Hops: A Home Brewer’s Perspective

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

IMG_9021After crafting a few batches of home brew, Ted Dalheim wanted to grow one of the key ingredients – hops.

“The natural progression for me was to go from using pelletized hops to dry-hopping my home brew with my homegrown hops,” says Ted, who lives in Amherst, Va.  And so, he planted 16 rhizomes in early spring of 2015.

Following is an interview with Ted.  (Hops were HSA Herb of the Month in October 2014.)

What kind do you grow?

We learned from the Virginia Cooperative Extension what grows best in our area. That includes Cascade (a finishing or aroma hops), Centennial and Columbus (bittering hops). We also are growing Galena, a variety that wasn’t on the Extension’s list. We got the rhizomes from a brewer we know in Northeast Ohio; he wanted to see how Galena would grow in Virginia.

Do you have to prune, spray, feed or otherwise treat them?IMG_9027

The first year we just let them grow. This year we will cut all the shoots but two. Last year, we discovered that Japanese beetles love them – they turned the leaves to lace. We used Neem Oil on them, an organic pesticide, in moderation and long before harvest.

Do they require a lot of water? Sun? 

Yes and yes. We intentionally planted them in a spot that gets a lot of afternoon sun and used a soaker hose almost daily to be sure that the entire bed was thoroughly wet, but not too wet.

Where did you plant them? 

Our hops are planted in a row alongside our garage using a somewhat complicated set-up of ropes. I designed a trellis for the bines to climb. (They’re called bines, not vines).

I fastened a horizontal pipe on three brackets mounted about 15 feet off the ground. At the base of each bine, I planted a stake in the ground and attached a piece of heavy twine to each stake. I ran the twine up to the horizontal pipe, back to the wall, through an eye, and back down to the ground where I could tie it off against the wall. I left enough excess twine to be able to lower each bine down to the ground for harvesting and then being able to raise it back into position for additional harvesting later.

IMG_0872This worked fairly well, though the plants were so close together that they tended to merge together at the top, making lowering them more difficult than I had envisioned, requiring me to climb a ladder and harvest them. I suggest wearing long sleeves when harvesting – the bines make you itch!

How tall do they get? Must they be tied up? 

They can grow as long as 30 feet, if you let them. Yes, they must be allowed to grow up a wire or twine. They like the same growing conditions as grapes – that’s why you see many wineries are starting craft breweries and growing hops as well as grapes.hops ted 2

What do you do with them? 

My first harvest was small, just 11 ounces, which filled a large grocery bag. I used it all in one 5-gallon batch. I dried them in the attic of my garage on window screens set on top of construction horses. They dried quickly, in just a few days, and puffed up like popcorn, and became very light and crispy. I shrink-wrapped and froze them in 1 – 2-ounce packages for using when we were ready to make a batch of beer. I also used a small portion of pelletized hops to give my beer a more consistent bitterness as it is difficult to determine the bitterness of homegrown hops.

Will you continue to grow them? 

Definitely, and they continue to grow whether you want them to or not – the rhizomes can live practically forever, just like a grapevine. There are reports of some living as long as 60 years.

What would you advise others?

If you’re growing for beer that you can truly be proud of, it’s worth the effort. It does require a lot of work, but in the end, so does all home brewing. Anyone can enjoy a craft beer from the store, but only a very few get to enjoy their own craft beer hopped with their own private crop. It’s a beer you don’t want to share, but you will because it’s so good and you want others to taste what you created.

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