip: I know it’s hot, but do yourself a favor and wear long sleeves, a hat, and preferably gloves. Microscopic barbs designed for climbing any possible surface will itch like the dickens after prolonged contact with your skin. The bines want all the hops for themselves so they will try and bite when you pick them all at once.
You’ve got two options for harvesting that work well: pick the hops off the bine or pick the bine off the trellis and pick the cones later. The best way is to pick the hops right off the bine. Not all the cones may come to maturity at the same time and we might as well just grab the best cones, at the right time, and let the others come to maturity later on. Then you could dry hop the hopbursted IPA you made on harvest day with the next harvest. Nothing satisfies like grabbing a choice hop cone right off the bine and sinking a sweet fade-away into the kettle to beat the buzzer.
Picking the hops off the bine also gives you the benefit of leaving the actual bine behind. Just pull it down off the trellis and if the bine doesn’t break, the nutrients not used will be reabsorbed into the roots.
Hop farms will cut the bines and remove them off their supports and hang the whole bine to dry. You just hang them from a line in a dry place protected from the elements for about 24-48 hours. Put a fan on, or even better a dehumidifier, and they dry pretty quickly this way. Not likely the best option for most homebrewers, who have a handful of plants and harvest a couple pounds at most, so most will probably opt for laying the cones out to dry.
You’ll want to spread the cones out on a screen over a fan. Its pretty easy to get extra window screening and some 2x4s and screw it all together to make a square drying box. Place the rack on top of a box fan that is on its side and the cones dry up as fast as we can manage for cheap. A great alternative is a food dehydrator, you can get a decent one for about $50-90 that will handle the volumes we’re looking at and this is the quickest and driest your hops will get without damaging their flavor and aroma. An oven on it’s lowest heat setting would work too but the difference between dry enough and baked is a fine line and we want all those aromas in our beer, not in the pizza you bake later. On second thought, that sounds good too.
Once dry, we’ll want to use them all right away. Just kidding, we can store some and brew later, if you can contain your excitement. The best option is a vacuum sealer and you can get them for about $40 and $10 for the bags. This will keep oxygen out and that is the number one enemy. Each different variety degrades at its own pace, but get all the air out of the plastic bags and store them in the freezer. Light and heat and oxygen will try to ruin future batches, but they should keep for at least 6 months to a year. But fresher is better so you better get busy.
When using fresh hops, we recommend trying 4 ounces for every ounce of dry you would normally use. Once dried all the way, they can be used normally, but without a couple test batches we won’t have a reliable idea of the bittering power of our homegrown hops. This varies more than you might expect, so I save them for late boil additions, dry hops, randalizing, first wort hopping, throw them right in the mash and more. It’s not the bitterness we want out of these epicly awesome hops, its the fresh flavors and aromas!
If you find yourself with too many hops all at once, relax, there’s so many things you can do with them. Try your hand at cider and add some as a dry hop. Pack some cones into a mason jar filled with 40-50% ABV vodka. You’ve just made a tincture, where the alcohol acts as a solvent extracting the oils and resins from the hops and is perfect for cooking, or put a dab on your pillow to help you sleep, add a drop in place of bitters in a cocktail recipe, or use it in any number of other crafts or hobbies you may have. Hopped beard oils? That’s on our list this year.
If you have a question, or just want to talk “Hop Shop”, give us a call. Our brewmasters are online 7 days a week to answer any questions or concerns you might have. You can reach us at email@example.com or if you just need to hear another Brewer’s voice, give us a call at 800-681-2739.
AZACCA® HOPS are now featured in an exclusive, limited edition beer kit from Northern Brewer!
Origin: Washington, USA. The hop formerly known as #483 from the American Dwarf Hop Association, Azacca® is named for the Haitian god of agriculture.
Usage: Excellent aromatic qualities make Azacca® a go-to hop for late and dry hop additions in a variety of styles, although its high myrcene fraction has already made it a favorite of IPA brewers. Shows well as a single hop in a simple grist.
Aroma & Flavor Characteristics: Intense and tropical. Sustained impressions of citrus and very ripe mango, with notes of orchard fruit (pears, apples) and pine needles throughout.
Maturity: Mid to late-season.
Yield: 2,200 – 2,400 lbs/acre
We’ve all Fuggled, Cascaded, Mosaiced, and Summitted. We’ve brewed the basics, become well-acquainted with the likes of Centennial and Cluster. But now, more than ever, is the time to experiment. With new hop varietals coming out every growing season and hop farms popping up like tulips in April, I found myself amidst a bewildering expanse of options, and so settled on four of the newest cultivars to put through the ringer.
