Home Grown Hops

>> Monday, February 21, 2011

Springtime is almost here so it's time to start thinking about hops. I've been growing my own hops for a couple years now. They've done well but I have run into a couple issues. I bought some rhizomes from my LHBS as well as from Freshops.com. My plan was to plant the hops in a "temporary" location until I was able to find the time to build a trellis. Well, almost four years and one finished basement later and they're still in their "temporary" location.

The primary problem is they're planted in fairly close proximity to each other so the bines get intertwined making it difficult to harvest the varieties separately. Right now my freezer is full of mixed hops that I'll probably end up using in some kind of mongrel brew. This year I'm going to finally build my trellis and replant the hops in permanent locations.

The other issue is I didn't do a whole lot of planning when I selected my current varieties. I would have been better off focusing on flavor/aroma varieties, but I ended up with a few that are primarily known for bittering (e.g. Brewer's Gold, Nugget). I also didn't do much analysis as to which hops I tend to use most often. I knew I really liked Cascade and Centennial and had several recipes that called for them, but the others were kind of shots in the dark.

Current Varieties: The following is a list of the varieties I've had in the ground for the past three years.
  • Brewer's Gold - Bittering hop with neutral aroma character. Grows well in all climates. 8-10%
  • Cascade - Pleasant, flowery, spicy, and citrusy. Can have a grapefruit flavor. Grows well in all climates. 5-6%
  • Centennial - Medium with floral and citrus tones. Grows well in all climates. 8-10%
  • Liberty - Mild and clean aroma, slightly spicy character. Does better in mild climates but can grow in hot climates. 3 - 5%
  • Nugget - Quite heavy and herbal. Grows well in all climates. 12-15%
Planned Varieties: I've been reviewing my recipes for the hops I use most often. Based on the number of my recipes they appear in, here are my top 10 hops: Goldings, East Kent (22), Cascade (17), Hallertauer (12), Northern Brewer (12), Columbus (10), Williamette (10), Centennial (9), Fuggle (8), Tettnang (8). I already have Cascade and Centennial so I can eliminate them from my wish list. Hallertauer doesn't do so well in hot dry climates, so I'll skip that one. Ditto for Fuggle. Pending availability, I'm planning on adding the following varieties this year:
  • Chinook - Mild to medium-heavy, spicy, piney, and grapefruity. While it's often used for bittering, it does have a nice flavor/aroma profile and does well in hot dry climates.
  • Golding - Mild, extremely pleasant, and gently hoppy. I brew with lots of East Kent Golding hops, so I'd love to give this one a try. Prefers cooler climates but does ok in hot climates.
  • Mt. Hood - Mild, pleasant, and clean, somewhat pungent and resiny. Derived from Hallertau but unlike Hallertau it does well in all climates.
  • Williamette - Mild and pleasant, slightly spicy, fruity, floral, a little earthy. Similar to Fuggle but tolerates warmer drier climates better than Fuggle.
So this is my rhizome wish list for this year. These four varieties are fairly common so I'm crossing my fingers they'll all be available. I've noticed a couple online suppliers have started selling or are taking pre-orders. I'm gambling in the hopes that Freshops.com has all these varieties available this year, preferably in the "jumbo" size. Based on personal experience, they often produce hops the first year whereas regular sized rhizomes tend to take at least a year to get established, so I prefer the jumbos.

If you're new to hop growing here's a few things to keep in mind.
  • Use homegrown hops for flavor and aroma additions. These will be the most useful for brewing since alpha acid content varies year to year. There is no easy way to determine alpha acid content, so buy you bittering hops at the LHBS and grow your flavor/aroma hops.
  • Pick a variety that will grow in your area. If you live in a hot dry climate, don't pick a variety that prefers cool moist climates. It may grow but probably won't produce any cones.
  • Pick varieties that you use most often in your favorite recipes and styles.
  • Don't over-water the rhizomes as this can result in rot.
  • Do watch for pests and signs of fungal infection. If you have to treat them be sure to use treatments that are brewing-safe.
  • Do provide a sturdy support for them to grow on. My temporary support is made out of PVC irrigation pipe. It's ok in a pinch, but it has severely warped after a couple seasons and has had a hard time supporting the weight of the bines. Plus my wife hates the way it looks.
  • I thought it was worth mentioning that hops are toxic to dogs. Use caution especially if you have a dog that likes to chew on plants as they can be deadly. Fortunately, my dogs have never shown any interest in my hops; I wish I could say the same for my peach tree. I think spent hops would be more attractive to dogs since they've been flavored/saturated with malt sugars. Bottom line, if you have dogs, use common sense.
Update 3/5/2011: Freshops.com is now taking orders!!!