Hop harvest is a favorite time for many brewers. Large commercial brewers are invited by hop growers and brokers to the Pacific Northwest for hop selection. At hop selection, brewers and purchasers are ushered through tours of the fields, and then sat at picnic tables where they rub and smell various lots of hops selecting the lots they wish to buy. Hop selection is part sensory experience and part junket. Plenty of beer is consumed by the visiting brewers.
For a homebrewer growing hops in the backyard, hop harvest is a lot more work. The tendricles that allow hops to climb can really irritate the skin. Gloves and long sleeves are a must. On a still-warm late August day it can be quite hot. I drank three bottles of water while picking cones off of my first bine.
The cones on the bine will ripen at different times. One advantage a home-grower has is the ability to pick the cones as they ripen over a period of time. For a large commercial grower this is entirely impractical.
Last year I planted five rhizomes: Willamette, Northern Brewer, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial. I clipped the Cascade with my edger and it never grew back. The other four plants did grow nicely their first year.
First-year hops typically don’t yield many cones if they even do at all. The Northern Brewer actually yielded quite a bit. Enough for me to brew a batch, a California Common I named Uncommon First Harvest. Using the pick as you go method, I was able to dry the hops on a screen. After tasting the beer I brewed the lack of hop flavor made it pretty clear that I picked the hops too soon. There was almost no hop flavor, but the Muntons Crystal malt flavor really came through and I thoroughly enjoyed the beer.
For this year I planted three new hop plants, not rhizomes: Cluster, Brewers Gold, and Canadian Red Vine. The Cluster and Brewers Gold were purchased with the idea of using them in historic recipes. Canadian Red Vine on the other hand I had never heard of. It’s supposed cherry flavor sounded interested. That it has French-Canadian origin (like me!), made me think it would grow well in New England.
Here is a rundown of how my plants did this year
Northern Brewer: Again this was my most vigorous grower. The cones were ready for harvest the fourth week of August. I knew the cones were ready when I saw more yellow lupulin than when I harvested last year, and some of the leaves were just starting to yellow and brown ever so slightly. The clincher was when I rubbed a cone in my hands I could see and feel the hop oil in my hands. With the huge volume of cones, I elected to harvest them all at once. I could barely fit the yield in a five-gallon bucket.
|Look at all of those cones!
Chinook: This plant really made a leap in year two and has produced numerous large cones. I can’t wait to use them in a hoppy pale ale or IPA.
|I could barely fit the plant in the frame. Lots of shoots with good
Centennial: It has done better in it’s second year and produced some cones. The cones however are rather small. I think the plant isn’t getting sufficient sunlight and may need to be replanted in a better spot. Our deck, and the neighbor’s house and deck block the sunlight at different parts of the day.
|The Centennial in the shade. It isn’t high enough to clear the
Willamette: I spoke with a rep from Four Star Farms, a hop grower in Western Mass about my Willamette after it grew very slowly last year. In their experience English or English derived hops do not grow as well in New England. My plant did do better this year and produced a few cones, if not quite enough to be worth harvesting. I am going to leave the plant in-tact as long as possible so it can continue to receive sunlight and strengthen its root system. I think that next year I will have a more substantial yield.
|The Willamette produced a few cones in year two and does look
pretty hanging off of my porch,
|The Cluster is the thin plant to the right.
|Believe it or not this is improvement.
|The roofline on the porch is probably 15′-20′ high.
|I end up with 6oz of dried hops per batch.
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