Hops: Getting to the root of brewing
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Now that your hops vines are near maturity, it is time to think about reaping the most out of your harvest. As an agricultural product, pests are always a worry. Minor infestations can be removed by hand or knocked off with a strong spray from a hose. Be very careful with pesticides. The hop cone is a flower – what you spray on it will go into the brew kettle. That being said, if you need to use an insecticide, follow the label directions and discontinue use for the recommended period of time before harvest.
The bud of the hop looks like a small burr. Shortly after these appear, a cone will develop and the anticipation and excitement will follow. The biggest concern of hop growers at this time is when to harvest. Although experience is the best teacher, there are several signs to watch for as to when to harvest, which generally occurs in late August/September, depending on the hop variety and weather.
- Appearance – The tips of the cone petals may start to turn brown or tan – if the entire cone is brown, discard it. Inside the cone there are lupulin glands where the petals attach to the central stem. Early on these will appear lime green. As the cone matures, the lupulin glands will turn a deep yellow. I refer to this as “road paint yellow”.
- Touch – The cones will start to dry on the bine. Pinch a cone – if it stays compressed, it is too moist and not mature. If it springs back close to it’s original shape, it is ready to pick.
- Sound – A dry cone will crackle when you pinch it, like crumbling paper.
- Smell – Immature cones will smell very vegetal (like celery). As the cones mature, they will take on the aromas we cherish.
- Weight – The cones themselves will start to dry out and become lighter.
Note: Do not harvest wet hops. My tip here is to harvest mid-day to afternoon when any dew has evaporated and it has not rained.
I have read about people using a large ladder and hand picking individual cones selectively. Maybe I’m lazy or maybe I’ve fallen off too many ladders, but I opt for ease and comfort. With my trellis design, I drop the whole bine onto a clean tarp, drag it to my house, pour a home brew, turn on the radio and pick cones. I discard any cones that are too brown or discolored.
The picked hops are weighed and spread out on a single layer on racks. I use old window screens and replaced the metal screening with fiberglass screening to avoid rust or splintering and put them in the rafters of my garage.
[Side note – now is the time to make a wet hop beer. I use 5 ounces wet to 1 ounce dry for my wet hop beer. It may look like cabbage soup, but the flavor and aroma of a wet hop beer is amazing.]
Monitor the hops by weight. I separate 5 ounces out on one of the screens. When this is down to 1 ounce, I package the dry hops in 1-ounce bags using a vacuum sealer and then freeze. For my beer recipes, I use 1.5 ounces of my hops versus 1 ounce of commercially packaged hops with very good results – some say to use a 2 to 1 ratio, but heck it’s your beer, and if your friends and family don’t like it, let them buy canned beer.
I used my hops for up to one year after harvest. Some have said not to use home grown hops as a bittering addition. I say that unless you are making a competition beer and are trying for strict style replication, it’s your beer, so be creative, have fun, and make it your own.
Thanks for letting me share my love and passion for this hoppy hobby.