Podcast #25 – My First Harvest Ale

Fresh hops
Jake behind hop plants
Getting ready to pick hops

Grow Your Own

At some point, most home brewers get excited about hops and the idea of growing your own hops to use in beer. Others, who have a thumb more green than mine, plant their hops and cultivate them carefully. Luckily my mother-in-law is an avid gardener and was interested in growing hops.

If you select the right variety for your area, hops will grow like weeds. With minimal maintenance, you will probably be able to harvest enough hops to play with for several batches.

Challenges

hops on a screenTime

Harvesting hops by hand is labor-intensive. I spent about 3 hours picking by hand and did not even fill a paper grocery bag. By weight, I wound up with about 4 pounds of wet hops. This is probably main argument for purchasing the hops you use in your beer, unless you enjoy having an excuse to be outside working with your hands.

This is even without including the time you can spend babying the plants while they grow.

Unknown Acid Levels

Those of us growing hops for fun do not have the equipment to analyze the alpha acid content of our hops. So, you will be working with unknowns. You can rub, smell and guess to estimate how it will affect your beer, but you won’t really know like you do with commercial hops. This is one of the aspects that can make your beer fun and interesting.

If you look for advice for using fresh hops, you can estimate 5 to 6 times as much hops are needed for similar flavor and aroma levels. But that’s still just a guess.

fresh cones are huge!Volume

I know hops don’t weight much, but I was truly shocked by how much volume was required to make a seemingly small quantity of hops. I should have taken a picture, but I had to pack hops into a 2-quart pitcher just to get 11 ounces. Without packing, I’m pretty sure 11 ounces would have filled up a gallon container.

Wort Loss

Fresh hops will soak up a mess of your beer. Knowing this beforehand, I inserted my large straining bag so I could squeeze the hops at the end. The bag is large enough that I placed my immersion chiller inside the bag with the hops so I could stand the temperature when I squeezed the bag.

Bag o' hopsIf you use wet hops, you will need to have a strategy to minimize the loss, or just accept the loss with as much grace as possible.

Don’t let these problems hold you back. Experiment, try things, over-do it and see what you get. I learned a lot about brewing while making my harvest ale.

My recipe

11 gallons into the fermenter:

  • 12 pounds pale 2-row
  • 6 pounds dark Munich
  • 1 pound special B
  • 6 ounces crystal 10 L

Hops

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (60 min)

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (15 min)

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (0 min)

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