A Grand Hopportunity – Chapter 1 – An Introduction to Hops.

All should know and appreciate that I have a helper in the garden and the kitchen. This is not the canine helper that is always in my shadow making sure I have everything I need. This is the hubs. He helps me every night when I make dinner, he does the dishes, and he enjoys everything I cook!

But as I said he helps me in the garden too. A LOT! He is going to do a five part guest post series that crosses the garden and kitchen, in his realm….BEER!

An Introduction to Hops.

The Hop is very rewarding plant and is very easy to grow and maintain. Hops are most widely known for contributing flavor to the best tasting beverage in the modern world, BEER! Sure there is beer that can be made without the use of hops but the average American beer drinkers’ palate is not as fond of those beer styles thus most of the beers purchased in America today have been brewed using hops.  Hops contribute a couple of elements to beer. First and foremost they flavor the beer providing various bitter flavors and aroma notes depending on the style of hop that is used and when it is combined with other ingredients in the brewing process. Hops also aid in the preservation of the beer and give texture to the foam or head of the beer.

In certain parts of North America some may have trouble growing hops, but generally speaking if you live between the latitudes of 35 degrees north and 55 degrees south, have 120 frost free days and plant the rhizomes in a spot where they will receive a ton of sun (15 hours or more) you should be fine. Hops can be grown outside of these latitudes, but it is less likely that they will produce cones and the lupilin necessary for using them as a beer ingredient.

The Humulus Lupulus (hop) plant is a perennial climbing plant that grows from a rhizome and can reach heights of around 30 ft. Hops are often thought of as a vine, but they do not use tendrils to attach themselves to a surface or structure. What grows out of the rhizome is actually called a bine, which grows upward by grabbing onto surfaces with tiny hairs that cover the outside of the bine. It feels a lot like really fine Velcro. The hop bines’ main goal is to grow upwards and will wind itself up and around anything that it can be trained onto. The bines grow fast, as much as 18 to 20 inches a week and need full sun and a lot of water in the hot and dry summer months. As the bines grow, large leaves will shoot off of the main bines and once it reaches the full heat of summer (usually around July) little hop flowers that look like little spiky green balls will appear on shoots near the leaves. These green spiky flowers will develop into the hop cone known as the strobile. The strobile will eventually be made of a central stalk covered by 20 to 50 petals called bracts. It is under these petals that the magical yellow lupulin that gives the hop its flavor and aroma, will grow. The resinous lupulin and the alpha acids they produce are what differentiates the verities of hops. Some have a very bitter and spicy flavor while others can be almost citrus like and piney. Hops are categorized by their alpha acid content in order identify the level of bitterness they will bring to the beer recipe. To this regard beer recipes can use one type of hop or many different types of hops at various stages in the beer boil to impart specific flavors. What this means is that, if you are going to brew with the hops that you grow in your on yard, and you don’t want to buy any additional hops from the home brew store, you need to consider what style of beers you want to make. If possible diversify the variety of hops you grow based on their alpha acid content so that you don’t limit yourself when you want to brew a wider spectrum of beers.

This a good page for learning about the different verities of hops, their average alpha acid contents, and some of their history. http://www.freshops.com/hop-growing/rhizome-information/#rhizome_variety_list . The freshops website is also a great resource for growing information and also a good source for buying rhizomes.

I don’t think I can stress enough how important it is to decide what type of hops you like before you deciding on the rhizomes you plant. If you know nothing about what type of hops you like then you have a lot of research to do, and by research I mean drinking beer. The best way to know what you want is to research the beers you like and look up clone recipes of your favorite beers so that you can identify what types of hops are used. So put forth the effort to drink your favorite beer as a “research project” and troll around the internet or on www.hopville.com looking at beer recipes.

To be continued…

Chapter 2.

Chapter 3.

Chapter 4.

Chapter 5.

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Filed under Beer, Edible Plants, Garden

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