Growing Hops: A Guide for Beer Enthusiasts
Hops play a vital role in the art of brewing beer. These plants give beer its distinct flavor and character that we all love.
It’s no surprise that many beer lovers who venture into home brewing also want to try their hand at growing hops. Fortunately, it’s not a difficult plant to cultivate and harvest, especially if you already have a green thumb.
What Are Hops?
A hop plant is a rapid-growing vine that can reach heights of 25 feet or more during the summer. In late autumn, the plant dies back or is harvested at the root. The highlight of this plant for brewers and beer enthusiasts is the cone, which is the flower produced by the female hop plant.
Hop plants are either male or female, a concept that is familiar to humans but less common in the plant kingdom. Both male and female hop plants produce cones, but only the female cones are important for brewing beer. Male hops are largely eliminated in commercial hop nurseries.
How to Grow Hops
The most common way to propagate hops is by using rhizomes cut from the roots of healthy, mature female plants. This ensures that the resulting plants will also be female. If your intention is to harvest hops for brewing, it’s best to avoid purchasing hop seeds.
There are various hop varieties available, and some are better suited for brewing than others. Many commercial beer brands even list the specific hops used in their beers on their websites. Homebrewers can follow suit by cultivating different hop varieties.
However, patience is required when growing hops. It typically takes until the second year after planting for the plant to mature enough to produce the flowers needed for brewing.
Since hops are vines, they require a trellis or support system to climb on. These plants can grow vigorously and need ample space to spread out and fully develop.
Some gardeners choose to let hops cover an entire gazebo, allowing the plant to flourish as much as possible given favorable weather and soil conditions. It’s also a spectacular focal point for any garden.
The hop vine produces small blossoms that mature into strobiles, the familiar green cones often depicted on beer labels. These cones are ready for harvest in early autumn.
Harvesting involves cutting the entire vine at the root (remembering that it will grow back fully the following summer). The cones are then plucked from the vine and dried in a kiln. Once dried, they are compressed and packaged.
However, even when dried, hops have a limited shelf life. Under ideal conditions—dry and cool—they can be stored for no more than a couple of years. If you choose to grow your own hops but have leftovers from the previous year’s harvest, it’s best to discard them once you’re confident in a successful new harvest.
By growing your own hops, you can add a personal touch to your homebrewed beer and experience the satisfaction of using ingredients you cultivated yourself. Cheers!