For about fifty years following the end of the second world war, Americans were terrified of hops. Our national beer was a light lager that had almost no perceptible hops in it.
This never made sense to me. Americans always do things bigger and bolder than the rest of the world. Why were we so timid about our beer? Recently, however, American craft brewers and home brewers have fallen in love with hops, and the USA now produces the world’s hoppiest beers!
It has been really interesting to watch this trend intensify while running a homebrew shop. The hop varieties that homebrewers are demanding this year end up getting featured in next year’s trendy West Coast IPA. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting hops.
Each year, Northern Brewer purchases more hop varieties than any brewery in the world. We carefully source, select and package 60-70 different hop varieties each year. Each hop has its own unique character. They can smell like grass, pine cones, or grapefruit. Some are light and refined, while others are bold and intense. I have personally come to have a deep, olfactory communion with all of the major hop varieties in the world, because I have personally packaged so many packets of hops for my customers. It has been an amazing form of aromatherapy, and it’s my favorite part of my job.
But it’s not enough just to smell the hop in its raw form. Hops change so much depending on how they are used. Even though I’ve been a homebrewer for 20 years, I am still learning about new ways to use hops: early additions, late additions, continuous additions, first wort hopping, mash hopping, hop backing, randallizing, wet hopping, dry hopping… each technique brings out different aspects of a hop.
On top of that, hop breeders are constantly experimenting and introducing new breeds of hops. Every year there are more and more experimental varieties. Many are grown in such limited quantities that the only way to play with them is to do it on a homebrew scale.
So let’s rejoice in hops! Cheers!
Hop Rhizomes FAQ
When will my order ship?
The specific shipping date is determined by hardiness zones. We will start shipping to southern zones once we can harvest rhizomes, usually around mid-April.
I just got my order. Now what?
Check out our Guidelines for growing hops at home (PDF)
I just got my order, and there is mold on my rhizome! Are they ruined?
Rhizomes are shipped moist so they do not dry out and unfortunately mold may form. Luckily, this does not mean the rhizomes are ruined; in fact, these rhizomes may even be healthier than most (see below). Many seeds and hardier plants can be treated with bleach solutions to kill the spores, but don’t do this to your rhizomes – they are too sensitive to the hypochloric acid in bleach.
One important point of interest is that many roots, like rhizomes, may have white colored ‘mold-like’ growths on them. This is not mold but actually symbiotic bacteria that assist the plant in converting free nitrogen into usable forms. The growths are not thick, should be white to off white (green/blue is most likely a mold) and should converge into concentrated areas of varying size called a nodule. These rhizomes are sort of like winning the lottery as these rhizomes theoretically will have a competitive advantage because nitrogen is one of three important macronutrients. True molds on roots have also been shown to offer similar advantages to many different plants. The rhizomes – the part of the plant that helps the plant survive from year to year – are actually rather resilient to moderate stress and as long as they are afforded the care any rhizome deserves should produce a healthy plant, whether there is mold or not.
My rhizomes are puny little sticks! Are they doomed?
There is large variation from rhizome to rhizome and from variety to variety. A large rhizome does not guarantee a large, healthy plant. The small rhizomes should sprout faster due to a more efficient conversion of starches due to the higher ratio of surface area to volume. Little difference will be apparent in the grown hop bine. The large ones sprout slower but grow faster. This results in some hop flowers reaching maturity slightly sooner or slightly later but the quality of the final product should be the same. There is of course also variation from variety to variety. Cascades are often very small compared to other varieties and of course, the theme that emerges is that the quality of the rhizomes can not be truly assessed until they are planted. Virtually any rhizome will grow a healthy plant if afforded adequate care.
My rhizomes are dried out! Are they dead?
Rhizomes are the hardiest part of the hop plant and is designed to survive moderate stress. As the rhizomes ship they are subject to varying temperature and conditions that are not under our control, which may result in drying. The rhizome should be firm but not brittle. If it is flexible and seems like it will bend without breaking the rhizome is as healthy as we can ask of it. If it seems brittle, like it would break, it probably did not have the healthiest journey. They can be easily saved by misting with water and storing in the fridge until planting. This should help them re hydrate so they do not experience a shock from moisture when planted. Be sure to keep them well watered, well-fed, and they will pull through. Of course, the only accurate way to assess a rhizome is to plant it and observe the growth. Rhizomes are designed to help the hop plant survive year to year so are quite resilient and persistent.