Let’s Get Wet

Hop cones have just begun to appear on the bines in the Northern Hemisphere. I can almost taste the dank explosions of lupulin from the first wet hop ales on my tongue. With hop harvest on track to begin in mid-August, it’s time for brewers to stake their claim on the fresh, green flowers.

Picking your fresh hop varietal is as personal as naming your first born (for some, maybe more so). With more than 59 varieties expected to be harvested this summer in the Pacific Northwest alone, the selection can seem overwhelming. In addition, you leave your production schedule in the hands of Mother Nature, keeping in mind the importance of wet cones making it into the kettle within 24 hours of being plucked from their bines. If the cones sit any longer you’re not only at risk of having the cones spoil or begin to dry, but the possibility for them catch fire as they slowly heat up.

Many brewers prefer to use aroma hops in their fresh hop ales, so they choose a hop variety with low alpha acids and high essential oil content. These oils give the beer the earthy aroma of citrus, grass, spice and pine without powerful hop bitterness. Among the popular varietals that possess these characteristics are Cascades, Crystal, Fuggle, Golding, Liberty, Saaz, Sterling, and Willamette.

I personally believe it’s great to support your local farmers. It can be as simple as picking up a phone book (that’s one of those big yellow things with names and numbers written on paper) and finding a local hop grower to inquire about availability of fresh hops. This is often more cost effective for small brewers as overnight shipping costs of wet hops can be substantial. Going to meet your local farmers will provide you the opportunity to see the hop yards and processing facilities, inquire about farming practices that may matter to you, and experience the hop harvest in all its glory. You can also use this opportunity to learn about the farmers and their history. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible everywhere. A quick Google search for wet hops will provide you with abundant options that will suit your needs, but may be a little harder on the pocket book.

Even if you’re not as obsessed with watching things grow as I am, it’s impossible not to be amazed seeing a hop bine climb 12-18 inches in a single day. Growing your own fresh hops can be a great solution to sourcing them and it’s incredibly rewarding. It will take two years to get a good crop off a hop bine, and its yield will continue to increase for as many as 15 years. The average yield of fresh hop cones per bine on the third-year growth is about 5-10 pounds depending on the variety. If your recipe calls for 100 pounds of fresh hops, you’d only need as few as 10-20 rhizomes.

The symbiotic relationship of hop growers and brewers is a beautiful thing. Without one, the other wouldn’t exist. Farmers work long hours in the blistering heat of summer during harvest and the blustery cold of winter repairing their yards, to grow the highest quality ingredients. Brewers spend long days and nights crafting up new recipes to please and delight their consumers. Both working separately, and yet together, for the love of beer.

In 2016, the United States hop harvest was at a five-year high yielding 87.1 million pounds. This year, total acreage strung for harvest increased by 6.05 percent. With 54,135 acres of hops, 48,126,015 bines strung, and a potential of 92.7 million pounds harvested in the US in 2017, you’re sure to find the perfect cones to make your wet hop brew bloom this year. Happy hopping!

Random hop fact: Beta acids from hop cones can be extracted to be used as a natural repellant of varroa mites in honeybee colonies. Ain’t hops grand?

Cher Gillson #ladybeerfarmer, is the owner of Share Media and Marketing. 

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