Harvesting your hops.
The harvest can take place anytime between late August and early October depending on the weather but you should begin paying attention to the moisture content in the hop cone as it gets to the later part of August. The hops will be ready to harvest when the petals of the hop cone are starting to become dry, but are still green and paper like. Also at the base of the petals there should be glands of yellow lupulin that are very fragrant. To really determine when the hops are at their peak freshness you need to smell them and touch them every day. Grab a cone on the plant and use your fingers to pull back the petals, shove you nose into the hop cone and take a big ol’ sniff. Also pay attention to the amount of lupulin present at the base of the petals. If you do this consistently beginning in late August you can notice the increase in aroma and the amount of lupulin. Once you notice the hop cone starting to dry and the fragrance has not necessarily increased in recent weeks you have good cause to harvest. If you notice cones beginning to turn brown or if they petals fall off the cone when you pry them open then it’s past the optimal time to harvest.
Harvesting the hops can be done on a ladder picking one cone at a time or you can cut the hops off of the growing structure and pick them from the vines while sitting in a lawn chair. I prefer to cut the ropes that my hops have been growing on and then put them in a large yard debris bag. I pour myself a beer and pull up a seat for the long and finger exfoliating process of removing the cones from the vine. This can take quite a long time but it can be enjoyable on a nice day. Since the hop vines have those short Velcro like hairs that help them hold while they climb, your fingers will be exposed to some wear and tear. If your hands are sensitive wear some thin gloves during this process. When we harvest our hops we place them in medium sized buckets so that we can take the initial wet weight of the product before drying them.
Drying and Storing your hops.
Hops should be dried quickly at a very low dry heat. At home you can do this by building yourself an oast box using a box fan and some furnace filters or if the weather is pretty warm still you can simply set the hops in a single layer on screens to dry. To dry hops using a box fan, sandwich the hops in a single layer between two furnace filters and secure them together. Strap the furnace filter and hop sandwich to the back end of the box fan and turn it on low. This will pull air through the furnace filters and dry the hops in the process. This seems to work well but can take a long time if you have a lot of hops to dry. This last year it was fairly warm in our house when we harvested the hops so we simply put them on to the lids from some of our storage bins. We made sure the hops were in a single layer on the lids and we stirred the hops around every 12 hours for about two days. By the end of the second day most all of the hops were dry but still green in color.
Once dry we use a vacuum food saver to package the hops into one-ounce bags and put them in the freezer for storage. Packaging the hops in one-ounce increments or less is best because hops are generally added to beer recipes in similar (or smaller) increments. Sure you may have a recipe that calls for 2 oz of hops during the start of the 60 minute boil, but in that case you just have to open up two packages that you have vacuum sealed. If you package and store your hops in larger increments it is more likely that you will need to re-seal a bag, which can compromise the freshness of the hops. Once you have packaged your dried hops and sucked all of the air out of them, store them in your freezer until you need them.
To be continued…