Many people start their home brewing journey because they think that it will yield cheaper beer (or at least that’s what they tell their partner). This isn’t necessarily the case as homebrewing can become a bit of a rabbit hole leading to buying more gadgets and other brewing adjacent activities. One of these activities is growing your own hops and the good news is that it can actually save you a bit of dough. As we come up to later summer and hop harvest time, I thought it would be good to talk about using those precious green cones in a beer.
A big consideration in using homegrown hops will come down to the amount of hops your plant will yield. First year plants will not yield many hop cones as most of their energy is spent establishing a strong root system. Second year will yield more hops than first year and third year is where you’ll really start seeing those cones appear.
The hops will be ready near the end of August and into September. This is, however, all dependent on the growing season, how much rain and sun they’ve gotten. Your hop cones should be springy when pressed between finger and thumb, they should be dry and papery on the tips. You want to make sure that the cones are ripe. Don’t rush it!
Once your hops are ready, it’s time to harvest them! First year hops should be plucked carefully from the bine. More mature plants can be cut a couple feet from the ground, taken down and then the cones can be removed. If you’re planning to use the hops in a wet-hopped beer, then get that brew day going! If you’re not doing a wet-hopped beer or you’ve just got too much to use up in one shot, then you’ll want to dry them.
As with much of homebrewing, you can go the DIY route or pick up some equipment to make the job a bit easier. If you’re going the easy way, using a food dehydrator works. Or you could use your oven set at a low temperature. Any temperature higher than 140ºF will actually damage the hops, so keep it slow and low. A more DIY way to dry your hops would be to lay them down in a single layer on a window screen with a fan keeping the air moving in the area. Some people will take their hops and layer them between a few furnace filters then bungee cord them to a box fan and leave them on the running fan to dry. Whatever method you use, you’ll want to make sure that the hops are dried out within 36-48 hours or they could spoil. Once they’re dry, use a vacuum sealer to package them up.
Unfortunately, we won’t know the specific alpha acid content of our homegrown hops, but we can assume a certain range, depending on the type of hops.
If you happen to be using wet hops, you’ll want to use 4-6 times the dry hop weight. Wet hops are made up of about 80% water.
You’ll likely want to brew up something simple that really highlights the hop flavour and aroma. Perhaps 80% 2-row, 20% Crystal 20, 20 IBUs at 60 mins and 2oz hops in the whirlpool.
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